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Thornton wants to be a lifetime White Sox

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Thornton wants to be a lifetime White Sox

Sunday, March 6, 2011
Posted: 11:31 a.m. Updated: 3:00 p.m.
By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

GLENDALE, Ariz. Matt Thornton has signed a two-year extension with the Chicago White Sox, with a team option for the 2014 season, the club announced Sunday morning.

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen grabbed me this morning when it was official and said, Hey, I really appreciate you being one of the core guys, Thornton said. It means a lot to them that I want to stay here and be a part of this.

The news came as a bit of a surprise here, on a sleepy Cactus League Sunday.

We started talks a couple of weeks ago, and it went quickly, Thornton said. Im more than satisfied. It's an exciting situation, a substantial amount of money for my family and hopefully their children and on and on with my family.

According to Thornton, there was little question of leaving the White Sox.

It was an easy choice with an organization like this, with what they've done the last five months or so, retaining the core guys, adding the pieces, and expecting to win, he said. That's my goal, to win at least one World Series.

The extension will pay Thornton .5.5 million in both 2012 and 2013. The 2014 club option is worth 6 million, otherwise Thornton will earn a 1 million buyout. Thornton will be paid 3 million in 2011, as the White Sox exercised their option on the lefty fireballer last fall.

To a man, Thorntons teammates were thrilled for him.

Obviously he deserved it, hes one of the best, said fellow bullpen lefty Chris Sale. I come in here and see what he does, pay attention to him, see how he goes about his business, especially because since Ive been out in spring training because Ive never been here before. If Im following him, Im going in the right direction.

His preparation and what he does to stay healthy shows you that theres no shortcut, echoed reliever Sergio Santos. Matts got his plan and he does it every single day. He doesnt deviate from it. He has his schedule and he sticks with it from April to October, and thats impressive.

Im happy hes gonna be here, said catcher A.J. Pierzynski, making it clear he wasnt worried about facing Thornton in the future because he owns him to the tune of a career zero-of-one batting record). Hes another piece of the puzzle: Him, Jesse Crain, Will Ohman, Sale, Santos the extension pretty much just solidifies the bullpen and takes the question marks out of it. Its a big thingit means a lot to him personally but also to the organization because we know what we have and can build around those guys.

Pitching coach Don Cooper takes personal pride in Thorntons career, having made his reputation as one of the games greatest pitching doctors on his work with the towering lefthander. A converted starter acquired from the Seattle Mariners for onetime top White Sox prospect Joe Borchard, Thornton has excelled in his five seasons on the South Side under Coopers tutelage, posting a 3.14 ERA and 10.1 K9. He made his first All-Star appearance in 2010, when he also posted a career-best 2.14 Fielder Independent Pitching (FIP, which is a truer ERA measurement, based solely pitcher performance). Thorntons FIP has decreased in five consecutive seasons, from 6.20 in 2005 with Seattle to last years mark.

Its nice to see guys being successful and making money, and its well deserved, Cooper said. This is not a gift, obviously, its deserved, through his work, and effort, and all that stuff. I backtrack it to how hes prepared: Every single day hes here early, and its nice to see hard work rewarded at the end of the day.

Impressionable young pitchers Sale, Santos, and John Danks all attested to the impact Thorntons hard-nosed attitude has had on them.

If theres anybody deserving, its definitely Matt, Santos said. Just being with him all last year, his work ethic speaks volumes. Its nice to see when you see a guy who does all the things right way and busts his tail.

He comes in every single day and is one of the first guys here. He works his tail off, Sale said. Thats why hes had the success hes had, because he prepares the way he prepares. I watch the way he goes about his businessyou come in here at any given time and hes always doing something: In the training room doing the shoulder program, being in the weight room working out. Thats why he is who he is and why hes had the success hes had.

He gets here, gets his work done, doesnt have to make a big deal of it and let everyone know, said the laid-back Danks, who appreciates the value of working hard on the down low.

Pierzynski, who has caught many of the biggest moments of Thorntons career, also attests to the veterans work ethic: Hes worked his tail off since hes been here. Matt takes the ball every time we ask him, doesnt complain.

Thornton had a career-high eight saves last season, taking over the balance of closer duties in the last month of the season, as Bobby Jenks was sidelined by injury. In 61 games, Thornton led all American League relievers in K9 (12.02), strikeouts (81), and inherited runners scoring percentage (.129). The lefthander was eighth in the A.L. in KBB (4.05) and holds (21) and was ninth in opponents batting average (.191). Thornton held lefties to a .175 average with 44 punchouts. He is one of four relievers (former Seattle teammate Arthur Rhodes, Pedro Feliciano, and Matt Guerrier) to record at least 20 holds in each of the last four seasons. He is the all-time White Sox leader in holds (100) and ranks fifth in club history with 336 relief appearances.

No decision has been made yet on whether Thornton will take the closers reins from the departed Jenks in 2011, but an extension that nearly doubles his 2010 salary indicates it is his position to lose this spring.

No, no, were still trying to work on what we need to get right with each guy, Cooper said when asked on Sunday whether Thornton is cemented as the teams closer. I dont believe thats going to be talked about at least until our next meeting, and I dont even know when thats scheduled. Our bullpen looks like its strength is flexibility; we feel like anybody can go out there and close a game on a given day.

As for Thornton, hes not hung up on any particular role with the White Sox. Hes simply happy to renew his return address labels.

I have no idea about closing. Im not worried about that at all. I don't care, whatever you want me to do, Thornton said, laughing. Ive made it clear I will do what they want, even before the deal. They gave me security and they trust me. My goal is to stay in Chicago the rest of my career.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.

White Sox in the thick of it as AL Central race with Indians, Twins heats up

White Sox in the thick of it as AL Central race with Indians, Twins heats up

This AL Central race is going to be fun.

It looked like the Minnesota Twins might have blitzed right past the White Sox in the season’s first weekend, issuing a 14-2 clubbing on their way out of Chicago in the decisive third game of that series. The White Sox went on to Northeast Ohio and dropped the first two of that three-game set against the Cleveland Indians, and a 1-4 start threw some chilly Great Lakes water on the preseason thought of the South Siders running with the class of the division in this season’s 60-game sprint to October.

But the White Sox turned their 1-4 start around with a six-game win streak. And after a 2-0 nail-biter of a win over the Indians on Friday night that reshuffled the standings, the Pale Hose have now won their last five games against division foes, including a pair against these Clevelanders.

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The intensity’s been there all week. After a sweep of the Kansas City Royals, the first three of the White Sox four games against the Milwaukee Brewers had a distinct playoff-style feel to them, well pitched, closely decided contests that struck as the most intense games the White Sox have played in years.

Be it the compressed nature of this season’s schedule or the fact that these White Sox are finally equipped to compete for a division title, this is unlike anything that’s graced the South Side in some time.

“We're treating every game like a must-win,” White Sox starting pitcher Dylan Cease said Friday night. “These games definitely don't have the same feeling as Game 15 of a 162-game season. We're coming to the ballpark to win every day."

When it comes to the Twins, atop the Central standings with 10 wins — one of only two major league squads to hit double digits to this point, even with back-to-back defeats at the hands of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Royals — it seems the White Sox will have to win a few more home run derbies the likes of which we saw in that opening weekend.

But runs have been somewhat scarce for the White Sox after they scored a combined 20 runs and banged out a total of 35 hits in winning the final two games of that series last weekend in Kansas City. They’ve scored just eight times in their last four games combined. There’s more than one way to win a game, of course, and as injuries continue to make the White Sox dugout look like the Tune Squad bench late in that game against the Monstars, the South Siders have figured out a few others besides blowing up the scoreboard.

Friday night’s playoff feel brought the Indians’ sensational pitching staff to Guaranteed Rate Field, and Aaron Civale was just about as good as he was against the White Sox last week in Cleveland. He didn’t pile up the strikeouts this time, but he still pitched seven innings of one-run ball, the lone run he gave up coming home on a first-inning double-play grounder.

Cease, somewhat miraculously, countered with five shutout innings of his own despite putting nearly the entire city of Cleveland on base. He walked five guys, including issuing four leadoff walks, hit another and allowed a couple of hits. Thankfully for Cease and the White Sox, though, he also came up with multiple clutch, inning-ending double-play balls, and the defense was excellent behind him and a trio of relievers, the first two of which had as much trouble keeping the bases clear as Cease did.

You want playoff-style drama? Scatter the bases with potential runs every inning and watch the pitchers dance their way out of one jam after another.

RELATED: White Sox confident Eloy Jiménez will improve defense after outfield miscue

That’s not going to fly on a regular basis, obviously, but it sure made for some heart-pounding baseball, which is — as anyone who was pulling double duty with playoff hockey Friday night knows — fun.

“I can't expect those kinds of results if I'm going to have that many base runners all the time,” Cease said. “Fortunately, we were able to get out of here with a 'W,' but it's not something that's going to be sustainable. So I have to do a better job of getting ahead and not doing that.”

The onslaught of high-caliber Cleveland pitching continues the rest of the weekend, and who knows if the White Sox will be able to solve it as they barely did Friday. Zach Plesac, who stymied the White Sox with 11 strikeouts in eight shutout innings last week, is up Saturday. Then it’s a heck of a pitching matchup Sunday, with Lucas Giolito facing off against current AL Cy Young front-runner Shane Bieber, who’s struck out 35 hitters in his first three starts of the season.

That game ought to be another dandy, and with a frequently showcased rivalry between the Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals waved off this weekend, the White Sox will step into the nationally televised spotlight Sunday night, the perfect spot for such a pitching matchup and a division race that’s heating up like this one is. The White Sox swapped spots with the Indians on Friday, into second place and two games back of the Twins. The Indians are just two and a half games behind the division leaders.

“Both of those teams are very good clubs,” White Sox outfielder Adam Engel said of the Twins and Indians. “Two totally different makeups, they win games differently. We have a pretty balanced attack ourselves. It’s fun playing good baseball against good teams.

“The Indians, it seems like every time they come to town or we go to Cleveland, we are facing some pretty good arms. Makes it fun. You just have to stay disciplined, stay really focused in your work. It always feels like you’re going to be part of a good baseball game.

“Those are two tough teams, and hopefully we can keep playing them well.”

RELATED: Rick Renteria: Tim Anderson, not Luis Robert, will be White Sox leadoff man

Obviously, everything’s felt different this season. There are no fans in the stands, COVID-19 is constantly threatening the completion of the campaign, and a brief ramp up to Opening Day has made for a high number of injuries across the league.

But there’s a different feeling on the South Side, too, for much more positive reasons. This team has been talking about its high expectations for months, and they’ve got a roster that looks capable of living up to them. While an expanded playoff field gives the White Sox a pretty good chance of reaching the postseason, they’ve still got their eyes on the biggest prizes, and the first one of those is the Central crown.

They’ve played just 14 games. But it sure feels like a pennant race.

“I don’t remember ever really watching scoreboards so closely as a team through the first couple of weeks in the season,” Engel said. “We come in off the field and we want to see what’s going on around the league, or we’re announcing what scores are postgame for different teams. You control what you can control, and you want to win as many games as you can. But we’re all keeping our eyes on the scoreboard, and I’m sure it’s like that league-wide.

“Everybody kind of feels like they’re in it right now, and 60 games, this is going to be a heck of a season. I’m excited that we’re playing good baseball right now. Hopefully we can keep it going.”


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White Sox confident Eloy Jiménez will improve defense after outfield miscue

White Sox confident Eloy Jiménez will improve defense after outfield miscue

It bothers Eloy Jiménez that his defense has been repeatedly called into question.

