White Sox

Morel's struggles and the No. 2 spot

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Morel's struggles and the No. 2 spot

Brent Morel went 0-4 with four strikeouts on Opening Day, in which he hit second. The following game, Morel was dropped to eighth in the Sox order with Brent Lillibridge drawing a walk in four plate appearances in the two-hole. On that Sunday against Texas, Morel was given the day off and Gordon Beckham hit second, going 1-3 with a walk.

Morel returned to the No. 2 spot the next day, remaining there until he got a reprieve Thursday against Baltimore. His lines in between were: 1-5, 0-3 (1BB), 1-3, 1-3 (1BB), 0-4, 1-3, 1-5, 0-5. As a No. 2 hitter, Morel has struck out 18 times in 40 trips to the plate. For someone whose bat-handling skills were listed as a main reason why he would hit second, that's not good. And it's much, much worse for someone who showed so much promise last September.

A concern is that Morel's struggles are related to his spot in the order -- in other words, the duties that come along with hitting second. Unfortunately, No. 2 hitters are usually asked to hit behind runners, which means if Alejandro De Aza is on base, Morel's expected to punch the ball to the right side.

Given what Morel said at SoxFest about his September surge of 2011, that doesn't sound like the best strategy.

"I was just caught up trying to put the ball in play and just kinda move guys over and do that kind of stuff," Morel said of his pre-September approach. "Toward the end, I relaxed a little bit and was more selective and patient up there. That helped me out."

If Morel's caught up in trying to put the ball in play this year, it isn't showing -- his 41 percent strikeout rate is the highest of any starter on the Sox. But Morel's swung at plenty of bad pitches and, most notably, has only pulled two balls to the outfield all year (chart via Texas Leaguers):

Morel's eight-homer September was fueled by pulling the ball, along with better plate discipline. Right now, Morel isn't pulling the ball, nor is he displaying good plate discipline.

Hitting coach Jeff Manto, though, doesn't see Morel's 2012 issues as being the product of his spot in the lineup.

"Once the game starts, you become a hitter -- every inning, the order changes," Manto said Thursday. "I don't think he's trying to do anything different because he's in the two-hole. I know that if all goes well -- De Aza gets a hit, steals second and he moves the ball, then yeah, that becomes normal. But that might happen in the fifth inning, in the sixth inning if he's hitting in the two-hole, three-hole or four-hole. He is the hitter who he is, no matter where he is in the lineup."

Essentially, Manto's saying Morel would have the same duties associated with the No. 2 spot -- moving guys along, basically -- no matter where he hits. That makes sense, although it doesn't make sense to have Morel concentrate on putting the ball in play andor hitting to the right side.

Morel has the ability to be a productive offensive player for the White Sox. That much he proved at the tail end of last year. And, fair or not, that level (or, more realistically, one somewhat close to it) of offensive production is what Morel will strive for.

"He's been trying to get to that feel of last year, so to speak, and has always been trying to get to that feel," Manto said. "We're looking at the ball. We're looking to hit the ball and let the mechanics and everything else take care of itself. We talk about it all the time, the most important thing is the ball and not the mechanics."

So don't expect Morel to have his stanceswing tweaked a la Gordon Beckham. But maybe he could pull Manto's quote of "we're looking at the ball" and go from there, not worrying about where the ball ends up.

That's what he did last September, and that's what he'll have to do to pull himself out of his struggles and give the Sox a viable No. 2 hitter.

White Sox Talk Podcast: Future looking bright for White Sox rotation

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USA Today

White Sox Talk Podcast: Future looking bright for White Sox rotation

Chuck Garfien and Vinnie Duber take a look at the young guns in the White Sox starting rotation (Giolito, Lopez and Cease) who are coming off their best week together as a trio and why they are excited about the future (1:00). Ivan Nova has a lower ERA than some of the best pitchers in baseball. Seriously. (5:20). The competition going on behind the scenes with the starting rotation (6:40). What will the rotation look like in 2020? (13:00) and more.

