White Sox

Ventura highway about to open

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Ventura highway about to open

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Everyones gotta start somewhere.

Thats how Chris Sale explained the debut of his new manager Robin Ventura, who arrived at Camelback Ranch on Wednesday about to embark on quite the unexpected journey, hired to manage the White Sox despite not managing or even coaching in any sport at any level.

Truth be told, Ventura actually does have some coaching experience on his resume.
He once coached his daughters basketball team in California. Oh, and there was the time he led a ragtag group of aging amateurs at the White Sox fantasy baseball camp at this exact same facility two years ago.

How bad were they?

We stunk, Ventura said.

But when Kenny Williams shocked everybody by hiring the former White Sox third baseman to replace Ozzie Guillen this off-season, Williams didnt care that Ventura had coached as many professional games as just about everybody reading this sentence.

Why?

Because Ventura is not like everybody.

Its the reason he had a 58-game hitting streak for Oklahoma State in 1987. It had never happened in Division I baseball before. It hasnt happened since.

Its why he charged the mound in 1993 against 46-year-old and future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, who proceeded to pound Ventura with several noogies to the head.
Probably not a smart move, but it shows the quiet, inner rage that can boil in his stomach. He might not show it, but its there. Expect to see it.

And its also why at the end of his playing career with the Dodgers, Venturas teammates gave him a nickname that foreshadowed his baseball future.

What was it?

Ploach.

Short for player-coach.

But while Ventura held that title quietly behind the scenes with no one watching, its a much different situation now. Hes now been thrust to the front of the stage with Chicagos blinding media spotlight directed right at him.

Few can effectively handle it. Ventura, like Ozzie Guillen before him, learned to play the game while living in it.

Not having Guillen around for the first time since 2003 will be an adjustment. Walking into the Sox clubhouse on Wednesday, something didnt seem right. I couldnt figure it out. Then I realized there wasnt a single profanity-laced tirade by a certain Venezuelan manager.

The silence was deafening.

Certainly from that standpoint, Ventura walks into this situation with some pretty large shoes to fill. Hes also taking over for the only manager alive who won a World Series title in Chicago.

I dont look at it necessarily as Im replacing him, Ventura said. I can only look at it as Im just happy to be in this position with the White Sox.

In a season that will feature many firsts, Wednesday was Venturas first spring training
press conference. The first-time manager gave us a glimpse at how he will act in his new job, and what he will expect from his players.

I do have things I believe in as far as the way they play, Ventura said.

Which will have to be a 180-degree shift from last year when the Sox struggled out of the gate and finished a disappointing 79-83. Ventura can help steer the season in the right direction, but he wont be the only person with his hands on the wheel.

Hopefully guys can play better. Thats obviously something from last year," Ventura said. "Thats just the situation were in, and nobody is going to let them up from that until you have an extended period of playing well and guys playing well. Thats just the facts. Thats just the way it is. We have a long way to go to kind of prove that wrong.

Ventura cant swing the bat for Adam Dunn, Alex Rios or Gordon Beckham. Thats not his job. But helping them get to the right place mentally to succeed? That is. Ventura knows it all begins here at spring training.

I think theres always a tone you open up with, the Sox manager said. I dont think you can force it on them. Your leadership and your club is going to kind of set that tone. Its about being prepared to win games, and thats really the focus of how were going to do things, and do it right. And thats it. Its pretty simple.

With the Dodgers he might have been the unofficial player-coach. But will he be a players coach?

Asked about running the club like a dictatorship, Ventura quipped, Absolutely. My way or the highway.

Tomorrow the journey begins.

Daily White Sox prospects update: Gavin Sheets hits his first homer of 2018

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Daily White Sox prospects update: Gavin Sheets hits his first homer of 2018

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

Class A Winston-Salem

Gavin Sheets hit his first home run of the season in a 12-4 loss. While it's taken him this long to hit his first ball out of the park, Sheets has a .380 on-base percentage and his 24 walks make for one of the top 10 totals in the Carolina League. Blake Rutherford doubled in this one, while Sheets, Rutherford, Alex Call and Luis Alexander Basabe combined to draw five walks.

