White Sox

Sale drawing comparisons to 'Big Unit'

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Sale drawing comparisons to 'Big Unit'

KANSAS CITY -- Chris Sale is barely two years removed from when he was made a first-round draft pick in baseballs 2010 amateur draft.

Hes one of only four first-round selections from the June 2010 draft to have already reached the big leagues.

Despite his tender age, Sale, 23, has not only made the transition from the bullpen to frontline starting pitcher, the White Sox left-hander was a legitimate candidate to start Tuesdays All-Star Game for the American League. Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander will instead start Tuesdays game, AL manager Ron Washington announced at Mondays All-Star Game press conference.

The announcement didnt slow the praise heaped upon Sale by his AL teammates, several of whom compared him with Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson.

Well, almost.

Hes pretty unique, Texas Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler said. Hes not as tall and he doesnt really have the haircut that Randy had, but he kind of slings it the same way and has pretty good stuff.

After he made 79 relief appearances in parts of two seasons, Sale, who debuted on Aug. 6, 2010, has made a pretty good transition into the White Sox starting rotation.

Sales only blip this season was a scare in early May, which resulted in a precautionary MRI on his left elbow and a brief return to the bullpen.

But Sale has been otherwise brilliant in his first season as a starter. He is 10-2 with a 2.19 ERA in 16 games (15 starts).

This is the stuff you dont ever think about, Sale said. You want to go out there and help your team win. This is stuff you dont ever see yourself doing. Im just fortunate to be sitting here and Im thankful for that opportunity I got. I guess (the rapid rise) does get kind of crazy, but I try not to look too far into it.

Hitters do their best not to think about Sales stuff.

With a fastball that averages 93 mph and a slider capable of fooling hitters on both sides of the plate, not to mention his wiry 6-foot-6, 180-pound frame, which adds deception to his delivery, Sale is adequately armed to face major league hitters.

Ive had many left-handers tell me he has the best left-hand slider period, first baseman Paul Konerko said. And hell buckle right-handers with sliders, which is hard to even picture how that happens. You see guys right-handed and the ball comes out of his hand high and away, they actually freeze when it comes down. You dont see too many guys in the game do that. You see Verlander do it with his curveball to lefties. Its pretty amazing.

Sales statistics tell an equally remarkable tale.

His .197 batting average against ranks fourth among major league pitchers while his 2.19 ERA and 0.95 WHIP rank third. Sale also has yielded the fourth fewest homers in the majors (five).

Konerko thinks the jaw-dropping aspect to the tale isnt Sales ascent, though he agrees that aspect is impressive, but rather how easily the left-hander has handled the transition from the bullpen to the rotation.

He was throwing 96-to-100 mph last year, Konerko said. I know he can still do that. But you cant do that as a starter. Just to try to change the way he was throwing the ball for the whole year last year and then to come out this year and say Now Im going to have to pitch a little more. Im going to have more baserunners. Im going to face more right-handers because Im not going to always get the lefty matchups I got out of the pen -- all that stuff. To process that at his age and his experience and deal with it is pretty amazing.

Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer is also impressed by Sale and has drawn the comparison between him and Johnson, who stood 6-feet-10-inches and won 303 games.

Mauer also has already seen enough of Sale to know hed prefer to see less of him.

Its tough, Mauer said. I was able to face Randy a couple of times before he retired. (Sale) has a great angle coming in and hes got great movement on his pitches.

You could definitely tell. Hes got great stuff. A great arm. I kind of wish he was in a different division.

Daily White Sox prospects update: Gavin Sheets hits his first homer of 2018

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Daily White Sox prospects update: Gavin Sheets hits his first homer of 2018

Here's your daily update on what the White Sox highly touted prospects are doing in the minor leagues.

Class A Winston-Salem

Gavin Sheets hit his first home run of the season in a 12-4 loss. While it's taken him this long to hit his first ball out of the park, Sheets has a .380 on-base percentage and his 24 walks make for one of the top 10 totals in the Carolina League. Blake Rutherford doubled in this one, while Sheets, Rutherford, Alex Call and Luis Alexander Basabe combined to draw five walks.

Class A Kannapolis

Luis Gonzalez and Evan Skoug each had a hit in a 9-3 win.

Triple-A Charlotte

Charlie Tilson had two hits in a 9-3 loss.

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.