White Sox

Mike Pelfrey lifted after five scoreless innings as White Sox end home stand with loss to Red Sox

Mike Pelfrey lifted after five scoreless innings as White Sox end home stand with loss to Red Sox

Mike Pelfrey was coming out of the game after five innings. Rick Renteria had determined that much hours earlier.

Even after the veteran right-hander held the visiting Boston Red Sox scoreless and to just two hits in five innings of work Wednesday night, Renteria was sticking to his game plan of lifting Pelfrey for a reliever.

Unfortunately, Anthony Swarzak surrendered four runs in the sixth inning, and the White Sox lost 4-1 to finish off a seven-game home stand at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“He gave us a solid five innings of work,” Renteria said after the game. “Got into the game today with our game plan already set up. He was going to give us five, hold them there and then we were going to hand it over to the bullpen, basically. Unfortunately it didn't work out for us in that particular inning.”

It might not have mattered, really, as batters have done an awful lot of damage against Pelfrey when facing him for the third time in a game, entering Wednesday with a .556 batting average in the third plate appearance. That’s an insane jump compared to the .220 and .143 averages in the first and second plate appearances, respectively.

And you can’t blame anyone for having confidence in Swarzak, who had allowed just three runs on the season coming into this one. Eighteen of Swarzak’s first 19 appearances this year were scoreless ones, hence the lack of concern in handing him a 1-0 lead.

But the Red Sox did their damage, with back-to-back one-out singles in the sixth followed by an intentional walk to load the bases. Swarzak got the ground ball he wanted, but the White Sox couldn’t come up with an inning-ending double play. The tying run scored on that play, and the go-ahead run scored on Pablo Sandoval’s base hit. Christian Vazquez then smacked a double into the gap and boosted the lead to 4-1 with a pair of RBIs.

“I feel like I made some quality pitches, but at the same time I didn’t put guys away when I had the opportunity to,” Swarzak said. “I’m trying not to think about it too much, obviously. The results weren’t there. It’s extremely unfortunate because I really believe that if I throw up a zero right there, we’re going to go on to win that game 1-0. That wasn’t the case, some balls fell in and couldn’t put the ball past somebody when I really needed to. The result was four runs.”

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While hindsight often criticizes unfairly, you can’t help but wonder what might have been had Pelfrey stayed in the game.

It was just three starts ago against the Los Angeles Angels that Pelfrey couldn’t get out of the fifth and gave up four runs in that game. But Wednesday’s effort marked his third straight strong performance. His five scoreless innings Wednesday followed five innings of one-run ball against the Detroit Tigers on Saturday and six innings of one-run ball against the Seattle Mariners on May 20. Pelfrey has a 1.13 ERA and 15 strikeouts in his last three starts.

For the man himself, 12 years in the big leagues have taught him to listen to the man in the managerial chair.

“I just look at it, my job is to give it everything I have until you come take the ball,” Pelfrey said. “Obviously he’s the boss and he felt good about it. We’re on the same team, we’re trying to win games. And Swarzak’s been great all year. Had some bad luck there with some flares and stuff. I didn’t try to talk him out of it. I felt fine. But I guess he thought that was enough, and that was enough.

“When I was a lot younger, I definitely didn’t like coming out of the game and always had something to say. Maybe that’s a little selfish. I know that in Anaheim he left me in there, and it ended up costing us. I just go out there and give you whatever I have until you say enough’s enough and move on. I feel pretty good about that situation every time you hand the ball over to Swarzak, as good as he’s been. Unfortunately he just had some bad luck.”

Of course, the White Sox offense didn’t help any of its pitchers out Wednesday. After pushing across a run in the second inning against Red Sox starter Drew Pomeranz, the White Sox couldn’t do much of anything against him the rest of the night. Pomeranz stranded seven runners in his seven innings of work as the White Sox bats fell completely silent after getting back-to-back singles to lead off the home half of the sixth. The final 12 hitters of the game were put down in order.

So while Renteria might have gotten some second-guessing for his pregame plan Wednesday, remember that the offense didn’t hold up its end of the expected bargain.

“I think all our pitchers, I'm hoping, will continue to extend their usage,” Renteria explained. “It also depends on the availability of our ‘pen. If you're able to shorten your ‘pen, you can't do it all the time because then you're using your ‘pen all the time. You have to be able to give those guys opportunities to go out there and eat up some innings.

“The caveat to that is on the offensive side we give them some room to be able to work and allow then to get back out there and give you another inning or two.”

Wednesday’s loss ended the White Sox once-promising home stand at a mere 4-3, a stretch that doesn’t look quite as good as it did ahead of Tuesday’s game, when the South Siders entered the matchup with former teammate Chris Sale at 4-1 on the stay.

But there are positives that are clear to see, the latest being Pelfrey’s string of solid performances.

"I feel good about where I'm at,” Pelfrey said. “I feel good about my off-speed pitches, I think they're probably better than they've ever been. But as I said, I've thrown a lot more than I ever have. I just want to get a little deeper into games and I've got to find a way to be a little more efficient to be able to do that. That's my next goal.”

MLB proposing colossal changes to minor leagues, including eliminating dozens of teams


MLB proposing colossal changes to minor leagues, including eliminating dozens of teams

If Major League Baseball gets its way, there could be seismic changes coming to the minor leagues.

According to a report from Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper, the league has proposed a host of sweeping changes to the minor leagues, including the elimination of 42 affiliated teams.

The proposal is merely the beginning of what are expected to be lengthy negotiations over a new version of what’s called the “Professional Baseball Agreement,” basically the contract that keeps the major and minor leagues connected and minor league teams stocked with players employed by major league clubs. The existing edition expires at the end of the 2020 season, and so a new one will need to be hashed out.

Major League Baseball is looking for control over how the minor leagues are organized, with an eye on improving facilities and clustering affiliates and leagues from a geographic standpoint to cut down on travel costs. There’s also expected to be an increase in salaries for minor league players, which has long been a talking point thanks to the increasing number of descriptions of how financially difficult life can be for those trying to reach the majors.

To accomplish those goals, Major League Baseball is proposing drastic solutions.

The one that will grab the most attention is the elimination of more than a quarter of the existing affiliated teams in the minor leagues, removing affiliated minor league teams from more than three dozen cities across the United States and getting rid of more than 1,000 jobs for minor league players. Simply, the entire short-season rookie ball (excluding squads that play at team-owned facilities in Arizona and Florida) would be eliminated, leaving only four levels of affiliated teams: Low Class A, High Class A, Double-A and Triple-A.

If you’re wondering what would happen to those 42 teams, the proposal is for them to form something called a “Dream League,” which would essentially serve the same purpose as an independent league, allowing players without jobs to keep playing and try to get a job with a major league team.

Additionally, Major League Baseball is proposing radical restructuring of existing leagues in order to cluster teams closer together. That could include changing the level of certain teams, such as making a Class A team a Triple-A team based on the quality of facilities and what makes the most geographic sense. Leagues could also gain or lose a large number of teams, with the Triple-A International League growing to 20 teams and the Triple-A Pacific Coast League shrinking to just 10 teams. One Class A league was described as being reduced to just six teams, while the rest of its current teams would be put into a brand-new league.

As for how the White Sox and their affiliates would be affected, team-specific information was not included in the report. One read of the details of this proposal could see something such as the White Sox affiliates being relocated to Midwestern cities. Another, however, could see the White Sox affiliates mostly staying how they currently are, given those teams are all geographically close to one another, with all but one located in North Carolina.

Buried in all of this is another big change, a proposed move of the draft from June to August, giving players a couple more months to show off for major league teams, and a reduction in the number of rounds from the current 40 to somewhere between 20 and 25. That, and the elimination of short-season rookie ball, would likely prevent draftees from playing minor league baseball in the same year they’re drafted.

It’s all something to keep an eye on, for sure, as many fans across the country who closely follow minor league teams in their hometowns could experience a dramatic shakeup.

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State of the White Sox: Manager and coaching staff

State of the White Sox: Manager and coaching staff

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The 2019 season is over, and the White Sox — who have been focusing on the future for quite some time now — are faced with an important offseason, one that could set up a 2020 campaign with hopes of playoff contention.

With the postseason in swing and a little bit still before the hot stove starts cooking, let’s take a position-by-position look at where the White Sox stand, what they’re looking to accomplish this winter and what we expect to see in 2020 and beyond.

We’re wrapping things up with the manager and the coaching staff.

What happened in 2019

While it’s easy to cruise through the statistical production of players and determine just how well they performed in 2019, that’s a little more difficult when it comes to manager Rick Renteria and his coaching staff.

In the end, managers and coaches are evaluated on win-loss record — or at least how close they came to meeting the expectations in that department. While the White Sox are a gruesome 83 games under .500 in Renteria’s three years at the helm, that’s not really falling outside the expectations he had when he took over a rebuilding club. So it’s pretty hard to argue that because the White Sox lost 89 games in 2019, Renteria did a poor job.

