White Sox

Mat Latos: White Sox 'good fit' to get back on track

mat-latos-0219.png

Mat Latos: White Sox 'good fit' to get back on track

GLENDALE, Ariz. — An “interesting” offseason for Mat Latos has the starting pitcher in White Sox camp on a deal the club found to be too good to turn down.

The right-hander reported to spring training on Friday morning at Camelback Ranch, 10 days after he finalized a surprising contract with the White Sox. Many analysts and observers have described the one-year deal worth $3 million as a bargain for the first-time free agent.

One of many veteran free agents still on the market, Latos reportedly bypassed other teams’ offers and said he’s happy to be with the White Sox.

“It was interesting,” Latos said of the offseason. “We had conversations and talks, offers on the table, it was a matter of finding the right fit.

“Kind of figured everything out and decided it was a good fit.”

[MORE WHITE SOX: Melky Cabrera: White Sox are ready for playoffs]

Latos didn’t get too in depth on what must have been a stressful offseason.

While he has been hurt the past two seasons, Latos has a strong track record. The 28-year-old went 51-35 with a 3.27 ERA from 2010-13. But same as many of his talented peers, Latos found himself without a home as the calendar flipped to February.

Given how many veterans are still available — Dexter Fowler, Yovani Gallardo and Ian Desmond, to name a few — Latos must feel lucky. General manager Rick Hahn does, noting in a statement last week that the opportunity to sign Latos was “too good” to pass up. Even though this year’s free agent class was loaded with talent, Hahn said the number of players still available is unexpected.

“I didn’t see it going this long,” Hahn said. “I don’t think anybody really predicted it to go this long. Every year there are a few guys who sign after camp start, or around Valentine’s Day or so, who wind up being quality contributors. But it does appear there are a fair amount more out there this year than in years past.”

Latos’ poor health the previous two seasons likely played a role in him still being available this late in the offseason.

He had bone chips removed from his right elbow two offseasons ago and then suffered a left knee injury in 2014 spring training. He didn’t make his 2014 debut until June, and his knee issues lingered into 2015, when he went 4-10 with a 4.95 ERA in 24 games (21 starts).

But Latos still managed to find a comfortable landing spot with the White Sox.

He cited working with pitching coach Don Cooper and manager Robin Ventura as reasons to feel comfortable.

[SHOP WHITE SOX: Get your White Sox gear right here]

Latos also wanted to reunite with catcher Dioner Navarro, who made quite an impression upon him even though he only caught Latos seven times near the end of the 2012 campaign with the Cincinnati Reds. He went 2-0 with a 2.41 ERA in his final five starts of the 2012 regular season, all caught by Navarro. The two — who shared a big hug Friday — worked well enough for the veteran to become the pitcher’s “hashtag — personal catcher,” Navarro said with a smile.

“We kind of clicked,” Navarro said. “He can be really good. I think he’s going through a rough patch right now. But he’s going to be out of it, and hopefully I’ll be part of this season.”

Latos hopes his offseason work with a physical trainer to strengthen the left knee helps him get past a time he described as “extremely frustrating.” Last spring, Latos had 90 CCs of fluid drained from his knee. Two months later he went on the disabled list. He threw a bullpen session on Friday and said he feels good.

Now, Latos wants to prove he can return to the form he displayed early in his career — which likely would make next offseason a little easier.

“I feel great,” Latos said. “I spent all winter in Miami working out with a physical therapist. ... We attacked some of the points that were weak during the year and fixed what was bothering me.

“I feel like I have to go out and pitch like I used to before the injury. I struggled with the injury, it was something I never had to deal with, having back-to-back surgeries. It was something to overcome, and I feel like the training program I was on during the offseason will help.”

On this day in 2005: White Sox pitchers put the CG in Chicago

On this day in 2005: White Sox pitchers put the CG in Chicago

Mark Buehrle. Jon Garland. Freddy García. José Contreras.

The 2005 White Sox had four consecutive complete games to finish off the 2005 ALCS — Contreras took his turn in Game 5 against the Angels 13 years ago Tuesday. How special was that run of starting pitching to finish that series? Consider the following six statements:

— No team has had more than two complete games in a single postseason, let alone a postseason series, since.

— There has been a grand total of four complete games in 188 postseason games (through Monday) since the beginning of 2016.

— Those 2005 White Sox remain the only team with four complete games in a single LCS (which went to a best-of-seven format in 1985).

— They are the only team since the 1968 Tigers (in the World Series) with at least four complete games in any postseason series.

— They are the only team since the 1956 Yankees (in the World Series) with at least four consecutive complete games in a series. (The Yankees had five in a row: Games 3 through 7.)

— They are the only team since the 1928 Yankees (in the World Series) with at least four consecutive complete-game wins in a series (Games 1 through 4).

Take a moment to look back and appreciate what Don Cooper’s troops were able to accomplish in that series. The way the game is played nowadays, we will never see it again.

