White Sox

Mixed emotions for White Sox as Nieves departs

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Mixed emotions for White Sox as Nieves departs

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- No names have been discussed, but Don Cooper knows the White Sox have a critical vacancy created by Wednesdays departure of Juan Nieves.

The White Sox bullpen coach for the past five seasons, Nieves, 47, accepted an offer to take over as pitching coach of the Boston Red Sox.

The White Sox first hired Nieves in November 1998 as the teams Single-A pitching coach. Though the current White Sox pitching coach thinks the team wouldnt move to immediately replace Nieves, Cooper did stress the importance of the relationship with whoever takes over. Cooper described how he and Nieves were in lock step with one another when it came to philosophy and style.

Its an important job, Cooper said by phone from Nashville, Tenn. We worked together, lived together and talked about (pitching) endlessly. We were totally on the same page and came up with plans for each guy. Juan fit like a glove. Hes a qualified guy. He earned his chance.

White Sox general manager Rick Hahn described the move as bittersweet. He also lauded Nieves -- who was 32-25 with a 4.71 ERA for the Milwaukee Brewers from 1986-88 -- for his endless effort with pitchers.

You like to see your guys, good guys, get rewarded like that, Hahn said. But hell be missed. Hes a real hard worker. Upbeat guy. Creative. He deserves a fair amount of credit our young guys had in the bullpen this past year. Hes a nice calming, stabilizing force for them.

Reliever Nate Jones agreed with Hahns assessment. Jones said Nieves often spent the entire game engaged with the teams younger pitchers about strategy and situational pitching.

Hes an extremely important piece to the development, Jones said by phone. During all the situations that all of us pitchers get ourselves into, hes always talking strategy and he always had information on hitters. (Nieves and Cooper) both have an eye for mechanical problems, approach and the mental side. Both are well rounded and Im not surprised he got the opportunity.

Hahn sounded confident the White Sox have plenty of internal candidates to take Nieves spot. He expects he, Cooper and manager Robin Ventura among others to discuss the teams options.

As for Bostons choice, Cooper is confident the Red Sox picked a winner. He echoed Hahns sentiments the move is bittersweet.

Its nice to see good people get opportunities, Cooper said. Hes going to be missed, but Im happy for him. The only knock against him is he has no experience. But how do you get experience until you get a chance?

James Shields is having a stellar May and making comeback wins possible for the White Sox

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USA TODAY

James Shields is having a stellar May and making comeback wins possible for the White Sox

If you haven’t checked in with what James Shields is doing in a while, your opinion of the veteran pitcher’s performance might need some updating.

Shields didn’t exactly win the confidence of White Sox fans during his first two seasons on the South Side. After arriving in a midseason trade with the San Diego Padres in 2016, he posted a 6.77 ERA in 22 starts, during which he allowed 31 home runs. He followed that up with a 5.23 ERA and 27 home runs allowed in 2017.

And the 2018 season didn’t start out great, either, with a 6.17 ERA over his first five outings.

But the month of May has brought a dramatic turn in the vet’s production. In five May starts, he’s got a 3.27 ERA in five starts, all of which have seen him go at least six innings (he’s got six straight outings of at least six innings, dating back to his last start in April).

And his two most recent starts have probably been his two best ones of the season. After allowing just one run on three hits in 7.1 innings last Thursday against the Texas Rangers, he gave up just two runs on five hits Tuesday night against the Baltimore Orioles.

The White Sox, by the way, won both of those games in comeback fashion. They scored four runs in the eighth against Texas and three in the eighth against Baltimore for a pair of “Ricky’s boys don’t quit” victories made possible by Shields’ great work on the mound.

“That’s what it’s all about,” he said after Tuesday’s game. “It’s our job as starters to keep us in the game as long as we possibly can, no matter how we are hitting in a game. At the end of the game, you can always score one or two runs and possibly win a ballgame like we did tonight.”

The White Sox offense was indeed having trouble much of Tuesday’s game, kept off the scoreboard by Orioles starter Kevin Gausman. Particularly upsetting for White Sox Twitter was the sixth inning, when the South Siders put two runners in scoring position with nobody out and then struck out three straight times to end the inning.

But Shields went out and pitched a shut-down seventh, keeping the score at 2-0. Bruce Rondon did much the same thing in the eighth, and the offense finally sparked to life in the bottom of the inning when coincidentally presented with a similar situation to the one in the sixth. This time, though, the inning stayed alive and resulted in scoring, with Welington Castillo, Yoan Moncada and Yolmer Sanchez driving in the three runs.

“I’m out there doing my job,” Shields said. “My job is to try to keep us in the game. And we had some good starters against us that have been throwing well. If I can keep them close, we are going to get some wins and get some wins throughout the rest of the year like that. That’s the name of the game.”

Shields’ value in this rebuilding effort has been discussed often. His veteran presence is of great value in the clubhouse, particularly when it comes to mentoring young pitchers like Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, among others. Shields can act as an example of how to go about one’s business regardless of the outcomes of his starts. But when he can lead by example with strong outings, that’s even more valuable.

“I’m trying to eat as many innings as possible,” he said. “We kind of gave our bullpen — we taxed them a little bit the first month of the season. We are kind of getting back on track. Our goal as a starting staff is to go as deep as possible, and in order to do that, you’ve got to throw strikes and get ahead of hitters.

“Not too many playoff teams, a starting staff goes five and dive every single game. My whole career I’ve always wanted to go as deep as possible. I wanted to take the ball all the way to the end of the game. And we’ve done a pretty good job of it of late.”

It’s a long time between now and the trade deadline, and consistency has at times escaped even the brightest spots on this rebuilding White Sox roster. But Shields has strung together a nice bunch of starts here of late, and if that kind of performance can continue, the White Sox front office might find that it has a potential trade piece on its hands. That, too, is of value to this rebuild.

Until that possibility occurs, though, the team will take more solid outings that give these young players an opportunity to learn how to come back and learn how to win.

Ozzie Guillen offers his solution to PED use in baseball

Ozzie Guillen offers his solution to PED use in baseball

Ozzie Guillen is not one to shy away from having a strong opinion about something.

On NBC Sports Chicago’s Baseball Night in Chicago show on Tuesday, Guillen gave his view on how Major League Baseball can stop the usage of performance-enhancing drugs.

“Major League Baseball, you want to cut this thing down?” Guillen said on the show. “You cancel the contract to this kid. Then you’re going to see that. You get caught one time, you’re banned from baseball, then you’re going to stop with that. Because if you’re going to make $200 million and lose $11 million? I’m going to do it.”

Guillen is going off the idea that a player who used PEDs to get a big contract only loses part of it when he eventually gets caught and suspended. Canceling the rest of a contract takes away some of the financial incentive to use PEDs.

“If you get caught when you are young and you try to survive in the game, well, I don’t agree with them, but you can survive in this game that way,” Guillen said. “You know how hard it is right now. How Major League Baseball is on the top of this thing, day in and day out. They’re not going to play around with this thing.”

Marlon Byrd, who was twice suspended for PED use, was also on the show and talked about his PED suspensions.