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.”

Daily White Sox prospects update: Four-hit day for Eloy Jimenez

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Daily White Sox prospects update: Four-hit day for Eloy Jimenez

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

Double-A Birmingham

Eloy Jimenez had four hits, including a pair of doubles to boost his batting average to .322 on the season. Seby Zavala hit his 10th home run of the season and drove in a pair of runs in the 7-2 loss. Spencer Adams got the start and allowed four runs but also struck out nine in just 4.2 innings of work.

Class A Kannapolis

Luis Gonzalez had two doubles and Evan Skoug had two hits in a 3-2 win. Big leaguer Carlos Rodon made a rehab start and struck out six, allowing one run in five innings.

Triple-A Charlotte

Charlie Tilson had a hit and Thyago Vieira threw a scoreless inning in an 8-4 loss.

Jace Fry, who still hasn't allowed a hit, is penciling his name into the White Sox bullpen of the future

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USA TODAY

Jace Fry, who still hasn't allowed a hit, is penciling his name into the White Sox bullpen of the future

The White Sox best reliever through the first 42 games of this rebuilding season? Undoubtedly, it’s been Jace Fry.

With Rick Renteria’s bullpen hardly the most reliable relief corps the game has ever seen, Fry has been a revelation, starting his 2018 campaign with 7.1 scoreless innings over six appearances.

And now things are getting a bit more dramatic for the 24-year-old lefty, a guy who’s been through a pair of Tommy John surgeries. He pitched some high-leverage ball in Saturday night’s 5-3 win, sitting down all four hitters he faced in the eighth and ninth innings while protecting a two-run lead.

“I was ready the whole game, just waiting for my name to be called,” Fry said. “But it was awesome getting in there in the eighth inning, even getting the first guy in the ninth inning. After I got him I was kind of hoping he’d let me keep going.”

Renteria uses his bullpen in a non-traditional manner, one that perhaps he thinks is a way of the future or one that’s a result of his lack of dominant options out there. Whichever it is, he doesn’t really have a closer but rather a host of guys he uses in those high-leverage situations, whenever they might come during the late stages of a game. Joakim Soria, Nate Jones and Bruce Rondon have all been used to get big outs late in games, and Rondon threw a scoreless seventh Saturday, with Jones getting the game’s final two outs for the save.

But it could be argued that most difficult outs were recorded by Fry, who put away the visiting Texas Rangers’ fourth, fifth and sixth hitters before getting the seventh hitter to strike out to start off the ninth.

Renteria steered away from dubbing Fry one of his new high-leverage guys after the game, but why wouldn’t Fry be in that mix? All he’s done since joining the big league squad earlier this month is get outs. He’s got 10 strikeouts, hasn’t allowed a hit and has just two walks as the lone blemishes on an otherwise perfect season line.

“It just happens to be that it was the eighth inning and the ninth that he pitched,” Renteria said. “I think he’s looking very comfortable in those. It happens to be the eighth and ninth we needed him. He’s been very, very effective. He’s been commanding the strike zone very well, confidently approaching his hitters. He’s got pretty good stuff.

“He’s able to command the zone. Along with that nice breaking ball he’s got to lefties and righties, it’s pretty effective. But he’s continuing to show you he’s capable of coming in and getting some pretty good hitters.”

Fry has been a rarity this season in that he’s appeared to be a candidate for a long-term spot in the White Sox bullpen. Jones would perhaps be the only other guy coming close to qualifying for that, mostly because of his team-friendly contract that keeps him under control a few more years, but he’s had some rough moments, even with his ERA dropping to 3.50 on Saturday.

Fry, though, is young and is dealing at the moment. He even got a shoutout as a potential long-term piece from general manager Rick Hahn earlier this week.

“Take Jace Fry, someone we haven’t mentioned when we’ve had this conversation the last couple of weeks,” Hahn said Thursday, discussing the positives he’s seen during this developmental season. “He’s shown up here and shown that he’s made some progress in his last stint in the minors and now, at age 24, seems like he’s ready to take that next step, and pencil his name in as part of what we’re building here going forward.”

There’s a lot of season left, and no one’s expecting Fry to keep batters hitless and opposing teams scoreless from now through the end of September. But this is a nice development for the rebuilding White Sox at the moment, a guy who’s giving them at least one name to put into that bullpen of the future.

How long can he keep this thing going? As long as he keeps getting ahead of hitters.

“Having the success is awesome, but I realize it’s the plan, the plan of attack,” Fry said. “I’m going out and throwing Strike 1 and getting ahead. Actually doing it, seeing it and having the process work definitely creates more confidence. Once you go back to the blueprint of baseball, Strike 1 is everything.”