White Sox

Sox Drawer: The Juan Pierre Early Bird Special

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Sox Drawer: The Juan Pierre Early Bird Special

Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011
Posted 7:48 p.m.

By Chuck Garfien
CSNChicago.com

GLENDALE, Ariz - Its 5:53 a.m., a pitch-black morning in front of the White Sox spring training facility. Look up in the sky, you see the moon. Across the barren parking lot, nothing but darkness.

Suddenly there are headlights in the distance, the same as yesterday and the day before. Rest assured, theyll be back again, same time tomorrow.

The car stops. A silhouette appears.

You guys are serious! says the voice.

Yes we are, just doing our jobs. But then again, so is he.

Most guys are nestled in their beds right now.

Probably, but not him. Not Juan Pierre.

One of the hardest working players in baseball, this is how his day begins every morning during spring training. Hes a man with an internal clock thats always ticking, ready to rock well before the rooster crows.

Its just a routine. Something I follow and believe in. Its kept me around this long, says the speedy White Sox outfielder, who stole a career-high 68 bases in 2010, his 11th in the big leagues and first on the South Side.

Nothing stops Pierre from his early morning ritual. Well, except for one thing: The front door.

Juan is here so early, its locked. He walks around the building where he spots a training intern who lets him inside.

In a couple hours, Pierres teammates will be flooding the White Sox clubhouse, talking, laughing, prepping for the day ahead. But right now, its just Juan, me, a CSN cameraman, and possibly a nearby cricket.

Pierre goes to his locker and takes out his favorite workout shirt. Its black and grey camouflage with the words Beast Mode written across the front.

Its a mind-set, Pierre says. Never use any excuses no matter what. Trust me, I would like to be sleeping right now, but I know the sacrifice I have to make to remain in this game. Thats what the Beast Mode stands for in a nut shell.

By 6:15 a.m., Pierre is in the White Sox gym, on the bike for a 10-minute warm-up.

Gotta get the legs loose.

In walks Allen Thomas, the White Sox Director of Strength and Conditioning. Hes one of the best in the business, and marvels at Pierres work ethic.

This is my 16th year doing this, and Ive been around a lot of great players who love to train. Juan is a step above, Thomas says. Sometimes a lot of athletes like to do this for attention, but this has been a part of his regiment since he stepped into a baseball uniform. And he doesnt miss. You can put him on a timer, its like clockwork.

Four days a week (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday) Thomas puts Pierre through a high-intense workout, one that would probably make your everyday gym-goer lose his lunch in the first five minutes.

I push him, because I know what he has in the tank, Thomas says.

This quickly becomes apparent as Pierre shuffles through a speed ladder with resistance bands attached to his waist. An exercise normally used by NFL cornerbacks, Pierre flies through the rope ladder to strengthen his legs and feet to prepare him for his number-one job: stealing bases.

Everything we do in here has a purpose, says Pierre. (Allen) always tells me why were doing it, and relates it to baseball terms. Thats what separates A.T. from the rest of the strength coaches.

After that theres stretching, free weights, ropes to emulate his swing and work his core. Theres a grunt here, a grunt there. Sweat here, sweat everywhere.

By 7 a.m., Juan is back at his locker for a quick breather. Like a minute.

Pretty intense, Pierre describes it. That went well, but its only phase one of the day.

Whats next?

The cage. Gotta go hit in the cage. I got my stamina with weight training done. But if you cant hit, you cant play.

With the sun starting to peek across the horizon, Pierre walks over to the outdoor hitting cage holding a battered piece of wood that could probably use its own walking stick. Its a black Louisville Slugger that Juan practices with, and has hit so many times, the paint has been completely wiped off the barrel.

As you can see its worn out, right where you want it to be worn out, Juan says as he points to its sweet spot. Ramon Castro and those guys hide it from me, and tell me to get a new bat. Im like old school, if I find something I like, I use it until the wheels fall off.

Is there a name for that bat?

I call her Old Faithful. Shes been with me the last three years, so Im going to ride her out until she breaks.

Most major leaguers live for the home run. Juan knows better. For a guy who has gone deep only 14 times in his major league career, hes all about the line drives.

Thats what I like to pride myself on, or survive, because all my fly balls get caught. I might have one fly ball that dont get caught a year. You cant have a whole bunch of teams full of Konerkos and Dunns. Their job is to drive me in, my job is to get on base.

Juan goes through a hitting drill hes done thousands of times, placing a pair of tees side by side with a ball on top of each of them.

Im going to come right over the top of this ball and hit the one in front of it, he explains. If I hit the back one, that means Im getting underneath it, which I dont want to do. This drill definitely helps me.

He begins.

Im always out here with a purpose.

Smack!

This is just preparation to do what I have to do to survive.

Whack!

I hit one good in the cage, I say Oh, yeah, thats a home run!

Cuhh-rack!!!

By now, the sun has arrived, just in time for the end of Juans workout. Birds are chirping, cars are rolling in. The day has begun.

But not for Juan. He treats the day like he does first base: making sure hes got a nice, big lead on it, and when youre not looking... hes gone.

Which is exactly what happened here.

Juan said thanks, good-bye, and disappeared onto the next thing on his non-stop agenda. Where did he go? Breakfast I think, the mans got to eat.

Where is he now? Not sure.

But I do know where hell be tomorrow at 5:53 a.m., and the day after that.

Back to do it all over again.

Chuck Garfien hosts White Sox Pregame and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet with former Sox sluggers Frank Thomas and Bill Melton. Follow Chuck @ChuckGarfien on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox news and views.

