White Sox

Preaching fundamentals, White Sox gaining momentum as All-Star break nears

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Preaching fundamentals, White Sox gaining momentum as All-Star break nears

Another hitter or two would be good but the White Sox have discovered that playing fundamental baseball could possibly help them back into the mix.

Winners in nine of their last 11 games, the White Sox will head into the All-Star break no worse than four games under .500 after Saturday’s 5-1 victory over the Cubs in front of 41,596 at Wrigley Field.

As it is, the White Sox are back to three under .500 for the first time since June 12 after Chris Sale delivered yet another gem, the defense turned in both sterling and routine plays and the offense cashed in on its limited opportunities. The White Sox --- who are still 5 1/2 back in the wild-card race behind eight teams --- send Jose Quintana to the mound Sunday in search of a series sweep of the Cubs.

“That’s the way we’re going to have to play,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said, noting his club has put itself in this position. “We have to play good, clean baseball and I think the way our infield is starting to shape up, the way we’re playing defensively and the way our guys are pitching … you find that inning when you can push one across. We got fortunate on the play with the ground ball (in the seventh) and we cashed in on it.”

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The team’s seventh inning rally is one of the aspects they’ve struggled with all season -- the knockout blow.

The White Sox held a 2-0 advantage with a man on first and no outs when Kris Bryant offered a gift with a two-base error on Avisail Garcia’s weak grounder. Bryant’s throw wound up in the visiting dugout and the White Sox made it count. Alexei Ramirez singled on a 3-0 pitch from Jon Lester for his first RBI since June 21 -- a span of 62 plate appearances -- and Tyler Flowers followed with a booming, two-run double to center.

Given that Sale -- who allowed a run and six hits while striking out 10 over seven-plus innings -- was already at 100 pitches the timing couldn’t have been better.

“That makes some decisions easier for Robin,” Flowers said.

An epic run by the pitching staff over the team’s last 11 games hasn’t hurt, either. During the stretch, White Sox pitchers have a 1.75 ERA with 107 strikeouts in 103 innings, including 30 straight scoreless frames, the team’s longest stretch since 1986. White Sox starters have a 1.99 ERA with 80 strikeouts and have averaged seven innings per start over 11 games.

[MORE: Sale's pitching making case for All-Star start]

“Everybody is doing what they are capable,” Flowers said. “I guess you can say we are kind of hot, but I wouldn’t even say that. I think we are just executing gameplans, focusing on each pitch, executing that pitch and that puts us in a better spot for the next one.”

Ventura applauded the team’s players for their professional attitude in tough times. Despite an offense that has sucked the life out of the club all season long, Sale and other pitchers have made a point not to point fingers. General manager Rick Hahn said earlier this week one player emphasized those in the clubhouse are intent upon showing him the team needs more time instead of being broken up into trade pieces.

Sale has enjoyed the atmosphere and wants to see it continue in the second half.

“It’s fun,” Sale said. “You’re coming in here laughing, joking, hearing some music playing. It’s always a good time. You get on rolls like this, you’ve just got to keep going. Been through a bump in the road. You look at it as that and keep going.

[ALSO: Saladino's first MLB hit: About as cool as it gets]

“I’m not a stat guy or anything, but if we keep winning games we’re going to put ourselves in a pretty darn good position.”

A big reason they’re still even within striking distance has been an improved defense.

Whereas they’ve struggled up the middle most of the season, the White Sox, who still rank 29th in Defensive Runs Saved with minus-47 according to fangraphs.com, have received better play from shortstop Alexei Ramirez and, even to a degree, second baseman Carlos Sanchez. Gordon Beckham continues to produce as has rookie Tyler Saladino, who has looked smooth in two games at third base. Outfielder Avisail Garcia has made two nice catches in victories over the Cubs.

Over the past 11 games, the White Sox have committed six errors with four coming in a 9-1 loss to Baltimore last Sunday.

Ventura believes his team has started to discover its identity after an eight-game losing streak sent them to 10 under and had many pundits in town calling for the fourth-year manager’s head.

Now the question is can they maintain it, something they haven’t been able to do all season. Ventura wants his players to continue to stay grounded and not focus too much on the big picture.

“Playing the way we were and losing games, morale can get down,” Ventura said. “But you continue to come back and we have some professional guys in here who continue to grind away. You don’t look too far down the line or think too much in the past -- you just play today. They’re starting to feel that.”

The White Sox sent down Carson Fulmer, so why isn't Lucas Giolito receiving the same treatment?

The White Sox sent down Carson Fulmer, so why isn't Lucas Giolito receiving the same treatment?

Lucas Giolito is having a rough go of things in his second year with the White Sox.

He came into the season with some pretty high expectations after posting a 2.38 ERA in seven starts at the end of the 2017 campaign and then dominating during spring training. But he’s done anything but dominate since this season started, and after one of his worst outings in Thursday’s 9-3 loss to the Baltimore Orioles, he’s got a 7.53 ERA in 10 starts in 2018.

Giolito stuck around for only four outs Thursday, but he allowed the Orioles to do plenty of damage, giving up seven runs on six hits — two of which were back-to-back home runs to start the second inning — and three walks. He leads the American League with his 37 walks.

“I take what I do very seriously. I work as hard as I can at it,” Giolito said. “So when I experience failure like this, it’s kind of hard to deal with. All I can do is come back tomorrow, keep working on things and hopefully have a better one.”

