White Sox

Konerko grand slam lifts White Sox

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Konerko grand slam lifts White Sox

Thursday, Sept. 30, 2010
Updated 11:54 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

If theres a baseball player in Chicago with more flair for the dramatic than Paul Konerko, have him stand forth and be judged.

On a day the White Soxs mainstay first baseman forecasted his departure from the club this offseason, it was only appropriate he iced Thursdays game with a full-count grand slam in the fourth inning, spurring an 8-2 rout of the Boston Red Sox. Konerko reached base in four of five trips to the plate and now stands at 39 homers, 111 RBI and an OPS of .981.

That was perfect, White Sox starter John Danks said of Konerkos clout.

All year, he wasnt giving up any at-bats, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said of his captain, openly zealous about a possible 40-homer campaign for Konerko. Its max effort out there. Thats why he had a season like this.

Konerko, natch, was thinking little of 40 round-trippers.

Numbers are nice, but Ive done it before in 2004 and 2005, he said. Its good to have a nice, round number like 40, but I dont think about it too much.

Two innings after Konerkos clout, the baseball gods deemed the game already perfect and unworthy of continuing, pulling the plug on the ballpark lights and delaying the contest for 21 minutes.

Red Sox starter Jon Lester probably hoped that the plug was yanked for good. The southpaw came into the game with a glistening career record vs. the White Sox, at 2-1 with a 3.04 ERA, along with a 1.13 WHIP and 1.90 KBB. He had been unbeatable in September and October in his career against all AL opponents, going 16-2 with a 2.50 ERA. Lesters three starts in Chicago have been stellar: 2-1 with a 2.70 ERA, and overall no White Sox starter was hitting better than .222 for his career against him.

Lesters got four pitches and he can use both sides of the plate, Konerko said. You just have to keep scratching.

I was worried when I gave up a home run, Danks said of the two-run blast he surrendered to Victor Martinez in the third that put Boston ahead, 2-1. Lester is tough to score against.

That all changed on Thursday, when the Red Sox ace was pummeled for nine hits and eight earned runs in four innings, an outing that tacked more than a quarter-run onto his season ERA. Lester also lost a shot at becoming Bostons first 20-game winner in three seasons, finishing his campaign at 19-9.

We made him workhe had 99 pitches in four innings, Guillen said. Our offense did a tremendous job.

Konerkos grand slam paced a 2-3 night, but the offense was keyed by Juan Pierre, who reached base on his first four plate appearances, going 3-3 with a walk. Pierre also swiped three bags, giving him 66 on the season, a personal best.

Before the game, I was making fun of Pierre because I told him I wasnt playing him and he got angry with me, Guillen said. Im lucky to manage this guy. I love fast players. Speed never gets in a slump.

Before the baseball gods could darken the game, Dayan Viciedo (starting at Konerkos first base, with PK shifting to DH for the night) clouted an opposite-field, two-run homer in the fifth, which would close out the scoring.

Danks was sharp for the White Sox, tossing six innings of five-hit, one-run ball, striking out six. In his final start of 2010, the southpaw shaved his ERA down to 3.72 and extended career bests in wins (to 15) and strikeouts (162).

The White Sox have now spun wins in seven of eight games, finishing the 2010 campaign strong, just as Guillen promised they would.

Were going out there trying to win every game, and this was just another example of that, Danks said. Games like this make it fun to pitch, even when were out of it.

For Konerko, being feted with a curtain call from a rapturous U.S. Cellular Field crowd after his grand slam was a season highlight, and admittedly a career one.

That felt good, Konerko said. Curtain calls are really special. I remember all of themyou never know when your last one might be.

White Sox fans will go to sleep tonight praying it wasnt their final serenade of the Captain.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.coms White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox information.

After Reynaldo Lopez said White Sox 'looked like clowns' in Cleveland, Rick Renteria fine with his pitcher's comments

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USA TODAY

After Reynaldo Lopez said White Sox 'looked like clowns' in Cleveland, Rick Renteria fine with his pitcher's comments

The White Sox are on a seven-game losing streak and are 25 games below .500.

It’s perhaps no surprise that the losses have piled up in a season that was always going to be about player development and advancing the rebuilding effort. Rick Hahn didn’t call this the hardest part of the rebuild for nothing.

But losing is fun for no one, and to be in the midst of such results on an everyday basis can unsurprisingly cause frustration to build.

The most verbalized display of that frustration to date came earlier this week, when at the end of a sweep at the hands of the division-rival Cleveland Indians, pitcher Reynaldo Lopez said he and his teammates “looked like clowns.”

“It’s unacceptable for us to look the way we looked today,” Lopez told reporters, including MLB.com’s Scott Merkin, through a translator after Wednesday’s 12-0 loss in Cleveland. “Nobody is happy about the way we looked today. Honestly, we looked like clowns there, starting with me. But I know we can do better. It’s a matter of us to keep grinding, improving and working hard.”

Calling the people you work with “clowns” might cause some problems in the average workplace. But the leader of this team, manager Rick Renteria, was fine with what Lopez said and complimented him for making the comments, not a dissimilar reaction to the one he had after veteran pitcher James Shields said he didn’t care about the rebuild and wanted to win now earlier this season.

“Good for him,” Renteria said of Lopez on Friday. “I think he was just speaking what everybody was probably sensing. I think nobody was hiding it. I think the players knew it. I think we addressed it a little bit. You know, when the pitcher comes out — I mean, he took accountability for himself, that’s one of the things we were talking about, that’s a good thing.