Class A Kannapolis

Luis Gonzalez and Evan Skoug each had a hit in a 9-3 win.

Triple-A Charlotte

Charlie Tilson had two hits in a 9-3 loss.

James Shields is having a stellar May and making comeback wins possible for the White Sox

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USA TODAY

James Shields is having a stellar May and making comeback wins possible for the White Sox

If you haven’t checked in with what James Shields is doing in a while, your opinion of the veteran pitcher’s performance might need some updating.

Shields didn’t exactly win the confidence of White Sox fans during his first two seasons on the South Side. After arriving in a midseason trade with the San Diego Padres in 2016, he posted a 6.77 ERA in 22 starts, during which he allowed 31 home runs. He followed that up with a 5.23 ERA and 27 home runs allowed in 2017.

And the 2018 season didn’t start out great, either, with a 6.17 ERA over his first five outings.

But the month of May has brought a dramatic turn in the vet’s production. In five May starts, he’s got a 3.27 ERA in five starts, all of which have seen him go at least six innings (he’s got six straight outings of at least six innings, dating back to his last start in April).

And his two most recent starts have probably been his two best ones of the season. After allowing just one run on three hits in 7.1 innings last Thursday against the Texas Rangers, he gave up just two runs on five hits Tuesday night against the Baltimore Orioles.

The White Sox, by the way, won both of those games in comeback fashion. They scored four runs in the eighth against Texas and three in the eighth against Baltimore for a pair of “Ricky’s boys don’t quit” victories made possible by Shields’ great work on the mound.

“That’s what it’s all about,” he said after Tuesday’s game. “It’s our job as starters to keep us in the game as long as we possibly can, no matter how we are hitting in a game. At the end of the game, you can always score one or two runs and possibly win a ballgame like we did tonight.”

The White Sox offense was indeed having trouble much of Tuesday’s game, kept off the scoreboard by Orioles starter Kevin Gausman. Particularly upsetting for White Sox Twitter was the sixth inning, when the South Siders put two runners in scoring position with nobody out and then struck out three straight times to end the inning.

But Shields went out and pitched a shut-down seventh, keeping the score at 2-0. Bruce Rondon did much the same thing in the eighth, and the offense finally sparked to life in the bottom of the inning when coincidentally presented with a similar situation to the one in the sixth. This time, though, the inning stayed alive and resulted in scoring, with Welington Castillo, Yoan Moncada and Yolmer Sanchez driving in the three runs.

“I’m out there doing my job,” Shields said. “My job is to try to keep us in the game. And we had some good starters against us that have been throwing well. If I can keep them close, we are going to get some wins and get some wins throughout the rest of the year like that. That’s the name of the game.”

Shields’ value in this rebuilding effort has been discussed often. His veteran presence is of great value in the clubhouse, particularly when it comes to mentoring young pitchers like Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, among others. Shields can act as an example of how to go about one’s business regardless of the outcomes of his starts. But when he can lead by example with strong outings, that’s even more valuable.

“I’m trying to eat as many innings as possible,” he said. “We kind of gave our bullpen — we taxed them a little bit the first month of the season. We are kind of getting back on track. Our goal as a starting staff is to go as deep as possible, and in order to do that, you’ve got to throw strikes and get ahead of hitters.

“Not too many playoff teams, a starting staff goes five and dive every single game. My whole career I’ve always wanted to go as deep as possible. I wanted to take the ball all the way to the end of the game. And we’ve done a pretty good job of it of late.”

It’s a long time between now and the trade deadline, and consistency has at times escaped even the brightest spots on this rebuilding White Sox roster. But Shields has strung together a nice bunch of starts here of late, and if that kind of performance can continue, the White Sox front office might find that it has a potential trade piece on its hands. That, too, is of value to this rebuild.

Until that possibility occurs, though, the team will take more solid outings that give these young players an opportunity to learn how to come back and learn how to win.