It's only one start, but that's the Lucas Giolito that White Sox fans expected to see this season

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USA TODAY

It's only one start, but that's the Lucas Giolito that White Sox fans expected to see this season

The preseason expectations and the results have been drastically different for Lucas Giolito.

Expected to be the best pitcher on the White Sox starting staff, Giolito hasn’t come too close to that title, instead heading into Friday’s doubleheader with the most earned runs allowed of any pitcher in baseball. His walk total has been among the highest in the game all year long, too. And the calls from social media to send him down to Triple-A haven’t been at all infrequent.

But Friday, White Sox fans got a glimpse at what they expected, a look at the guy who earned so much hype with a strong September last season and a dominant spring training.

It wasn’t a performance that would make any reasonable baseball person’s jaw drop. But it was the best Giolito has looked this season. He still allowed four runs on seven hits — as mentioned, not a Cy Young type outing — but he struck out a season-high eight batters. Prior to giving up the back-to-back singles to start the eighth inning that brought an end to his evening, he’d surrendered just two runs.

Most importantly he walked just two guys and didn’t seem to struggle with his command at all. That’s a big deal for a pitcher who had 45 walks to his name prior to Friday.

“You know it was a tough eighth inning, but throughout the whole game, I felt in sync,” Giolito said. “(Catcher Omar Narvaez) and I were working really well, finally commanding the fastball the way I should. Definitely the best I felt out there this year, for sure. Velocity was up a tick. Just felt right, felt in sync. Just competed from there.”

Confidence has never left Giolito throughout the poor results, and he’s talked after every start about getting back on the horse and giving it another try. Consistently working in between starts, things finally seemed to click Friday night.

“It all worked today,” manager Rick Renteria said. “(Pitching coach Don Cooper) says that every bullpen has gotten better, from the beginning to this point. He sees progress. The velocity that he showed today was something that Coop was seeing in his work. You can see that his delivery is continuing to improve. He was trusting himself, really attacking the strike zone, trusted his breaking ball today when he need to and just tried to command as much as he could. Did a nice job.”

Giolito went through this kind of thing last year, when he started off poorly at Triple-A Charlotte with a 5.40 ERA through his first 16 starts. But then things got better, with Giolito posting a 2.78 ERA over his final eight starts with the Knights before getting called up to the big leagues.

This was just one start, of course, but perhaps he can follow a similar formula this year, too, going from a rough beginning to figuring things out.

“I’m not trying to tinker or think about mechanics anymore,” he said. “It’s about flow, getting out there and making pitches. We were able to do that for the most part.

“I’ll watch video and see certain things, and I have little cues here and there. But I’m not going to go and overanalyze things and nitpick at certain stuff anymore. It’s about going there and having fun and competing.”

Maybe that’s the secret. Or maybe this is simply a brief flash of brilliance in the middle of a tough first full season in the bigs.

Whatever it was, it was the best we’ve seen of Giolito during the 2018 campaign. And it was far more like what was expected back before that campaign got going.

Avisail Garcia is back from his lengthy DL stay just in time to prove he's a part of White Sox long-term future

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USA TODAY

Avisail Garcia is back from his lengthy DL stay just in time to prove he's a part of White Sox long-term future

For the first time in two months, Avisail Garcia is back in the White Sox lineup.

Garcia’s return from his lengthy stay on the disabled list was a refreshing sight for a team that came into the season believing he’d be one of its biggest bats. After all, Garcia was excellent in 2017, an All-Star campaign for him that saw him with some of the best hitting statistics in the American League.

But even with those good numbers, there were plenty of questions about where Garcia stood in the rebuilding White Sox long-term future. After a long wait for that breakout season, was it going to be the new normal or a one-hit wonder? He’s got just two more seasons of team control left, and there are a ton of outfield prospects developing behind him in the minor leagues.

His admittedly slow start this year didn’t help clarify anything: He returned to action with a .233/.250/.315 slash line, a far cry from the .330/.380/.506 line he finished with last season.

So now he’s back, and the “prove it” season resumes. He’s got time left to show the White Sox he can fend off challenges from the likes of Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Blake Rutherford, Luis Alexander Basabe, Micker Adolfo and all the rest. Getting back on the field is the first step in doing that.

“Be healthy and play hard like I’ve been playing all my career,” Garcia said Friday. “Just trying stay healthy, do my routine and do my best to help my team win.

“My knee is good. My hamstring is good. I have no pain in my body right now. I feel great, great and focused and trying to compete every single day.”

The injury — injuries, it turns out — certainly didn’t help. After the hamstring strain he suffered turned out to be a tad more significant than originally believed, he suffered a separate knee injury during his recovery that kept him on the shelf a while longer.

But Garcia showed that maybe his bat is ready to come back to life during his rehab at Triple-A Charlotte. He slashed an eye-popping .360/.429/.840 with three home runs, three doubles and nine RBIs in just seven games.

No one’s expecting that kind of production now that he’s back at the major league level. But plenty of fans and observers are expecting a lot who is still young enough to warrant consideration for a spot on the White Sox next contending team. He’s got the advantage of already playing at the big league level to show off for all the decision makers.

But there’s no doubt that it’s a stacked group behind him. Jimenez, the third-ranked prospect in baseball, was just promoted to Triple-A. A trio of high-performing outfielders — Basabe, Alex Call and Joel Booker — just got bumped up to Double-A. And perhaps the most exciting group of all — Robert, Rutherford, Adolfo and Luis Gonzalez — are all playing together at Class A Winston-Salem.

That’s an awful lot of young, inexpensive depth to contend with in the discussion for how the White Sox should align their outfield of the future. But Garcia can still stay in that discussion by doing one thing: hitting. His quest to turn his season around starts now.