White Sox

Slider the focus of Jeff Samardzija's bullpen session

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Slider the focus of Jeff Samardzija's bullpen session

MINNEAPOLIS — Jeff Samardzija and Don Cooper spent a good portion of Saturday morning’s bullpen working on the slider.

While Samardzija feels good about his stuff, his pitching coach believes the variance in speed — it’s three miles per hour slower than in 2014, according to Fangraphs.com — has made other pitches, in particular the fastball, easier to detect.

Through five starts, the White Sox starter has seen his slider put in play more often (up about seven percent) and hitters have done more damage with a .528 slugging percentage versus .365 for his career, according to Brooksbaseball.net. But Samardzija’s sinker is where the real damage has been done. Batters are hitting .516 and slugging .742, up from .319 and .462 in the past.

“Sometimes you want (the slider) harder and sometimes you want it softer,” Samardzija said. “You’re trying to adjust your pitches to what you’re seeing from the hitters and what their approach is. I think we’re seeing a lot of aggressiveness on my fastball early, and I think the softer slider is a little bit more noticeable early in the counts.”

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Neither the sinker nor slider worked well in Samardzija’s start on Wednesday in Baltimore.

Part of that could have been due to the layoff and the surreal circumstances in which the game was played, in front of an empty stadium after the previous two contests were cancelled because of rioting. The other part was a good game plan by the Orioles, who were aggressive early in the count.

Of the seven sliders Samardzija threw that ended an at-bat, one went for a double and the other a homer. Of the seven sinkers that ended an at-bat, four went for singles and another resulted in a double.

Samardzija gave up eight runs — all earned — over five innings. With his next start against Detroit on Tuesday, the right-hander could feature a harder, tighter version of the slider, as Cooper likes, with gameplan adjustments as well.

“You’re always working on it for sure, but I think you’re also adjusting it all the time based on the way the hitters are reacting to it,” Samardzija said. “Are they swinging at it or are they taking it? This is the game you go through throughout the season, a constant cat-and-mouse with your pitches, what you’re doing with them, where you’re locating them. They’ve got film on you, and you have film on them. There’s not too much unknown out there, so you always have to be mixing things up to stay ahead of the curve.”

Dylan Cease struggles early, but finishes strong in second White Sox start

Dylan Cease struggles early, but finishes strong in second White Sox start

Dylan Cease picked up a win in his first start, but his second did not go as well.

Cease pitched six innings Tuesday at the Royals and gave up six runs (four earned) on eight hits and a walk. He struck out seven, but took the loss in an ugly game for the White Sox.

The game got off to an ominous start with Eloy Jimenez getting injured on the first batter Cease faced. The White Sox defense didn’t help Cease much either with three errors (Cease had one of those on an errant pickoff throw).

After giving up six runs in the first four innings, Cease settled down to retire the final eight batters he faced. He finished with seven strikeouts against just one walk and threw 67 of his 108 pitches for strikes.

Cease struck out six in his first start and is the first pitcher in White Sox history to strike out six or more in each of his first two career appearances.

A deeper look at Cease’s numbers show his swing and miss stuff hasn’t quite caught on as expected so far. Cease got 13 swinging strikes in 101 pitches in his major league debut. He got 12 whiffs on 108 pitches on Tuesday. His slider did get five swinging strikes on 25 pitches against the Royals.

Fastball command remains a key part to Cease’s success. He only threw 26 out of 54 fastballs for strikes in his debut. Cease improved upon that with 31 strikes on 50 fastballs against the Royals.

Most of the Royals’ damage came against Cease’s fastball as well. Six of the Royals’ eight hits off Cease, including all three extra base hits, were off heaters. Cease also gave up four hits with two strikes.

There has been plenty of hype surrounding Cease since he joined the White Sox, but he hasn’t hit the ground running in the majors just yet. Having 13 days between the first two starts of his career due to the all-star break and the White Sox giving him some extra rest also isn’t the ideal scenario for a young pitcher.

Cease’s ERA is now at 5.73, which isn’t going to set the world on fire. Still, there have been enough positives in his first two starts to see where reasonable improvement could lead to Cease becoming the pitcher the White Sox expect him to be.

 

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Sports Talk Live Podcast: Next steps for the White Sox rebuild

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Next steps for the White Sox rebuild

David Haugh, Sam Panayotovich and Chris Bleck join Kap on the panel.

0:00 - The Cubs deal World Series hero Mike Montgomery to the Royals for catcher Martin Maldonado. So what does that mean for Willson Contreras' injury? And who will get the majority of the playing time behind the plate?

10:30 - The guys look ahead to Dylan Cease's second Major League start and discuss what players should be dealt at the deadline to continue the White Sox rebuild.

16:00 - The Blackhawks deal Artem Anisimov to the Senators. Could this mean Kirby Dach can make the team on opening night?

18:30 - Robbie Gould won't be a Bear next season. Is the Bears Week 1 kicker currently on their roster?

20:00 - Did EA Sports diss Mitch Trubisky? DARN NATIONAL MEDIA!!!!

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: