White Sox

Uncharacteristic mistakes on defense hurt White Sox in 6-3 loss vs. O's

Uncharacteristic mistakes on defense hurt White Sox in 6-3 loss vs. O's

BALTIMORE — The White Sox haven’t given away many games this season, but Friday’s effort flooded the memory banks with ghosts of errors past.

Whereas sloppy play was omnipresent in 2015, clean baseball has been king for the White Sox and their hot start this season. But the White Sox defense hurt Carlos Rodon with two errors in the fifth inning and Nolan Reimold’s three-run home run got him later as the Baltimore Orioles sent the White Sox to a 6-3 loss in front of 19,912 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Reimold’s seventh-inning, opposite-field homer off Rodon broke a 3-all tie and led to a second straight White Sox loss. The White Sox are 3-2 on their seven-game trip with Mat Latos and Chris Sale scheduled to start their final two games.

“We just didn’t play good defense behind him,” manager Robin Ventura said. “We didn’t glove it very well, which is uncharacteristic of us. Bad night with the glove.”

The White Sox entered Friday’s game third in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating, according to fangraphs.com.

While defensive metrics are hardly perfect, they at least give an indication of just how good the White Sox defense has been this season.

Last season, the White Sox were at or near the bottom among all 30 teams in both measures.

But this year’s sure-handed group has turned things around.

The steady play has been there on a consistent basis since spring training. The White Sox have made both routine and spectacular plays alike. Giving away outs and making pitchers work harder is a thing of the past.

Yet the defense sidetracked Rodon’s gem in the fifth inning Friday night and he never fully recovered.

While Rodon pointed to a leadoff walk he issued to Adam Jones in the fifth as the cause of his troubles, he did more than enough to get out of the frame with a 1-0 White Sox lead intact. With Jones aboard, Rodon induced a potential double play ball, but second baseman Brett Lawrie booted it and the Orioles had runners on the corners with no outs. Todd Frazier eliminated Jones on a rundown on the next play, however, as the runner got too far off the bag on J.J. Hardy’s grounder to third. But Baltimore kept the rally alive with an infield single by Reimold to load the bases and a two-run single by Jonathan Schoop.

Rodon looked like he got out of the jam again when he induced another grounder off Joey Rickard’s bat. But Jimmy Rollins slipped on his relay throw, which went into the stands and allowed the Orioles to pull ahead 3-1. The lead may have been larger had it not been for a perfect throw home by Adam Eaton to nail Rickard on Manny Machado’s two-out single.

“There’s not much you can do,” Rodon said. “When you walk the leadoff guy, that’s on me. It can’t happen. It’s a different inning if I don’t walk that leadoff guy. Say I get him out, and it’s a different, 1-2-3 inning. Those guys are trying as hard as they can. Those are the best players out there.”

Both Rodon and the White Sox offense responded nicely after the fifth.

The White Sox scored runs in the sixth and seventh innings as Jose Abreu singled in a run and Lawrie homered off Orioles reliever Brad Brach to tie it. The White Sox could have had more, but Jones thwarted a sixth-inning rally when he raced in to catch Melky Cabrera’s bases-loaded liner and fired a perfect one-hop throw home to nail Rollins for the final out.

Rodon then needed only eight pitches to get through the middle of Baltimore’s lineup in the sixth. But the Orioles jumped on him in the seventh with singles by Matt Wieters and J.J. Hardy. Reimold then drove a first-pitch fastball from Rodon out to put the Orioles ahead for good.

The left-handed had been on cruise control for the game’s first four innings, using a strong slider to efficiently keep the Orioles under wraps. Rodon needed 55 pitches and had only allowed an opposite-field single as the White Sox led 1-0.

While alarmists might be concerned the team’s hot start is mirage and more sloppy play is on the way, Frazier said not to worry. The third baseman believes the White Sox had an off night on a sloppy field and clean play will once again reign supreme.

“It happens,” Frazier said. “Nothing you can do about it. We came back and tied it up. Rodon pitched a hell of a game, just that one inning. Things could have a different way here or there, but those mistakes will happen. We’re still good defensively, no problems there.

“It’s just the way it goes.”

Eloy Jimenez is swinging some kind of a hot bat in Triple-A, giving White Sox fans visions of the (near?) future

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USA TODAY

Eloy Jimenez is swinging some kind of a hot bat in Triple-A, giving White Sox fans visions of the (near?) future

The White Sox once more dropped to 30 games below .500 on Sunday, providing another reminder that this isn't the season where the team will be competing for a playoff spot or any kind of championship.

But all fans have to do is check the box scores rolling in from Triple-A Charlotte to get another kind of reminder: that a season where the White Sox will be competing for a playoff spot and a championship could be right around the corner.

Eloy Jimenez, the team's top-rated prospect and the No. 2 prospect in baseball, is killing it lately. Since returning from the disabled list in the middle of the month, Jimenez has a .424 batting average and is slugging a jaw-dropping .818 — thanks to three homers and four doubles — in eight games.

These are just the latest superb numbers from Jimenez, who has torn it up all season long, first at Double-A Birmingham and then in Charlotte since his promotion on July 1. Heading into Sunday's game, he was slashing .324/.375/.572 between the two levels. Then he upped those numbers with a base hit in his lone plate appearance as a pinch hitter in Sunday's game.

The only thing that can be seen as a negative for Jimenez this season — and this really isn't too much of one — has been health. While he's avoided the significant injuries that have stolen months of development time away from the likes of Luis Robert, Alec Hansen, Dane Dunning, Jake Burger and Micker Adolfo, Jimenez did start the season late with a pec injury and then missed a couple weeks earlier this month with a strained adductor muscle. Judging by the results, neither injury has done much (if anything) to negatively impact his offensive capabilities.

And so with the statistics remaining ridiculously good and getting better, the question that's dogged the White Sox dating back to the end of last season remains: When will Jimenez join the big league roster?

Only the White Sox have the answer to that question at the moment, but it would figure to be some time relatively soon and almost certainly before this season is over. That might not be specific enough for the fans clamoring to watch Jimenez play on the South Side. But take some cues from what general manager Rick Hahn has been saying all season:

First off, the White Sox performance and place in the standings will have no bearing on when Jimenez is promoted. The team will not bring Jimenez up just to inject some life into the final 60 games of the 2018 campaign. Jimenez's development has nothing to do with this team's win-loss record and is completely tied to the team's future, not its present.

Second, Hahn has talked about the benefits of Jimenez receiving at-bats at the Triple-A level and gaining experience facing the kinds of pitchers he didn't face in the lower levels of the minor leagues. He obviously didn't put a number on it, so the argument that Jimenez's 80 plate appearances in 20 games are enough to determine he's big league ready is potentially valid or potentially invalid, depending on what the White Sox have determined they want to see behind the scenes.

Third, Hahn has often said that not everything shows up in box scores. While Jimenez is putting up big numbers, the team is looking for other things that aren't as easy to recognize for those of us who aren't in the player-development business, not to mention those of us who don't even have an MiLB.TV subscription. Hahn said the same thing when Michael Kopech started the season in dominating fashion, and Kopech remains at Triple-A as the White Sox continue to wait for him to reach certain developmental benchmarks.

Fourth, Hahn has pointed to last year's treatment of Yoan Moncada as somewhat of a template for how the White Sox will treat their highest-rated prospects who are close to reaching the majors. Moncada, unlike Jimenez, had a small amount of big league experience before joining the organization in the Chris Sale trade, making his case slightly different. But he, too, was putting up good numbers at Triple-A, with a .282/.377/.447 slash line before his promotion on July 19. Moncada debuted about this time last season after doing well at the Triple-A level, but remember that he played 80 games there after starting the season with Charlotte. Jimenez joined that club in the middle of the season and has played in a quarter of the games that Moncada did before getting the call to make his White Sox debut. Though it's true that Jimenez is putting up significantly more impressive offensive numbers.

So "relatively soon" is perhaps the best we can do right now when trying to predict when Jimenez will reach the South Side. The White Sox have their own checklist when it comes to Jimenez's development, just like they do with every player, and only they will know when he's completed that list.

What is no mystery is how Jimenez is faring at Triple-A. He's swinging a red-hot bat, and few would argue that the numbers don't look major league ready. There's more to it than just the numbers, of course, but it would figure to be a safe bet that White Sox fans will be able to start purchasing Jimenez shirseys before the clock runs out on the 2018 season.

Avi Garcia's played in fewer than 20 games since April, but could he still attract trade-deadline suitors?

Avi Garcia's played in fewer than 20 games since April, but could he still attract trade-deadline suitors?

Avisail Garcia returned from his latest disabled-list stint with a bang, smacking a three-run home run in the fourth inning Saturday in Seattle.

The White Sox right fielder hasn't even played in 20 games since late April, when he went on his first DL trip, which lasted two months. A second, also featuring an injury to his hamstring, made it two weeks between games.

But when he has been able to step to the plate this summer, Garcia has been tremendously productive. He came into Saturday night with a .333/.347/.783 slash line and a whopping eight home runs in the 17 games he played in between his two DL stays. Then he added that homer Saturday night off longtime Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, giving him nine homers in his last 14 games.

Keeping this up could do an awful lot of things for Garcia: It could make his ice-cold start a distant memory, it could prove that last year's All-Star season might not have been a fluke, and it could keep him entrenched in the conversation about the White Sox outfield of the future, giving the team one of those good problems to have when deciding how he would fit into the puzzle alongside top prospects like Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert.

But here's another possibility: Has Garcia swung a hot enough bat in his limited action that he could be a trade candidate before this month runs out?

The White Sox don't figure to have too many players who are going to get contending teams worked up into a lather. James Shields, Joakim Soria, Luis Avilan, Xavier Cedeno. Those guys could classify as additions that would bolster teams' depth, but they might not be the attractive upgrades the White Sox were able to trade away last summer.

Garcia, though, could be. He might not slide into the middle of the order for too many contenders, but someone looking for a starting corner outfielder might be enticed by the kind of numbers Garcia has put up in June and July, albeit in a small sample size. Teams would also have to consider his health. He's already been to the disabled list twice this season. Teams would certainly have to be confident he wouldn't return in order to make a deal.

On the White Sox end, Garcia would figure to fetch a far more intriguing return package than the aforementioned pitchers, given that he's still pretty young (27) with one more season of team control after this one.

The White Sox have plenty of options when it comes to Garcia. They could deal him now, deal him later or keep as a part of the rebuild, extending him and making him a featured player on the next contending team on the South Side. But with a lot of significant injuries this year perhaps having an effect on when all those highly rated prospects will finally arrive in the majors — not to mention the disappointing win-loss numbers the big league team has put up this season — perhaps it would make more sense to acquire some rebuild-bolstering pieces.

Of course, it all depends on if there are any deals to be made. Do other teams' front offices like what they've seen from Garcia in this short stretch as much as White Sox fans have? We'll know by the time August rolls around.