All of Giolito’s struggles have fans wondering why the White Sox haven’t sent him down to Triple-A to work on his craft.

“I don’t foresee that at this particular time,” Rick Renteria said when asked if Giolito could be sent to Triple-A. “I think he’s just a young man who’s got to continue to minimize the emotional aspect of crossing from preparation into the game and staying focused, relaxed and hammer the zone with strikes. And truthfully it’s just first-pitch strike and get after the next one.”

The White Sox have already sent one young pitcher down in Carson Fulmer, who was having a nightmarish time at the big league level. Fulmer’s results were worse than Giolito’s on a regular basis. He got sent down after posting an 8.07 ERA in nine outings.

But hasn’t Giolito suffered through command issues enough to warrant some time away from the major league limelight? According to his manager, Giolito’s situation is vastly different than Fulmer’s.

“I don’t see them anywhere near each other,” Renteria said. “They’re two different competitors in terms of the outcomes that they’ve had. Lucas has at least had situations in which he might have struggled early and been able to gain some confidence through the middle rounds of his start and continue to propel himself to finish some ballgames, give us six or seven innings at times. So it’s two different guys.

“With Gio, I expect that we would have a nice clean start from the beginning, but when he doesn’t I still feel like if he gets through it he’ll settle down and continue to hammer away at what he needs to do in order to get deeper into a ballgame, and that was a little different with Carson. With Carson it was right from the get-go he was struggling, and he had a difficult time extending his outings after the third or fourth because it just kept getting too deep into his pitch count and not really hammering the strike zone as much.”

Renteria is not wrong. Giolito has had a knack to take a rough beginning to a start and turn it into five or six innings. Notably, he gave up a couple first-inning runs and walked seven hitters and still got the win against the Cubs a week and a half ago. And while his first-inning ERA is 10.80 and his second-inning ERA is 12.54, he’s pitched into at least the sixth inning in seven of his 10 starts.

Renteria’s point is that Giolito is learning how to shake off early damage and achieving the goal, most times out, of eating up innings and keeping his team in the game. Those are a couple valuable qualities to develop for a young pitcher. But are those the lone qualities that determine that Giolito is suited to continue his learning process at the major league level? His command remains a glaring problem, and both he and Renteria admitted that his problems are more mental than physical.

“The one thing everyone has to understand is we have to go beyond the physical and attack a little bit more of the mental and emotional and try to connect and slow that down,” Renteria said. “Those aspects are the ones that ultimately, at times, deal in the derailment of the physical action. So if we can kind of calm that down a little bit.

“He’s very focused. Giolito is high intensity. Nice kid but high-intensity young man when he gets on the mound. You might not believe it. He’s going 100 mph. So I think it goes to more just trusting himself, trusting the process, taking it truthfully one pitch at a time.”

Well, if a demotion to the minors isn’t likely, what about moving Giolito to the bullpen? Carlos Rodon and Chris Sale dipped their toes in bullpen waters before moving to the rotation. Could a reversal of that strategy help Giolito?

Well, the current state of the White Sox starting rotation — Fulmer in the minors, Miguel Gonzalez on the 60-day DL and pitchers like James Shields, Hector Santiago and Dylan Covey, who aren’t exactly long-term pieces, getting a lot of starts — doesn’t really allow for another piece to be removed.

“I know they have done it with Rodon and Sale,” Renteria said. “The difference is we don’t have the makeup of the starting rotation that those clubs had in order to put those guys in the ‘pen. We are in a different situation right now. Moving forward, is that something we can possibly do? Absolutely. It has been done with very good success.

“Right now we are in truly discovery mode and adjustment mode and adapting and trying to do everything we can to get these guys to develop their skill sets to be very usable and effective at the major league level and we are doing it to the best of our ability.”

There could be promise in the fact that Giolito has turned a season around as recently as last year. Before he was impressing on the South Side in August and September, he was struggling at Triple-A Charlotte. Even after he ironed things out, things had gotten off to a rocky enough start that he owned a 4.48 ERA and 10 losses when he was called up to the bigs.

It doesn’t seem Giolito will be going back to Charlotte, unless things continue to go in a dramatically poor direction. Right now, these are just more of the growing pains during this rebuilding process. “The hardest part of the rebuild” doesn’t just means wins and losses. It means watching some players struggle through speed bumps as they continue to develop into what the White Sox hope they’ll be when this team is ready to compete.

Danny Farquhar to throw out the first pitch before White Sox game on June 1

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Danny Farquhar to throw out the first pitch before White Sox game on June 1

In another example of how amazing Danny Farquhar’s recovery has been, the pitcher will throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the White Sox game on June 1.

Farquhar suffered a brain hemorrhage from a ruptured aneurysm during the sixth inning of the team’s April 20 game against the Houston Astros. But his recovery has been astounding, and he was discharged from the hospital on May 7. Farquhar’s neurosurgeon expects him to be able to pitch again in future seasons.

Farquhar has been back to visit his teammates at Guaranteed Rate Field a couple times since leaving the hospital. June 1 will mark his return to a big league mound, even if it’s only for a ceremonial first pitch with his wife and three children. Doctors, nurses and staff from RUSH University Medical Center will be on hand for Farquhar’s pitch on June 1.

The White Sox announced that in celebration of Farquhar’s recovery, they will donate proceeds from all fundraising efforts on June 1 to the Joe Niekro Foundation, an organization committed to supporting patients and families, research, treatment and awareness of brain aneurysms.