If 2018 was all about 'learning experiences' for young White Sox, what did Lucas Giolito learn?

1016_lucas_giolito.jpg
USA TODAY

If 2018 was all about 'learning experiences' for young White Sox, what did Lucas Giolito learn?

We heard a lot about "learning experiences" during the White Sox 100-loss 2018 season.

It was Rick Renteria's way of describing the to-be-anticipated growing pains for highly touted players spending their first full seasons in the major leagues. Fan expectations were high for the likes of Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Yoan Moncada, and by very few measures did those players — some of the first of the organization's bevy of prospects to reach the South Side — live up to those expectations.

But that doesn't mean that those players' seasons were devoid of value. Renteria, the White Sox and the players all expect these "learning experiences" to have long-term benefits. In other words, it's the struggles now that will help these players succeed and create the planned perennial contender on the South Side.

So if those "learning experiences" were so valuable, what did these guys learn?

Giolito finished his first full season in the bigs with a 6.13 ERA, leading baseball in earned runs allowed and leading the American League in walks. What did he take from what looked from the outside like a disappointing season?

"I think I learned the most from my worst starts this year, the ones where I didn’t make it out of the first, didn’t make it out of the second," Giolito said before the end of the White Sox season last month. "Just going out there not having the right mindset from the get go and allowing the game to speed up on me really quickly, there’s maybe two, three, four games where that happened. And obviously I came out of those games upset and frustrated, but now looking back on them from this perspective at the end of the season, I really learned the most from those.

"Entering every single start, I get roughly 32 of them a year, make sure that I’m prepared, I’m ready to pitch, my routine is set and I’m following it to a ‘T.’ And over the second half of the season, I started to put up better numbers, put up more competitive starts just through that process of earlier in the year grinding and grinding and not doing well. I learned a lot about myself in that process as a pitcher and as a competitor."

Certain numbers don't exactly show a drastic improvement from one half of the season to the other: Giolito's ERA prior to the All-Star break (6.18) and after it (6.04) were pretty much the same. He had a much improved August (3.86 ERA in six starts) and a rough September (9.27 ERA in five starts).

But again, the 2018 season wasn't about what the numbers look like now. It was about what those numbers will look like a year or two or three from now, when the White Sox make their transition from rebuilding to contending.

"You go out there and you don’t get the job done, you’re knocked out of the game early, looking back on it, it’s like, ‘Now I know what doesn’t work.’ And I’m able to make those adjustments and the changes to the routine and the changes to mindset and things to be able to go out there," Giolito said. "I’m not going to have my best stuff every day. Some days I might not feel right and might be battling myself a little bit. But it’s being able to make that quick adjustment, not letting the game speed up. That’s the biggest thing.

"At this level, you go out there and you’re not feeling right in the first inning, it might be three runs, four runs on the board before you even know it. And I think getting that experience, getting to pitch every fifth day for an entire season and having a ton of downs and starting to figure it out more toward the end, it’s gaining that experience and learning what works and learning what doesn’t."

Throughout the season, Renteria complimented Giolito for the pitcher's ability to move on from rough beginnings to starts and turn in a five- or six-outing despite the early trouble. Giolito did a good deal of that throughout the season, with longevity during starts rarely being an issue, even if the run totals were high. Only six of his 32 starts in 2018 were shorter than five innings, and the percentage of his starts that lasted six and seven innings increased from the first half of the season to the second.

And then there are the walks, and there was a significant decrease in the amount of guys Giolito was putting on base between the first and second halves of the season. He walked 60 batters in 103.1 innings in the first half for a BB/9 of 5.2, compared to 30 batters in 70 innings in the second half for a BB/9 of 3.9.

So there were positives for Giolito to take from his 2018 campaign.

"The second half of the season, bouncing back from what I was doing. Cutting down on the walks, starting to pitch better, pitch more consistently. Even games when I wasn’t sharp, I was getting hit around, not doing so well, I did a better job of at least giving the team a chance, getting a little bit deeper into the game," he said. "So I’d say those are some of the highlights, learning from the mistakes and learning from the failures and within the season being able to make the right adjustments to be more successful."

On Opening Day, Giolito talked about how different a pitcher he was more than a year after joining the White Sox organization. One full season in the big leagues, and Giolito is again a different pitcher. It's that continuing evolution that the White Sox hope will make him a mainstay in their rotation of the future.

"More experience, more mature. I’m no longer really fazed by the big situation. If I get into trouble in the first inning, I’m not worrying about it or thinking about it or how I screwed up the last at-bat, last pitch, I walked a guy, gave up a double, whatever it might be. Now, what’s in the past is in the past, even when I’m out there," he said. "If I mess up a couple pitches, I know the adjustment to make and I’m going to do my best to make that adjustment without it taking a couple innings or even never making the adjustment the entire start, which is what was happening through April, May, June.

"Just getting that experience and learning to make those adjustments on the fly. I’d say that’s what I’m really taking away from this year."