“I think when these guys express themselves to each other and make it known that we expect certain things and we’re not doing those things and we want to get back to what we’ve always preached.

“I think they’re all accountable. They look in the mirror. They understand, I believe, that he was speaking from a place of trying to get us back to understanding that there’s a level of play that you expect, there’s a level of focus and concentration that you’re looking to have, and it’s the only way you have a chance in order to compete.

“I mean, you’re playing against some of the best teams in the game of baseball. You need to have that focus and concentration in order to give yourself a chance. He just made it known.”

As Renteria kept saying, Lopez was just as hard on himself, and he had a right to be. He allowed five runs on six hits and four walks in just 4.1 innings. Surely he’d be happy to avoid the Indians again this season: In two starts against them, he’s allowed 11 earned runs on 14 hits over seven innings.

But he wasn’t alone in Wednesday’s ugliness. The offense mustered only two hits in the shutout, Yoan Moncada committed another fielding error, and the bullpen allowed seven more runs, six of them charged to Bruce Rondon.

Similar vocalizations of this team’s frustrations have come from the likes of Hahn, Renteria and Shields. But now it’s coming from one of the young players who are the reason for this organization’s bright future. Lopez has pitched as well as any White Sox pitcher this season, and he figures to be in the mix for a spot in the team’s rotation of the future.

“I think it speaks volumes for him,” Renteria said. “You can’t be scared to voice what you believe is, in your opinion, something that you’re viewing, especially (about) yourself. And then you can direct it, if you need to, to the rest of the club. And I think he did a nice job. I thought he did it very respectfully, to be honest.”

The level of talent on this roster obviously isn’t what the White Sox hope it will be in the coming years, and because of the development happening in the minor leagues, many of the big league team’s current players aren’t expected to be around when things transition from rebuilding to contending.

But the attitude and identity that made “Ricky’s boys don’t quit” a rallying cry is still expected to be on display every day. It’s hard to find that kind of thing in a 12-0 loss.

Of course these players don’t want to lose, and Lopez’s comments are a way of saying that. Hence why the manager of the supposed no-quit boys was happy to hear them.

Michael Kopech hasn't had a good June, but that hasn't changed White Sox optimism regarding top pitching prospect

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AP

Michael Kopech hasn't had a good June, but that hasn't changed White Sox optimism regarding top pitching prospect

It wasn’t long ago that the question was: “Why isn’t Michael Kopech pitching in the major leagues?”

The question is now firmly: “What’s wrong with Michael Kopech?”

The new script is of course a reflection of how quickly opinions change during a baseball season, when “what have you done for me lately?” tends to drive the conversation more than looking at the entire body of work.

But the body of work doesn’t look too awesome for the White Sox top-ranked pitching prospect these days. He carries a 5.08 ERA through 14 starts with Triple-A Charlotte. But it’s the recent struggles that have folks second guessing whether he’s ready for the big leagues.

The month of June hasn’t gone well for Kopech, who has a 9.00 ERA in four starts this month. That features two especially ugly outings, when he allowed seven runs in two innings and five runs in three outings. But for a guy who’s got blow-em-away stuff, it’s the walks that are of the utmost concern to box-score readers: He’s got 21 of them in 16 innings over his last four starts. That’s compared to 20 strikeouts.

More walks than strikeouts is never a good thing, and it’s been a glaring bugaboo for White Sox pitchers at the major league level all season. Kopech wasn’t having that problem when this season started out. He struck out 68 batters and walked only 25 over his first 10 starts. But things have changed.

With director of player development Chris Getz on the horn Thursday to talk about all of the promotions throughout the minor league system, he was asked about Kopech and pointed to Wednesday’s outing, which lasted only five innings and featured four more walks. But Kopech only allowed two earned runs, and Getz called it a good outing.

“Last night I was really happy with what he was able to do, and that’s really in comparison looking at his last probably four outings or so,” Getz said. “He did have a little bit of a hiccup, getting a little erratic. He was getting a little quick in his delivery, his lower half wasn’t picking up with his upper half. The command of his pitches was not there.

“But last night, although the line is not the best line that we’ve seen of Michael this year, it was still a very good outing. He was in the zone, commanding the fastball. His body was under control. He threw some good breaking pitches, a couple of good changeups. He was back to being the competitor we are accustomed to. We are hoping to build off of this outing. I know he’s feeling good about where he’s at from last night and we’ll just kind of go from there.”

It’s important to note, of course, that the White Sox are often looking for things that can’t be read in a box score. So when we see a lot of walks or a lot of hits or a small amount of strikeouts, that doesn’t tell the whole story nor does it count as everything the decision makers in the organization are looking at.

Still, this is development and growth in action — and perhaps a sign that the White Sox have been right in not yet deeming Kopech ready for the majors. Kopech perhaps needs the time at Triple-A to work through these issues rather than be thrown into a big league fire.

As for how these struggles will affect his timeline, that remains to be seen. The White Sox aren’t ruling anything out, not promising that he’ll be on the South Side before the end of this season but certainly not ruling it out either.

“If he builds off of what he did last night, commanding his fastball, his breaking pitches continue to kind of define themselves, I think we’ve got a chance to see him,” Getz said. “He’s going to find his way to the big leagues. He’s going to be an impact frontline type starter. I’m very confident in that.

“Now just like a lot of great players, sometimes it’s a meandering path. And to say that he’s gone off track is not fair because it’s only been a couple of outings. I think he’s in a really good spot. If he builds off of this, I don’t think it’s unfair to think he’ll be up here at some point.”