Thankfully for him, he was busy playing last night and not scrolling through White Sox Twitter.

Without question, his latest misadventure in left field was a glaring one. He thought Christian Yelich’s fifth-inning fly ball Thursday night was heading to the warning track, he said Friday. Instead, it wound up near the foul line. The ball dropped past Jiménez’s outstretched arm, and he tumbled into the netting and into the seats as Yelich rounded the bases for an inside-the-park home run.

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The highlight-reel nature of the play didn’t help. The fact that it tied the game and kicked off a four-run fifth inning in an eventual Brewers win over the White Sox was worse.

One embarrassing play in one game in one sophomore season can be forgiven. It’s the piling up of such misplays that is sticking in the minds of fans and observers, sparking questions about whether Jiménez can stick in left field long term.

Those questions are valid and those critiques are certainly allowed, manager Rick Renteria acknowledged after Thursday’s game and again before Friday’s.

But Jiménez admitted to being bothered by them and stuck to his pledge of defensive improvement he offered up back in January, when he greeted the idea of moving to designated hitter with a “f**k that.”

“It bothers me a little bit. But it’s part of this,” Jiménez said Friday. “People don’t think I can play defense. For me, it’s a challenge, and I know I can play.

“I’ve made a lot of progress because I work hard every single day. I try to be one of the best outfielders, not just one of the best hitters. I want to be a complete player and a nine-inning player.”

Certain fans will jump to the conclusion that they’ve seen enough, that improvement just isn’t happening. But it’s important to remember that improvement can take time. After all, Jiménez is just 23, with not a full season’s worth of major league games under his belt.

Just look elsewhere on the White Sox roster and see guys who overhauled their own games and corrected seemingly enormous issues. Lucas Giolito walked more batters than any pitcher in the American League in 2018. He was an All Star in 2019. Yoán Moncada struck out 217 times in 2018. He’s the best all-around player on the team right now.

Why can’t Jiménez make a similar jump if he keeps doing the kind of work he’s vowed to do?

RELATED: Rick Renteria: Tim Anderson, not Luis Robert, will be White Sox leadoff man

“Sometimes we make decisions a little prematurely on individuals,” Renteria said. “I could be wrong. I'm not perfect. For anyone in the arena that thinks I'm that egotistical, I'm not really. I'm not really. I'm more of an optimist as opposed to a pessimist, and I believe my optimism is what drives me to try to help these guys excel.

“I'm expecting that, over time, Eloy will fall into a good category on the defensive side. And if it doesn't, we'll find ways to continue to augment his playing time out there.

“We're going to continue to do what we can and try to help him become the best outfielder he possibly can be. He always walks by and I always tell him, ‘Nine innings,’ because he doesn't like coming out (of the game for a defensive replacement).

“He wants to prove to everybody that he can play that outfield position very, very well. He's a driven kid. Time will tell us, and hopefully we make the right decision with him.”

Jiménez is so important to the White Sox lineup and to their long-term goal of contending for championships on an annual basis, that there’s plenty of validity to the argument that continued misadventures in left field could threaten his ability to stick in that lineup. Already, he’s been hurt on misplays three times, costing him games each time.

But not only does Jiménez’s youth provide ample evidence that he’s not yet a finished product — even while he blasts balls out to center field with his thunderous bat — but there are simply not many other places to put him. First base is spoken for with José Abreu under contract for at least three more years, and designated hitter would figure to be claimed, for the long term, once Andrew Vaughn arrives from the minor leagues. Plus, if you move Jiménez, you’re looking at a hole in left field without an easy internal fix.

And so the White Sox will lean on Renteria’s optimism and the great strides they’ve seen from some of their other young stars as Jiménez continues to gain experience playing left field at the major league level.

And Jiménez will keep working.

“Great players have bad days,” he said, “so for me, I’m just learning from that and just forget about it and keep moving forward.”


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