Listen here or in the embedded player below. 

White Sox Talk Podcast

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With young arms dealing, Reynaldo Lopez sets high expectations for White Sox rotation in 2020

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USA TODAY

With young arms dealing, Reynaldo Lopez sets high expectations for White Sox rotation in 2020

The White Sox starting rotation of the future won’t be complete until Michael Kopech returns from Tommy John surgery. It won’t be complete until Rick Hahn’s front office is done shopping this winter.

But what the team’s young pitchers, the ones throwing right now at the major league level, have done of late has to have everyone feeling good about the starting staff’s prospects in 2020.

Lucas Giolito called his most recent outing, a shutout of the high-powered Minnesota Twins, the “best I’ve ever felt pitching in my life.” Dylan Cease settled down nicely after some early struggles against the Texas Rangers on Friday and called his performance the best he’s had as a big leaguer. Reynaldo Lopez had to leave Sunday’s outing after just five innings, his days-old sickness a little too much to handle, but he didn’t allow a single hit before his departure.

All in all — and that includes recent strong showings from veterans Ivan Nova and Ross Detwiler, too — the rotation has a 2.09 ERA in the last seven games, five of which have ended in White Sox victories.

“We’re excited,” Lopez said through team interpreter Billy Russo after Sunday’s game. “This is a very, very exciting moment for all of us and for the organization.

“I think the expectations that you can have right now and that we have right now for the future are really, really high because we all know what we’re capable of doing. And if we’re just doing it right now, then it’s going to be just part of the process, just continuing doing what we’re doing right now.

“The learning process for all of us, for the young guys, has been outstanding. I think all of us have been learning a lot outing by outing and just putting those lessons on the field, too. It’s not just learning and, ‘OK, yes, learning this today and going to apply it in a week.’ No, you need to apply it right away and we’ve been doing that.

“I think you can see the results and for us as a group, it’s a very good moment.”

To those not so sure, there are perfectly valid reasons to be skeptical about the makeup of the 2020 rotation.

Lopez has been terrific since the All-Star break, his second-half ERA down to 2.82 after the five scoreless innings Sunday, but that doesn’t erase the woeful 6.34 number he had in the first half.

Cease has shown what everyone, including manager Rick Renteria, calls “electric stuff,” but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s got a 5.76 ERA and has allowed a homer in all nine starts he’s made since his promotion.

Giolito has been an ace but will have to show that his transformation from the guy who gave up more earned runs than any pitcher in baseball in 2018 into an All Star is permanent.

Kopech’s next start will be just his fifth as a big leaguer and will come, at the earliest, nearly 19 months after his fourth. And while the White Sox remain confident, there’s no telling, until we see him in action, what kind of pitcher he is following the surgery.

And though Hahn has pledged aggressiveness this offseason, we don’t know what kind of pitcher the White Sox will be able to add this winter.

But all that can be effectively countered by what’s happening right now before our eyes.

“They continue to mature, grow, learn,” Renteria said. “It's not necessarily the outcomes, even though you want those good outcomes to occur. It's what they're feeling in terms of what they believe they're capable of doing in certain moments. They're starting to trust themselves a little bit more and able to execute and get through games.”

No matter what the White Sox front office does this offseason, it figures to have four 2020 rotation spots spoken for: Giolito, Lopez, Cease and Kopech. That’s 80 percent of a rotation made up of homegrown arms, or if you’re a stickler on the definition of “homegrown,” guys acquired in those rebuild-jumpstarting trades in 2016 and 2017.

With Giolito and Lopez dealing of late and Cease getting positive reviews while going through his learning process in his first taste of the major leagues, Lopez’s words ring true. There should be excitement and high expectations for next season. These young arms and what they’re doing right now, not hypothetically but in reality, is part of what makes a transition from rebuilding to contending in 2020 look possible.

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