Truly, his performance as a manager can’t be determined until he’s managing a team with expectations of winning. Renteria more than anyone has been the one setting such expectations for 2020, spending much of the waning weeks of the 2019 campaign voicing his opinion that all this losing stops next season.

“I’m expecting that this is it,” Renteria said. “We’re trying to win. We talk about it, we’re going through it. I know there’s still some refining to do, but I’ll be honest with you, we’re coming in, we’re finishing this season, we’re talking about coming into next season ready to battle. Period. Exclamation point. That’s what we’re looking to do.”

Renteria and his staff did plenty in 2019 to continue developing the team’s young players into the core of the future. But the skipper's most memorable on-field moment came in September, when even after he stopped making mound visits because of shoulder surgery, he went out to the mound and had an animated conversation with Reynaldo Lopez. Lopez made a habit of following up stellar performances with ugly ones, lacking consistency in a fashion that made even the optimistic Renteria throw up his hands at times. Renteria utilized that frustration on the mound in Detroit in an attempt to get some points across to the pitcher.

When it comes to Renteria’s staff, certainly they deserve some credit for some of the breakout seasons on the roster. Hitting coach Todd Steverson did offseason work with both Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson ahead of 2019 campaigns that saw them transform into the best all-around hitter on the team and the big league batting champ, respectively. Pitching coach Don Cooper helped oversee Lucas Giolito’s transformation into an All Star. Infield coach Joe McEwing worked with Moncada, who made a smooth transition from second base to third base.

But if the coaches earn some of the credit for the things that went right, they must also be mentioned alongside the things that went wrong. Steverson coached an offense that ranked near the bottom of the game in most categories. Cooper coached a starting rotation that finished the season with a 5.30 ERA. McEwing coached Anderson, who committed a major league high 26 errors.

None of that is to say those guys are wholly responsible for those negative outcomes. Just as the players have to be the ones to turn in the good results, they’re the ones who have to turn in the poor ones, as well. Steverson, however, along with assistant hitting coach Greg Sparks, will not be back for the 2020 season.

What will happen this offseason

The White Sox have already made their coaching moves this offseason, parting ways with Steverson and Sparks and replacing Steverson with Frank Menechino, who after several seasons on the Miami Marlins staff took over as the hitting coach at Triple-A Charlotte in 2019.

Menechino impressed the White Sox with his work there, spent September with the big league club and was quickly promoted once the season was over. At Charlotte, he worked with top-ranked prospects Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal, who both had fantastic seasons playing at three different minor league levels and figure to be everyday players for most of the 2020 season.

The change, in the end, seemed to be more about how the White Sox felt about what Menechino could bring to the table than a reaction to the offensive production from a team that didn’t have expectations of doing much more than it did during another rebuilding season.

General manager Rick Hahn announced that the rest of the staff will be back in 2020.

What to expect for 2020 and beyond

There will be a change in the expectations game come 2020. That should be mostly because of the breakout 2019 seasons from so many young players, the pending arrival of Robert and Madrigal and the offseason additions anticipated to be made by Hahn’s front office. But if nothing else, the expectations, when it comes to Renteria, will be different because he’s already said they will be.

“I'm not going to make any bones about it, it's time to turn the page,” he said just last week, “it's time to get us to another level of performance. That goes across the board, it goes with all aspects of our game.”

And so judging him and his staff can reach another level, too, because it will no longer solely be about hard-to-define development but the cold, hard wins and losses. Plenty of fans have taken to Twitter and complained about Renteria during this losing stretch, suggesting he’s not the one to manage this team into a winning era, but those were conclusions that cannot be drawn considering the quality of the rosters he’s managed in his three years on the South Side. How can you judge a manager’s ability to contend when he doesn’t have the tools to do so?

That’s about to change, so there will finally be some actual evidence to back up either side of that argument.

It’s clear where the White Sox stand in that discussion. They’ve been praising the job Renteria has done for three years now, and they’ve expressed nothing but confidence that he’ll be the guy to get it done.

“When Ricky was put in that role, it wasn't with the idea that he was just going to be the right guy for the first stage, the stage that is coming toward an end here, or is at an end here,” Hahn said during his end-of-season press conference last month. “Obviously, the history and teaching and communicating and holding guys accountable is very important now. But even at the time we hired him, we felt he had the ability to not only set the right winning culture but to put guys in the best position to win.

“His ability to communicate with all 25 or 26 guys on a daily basis, to know where they're at, to know what they're capable of doing and putting them in the best position, makes us fairly confident that once that roster is deep enough and strong enough that he's going to be able to maximize the win potential with that roster when the time comes.”

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