White Sox

'Vintage' Chris Sale returns, dominates as White Sox top Twins

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'Vintage' Chris Sale returns, dominates as White Sox top Twins

Chris Sale’s 98th and final pitch of Sunday’s game was a 98 mile per hour fastball, one that whizzed past the bat of Trevor Plouffe for strike three.

And with that, the left-hander’s return to the top of the White Sox rotation was complete.

Sale struck out eight in six innings of work to lead the White Sox to a 6-2 win over Minnesota in Sunday’s rubber match in front of 23,057 at U.S. Cellular Field. The 26-year-old allowed one run on five hits with one walk in his first start against a major league club — including in spring training — since last September.

“He looked great,” manager Robin Ventura said. “There’s nothing else to say. It was vintage him.”

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Sale largely relied on his mid-to-upper 90’s fastball and upper-80’s changeup, as his slider wasn’t sharp over the course of the afternoon. Sale only threw 10 sliders and didn’t get a swing and miss on any of them, but it didn’t matter — his changeup generated six swings and misses and his fastball got 14 whiffs, according to BrooksBaseball.net.

Despite having only thrown a handful of bullpen sessions and faced a pair of Single-A squads to get ready for the season after an avulsion fracture in his foot kept him out of spring training games, Sale threw 72 of his 98 pitches for strikes.

“I think it’s somewhat typical of a dominant pitcher in this league,” catcher Tyler Flowers said. I’m sure (Clayton) Kershaw and all those guys have similar numbers when they’re out there, at least on their good outings. You kind of set the tone right out of the gate throwing strikes, very aggressive, he was commanding them early too so that makes it tougher on those guys.”

The White Sox jumped out to an early 2-0 lead on an RBI single from Adam LaRoche and an RBI double from Alexei Ramirez in the first inning, and after Danny Santana doubled in a run in the top of third, LaRoche answered with a solo home run in the bottom half, his second of the season. Sale said getting that early advantage helped him get into a rhythm, which translated into him notching the White Sox first quality start of the season.

[SHOP WHITE SOX: Get a Chris Sale jersey right here]

As he and Ventura have reiterated over the course of his month-and-a-half recovery, Sale’s injury was confined to his foot and didn’t involve anything to really worry about like an elbow or shoulder. Sale and the White Sox followed a slow, calculated recovery plan — one that created enough down time for the left-hander to binge-watch "Breaking Bad" and increase his arsenal of knock-knock jokes — so when he did take the mound Sunday, he said he felt like his injury never happened.

Sale’s strong start, along with some gutsy relief work by Zach Duke and a two-run insurance home run by Gordon Beckham, gave the White Sox their first series win of the season. After an 0-4 start caused some early restlessness, the White Sox are back to blasting celebratory music in the clubhouse — Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” was on the playlist Sunday — and things seem to be returning to normal for the long haul of the regular season.

And normal for Sale means, after a strong start, fielding questions about how good a pitcher he can be. If he can keep this up, the early Cy Young talk surely won’t be far around the corner, even if he isn’t too willing to entertain it.

“I’m just a pitcher,” Sale said. “You guys (the media) have all these questions for me like I can read the future and have all the answers. I’m a baseball player. I want to go out and play baseball and do the best I can. That’s all I’ve ever done and all I’m ever going to do. All the extra stuff is cool and fine, but I’ll stick to being a baseball player.”

Carlos Rodon's first win in 10 months showed he could still be the ace of the future for White Sox

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USA TODAY

Carlos Rodon's first win in 10 months showed he could still be the ace of the future for White Sox

As encouraging as the reports are on many of the White Sox’s minor-league pitching prospects, Carlos Rodon’s effort against the Athletics on Sunday at Guaranteed Rate Field could prove just as significant to the rebuild on the South Side.

Looking much like the ace the Sox envisioned prior to Rodon’s rough 2017 season that ended with shoulder surgery, the left-hander put together his most successful effort of ’18 during a 10-3 drubbing of the Athletics before a sun-drenched crowd of 21,908.

Making his fourth start of the season, Rodon matched a career-high by going eight innings. He yielded two runs on seven hits with no walks and three strikeouts. Rodon earned his first win of the season to help the Sox salvage a split of the four-game series.

“I felt good today—a lot of strikes,” Rodon said. “It was good to go eight and just be ahead of guys.”

Helping matters for Rodon was an offensive explosion by the Sox, led by Yoan Moncada’s career-high six RBIs. After falling behind 2-0, the Sox plated five runs in each of the fifth and sixth innings as Moncada cleared the bases with a double off the base of the wall in the fifth and launched his 10th home run of the season to drive in three more an inning later.

“Today was a great day,” Moncada said via a team interpreter. “I just went out to play the game the way that I play. Just to have fun. It was a very good game for me.”

Daniel Palka and Yolmer Sanchez also homered as the Sox won for just the second time in their last 11 games.

Rodon was the happy recipient of the run support to win his first game since Aug. 21, 2017, against the Twins. On Sunday, he threw 99 pitches, 69 for strikes and was consistently in the mid-90s with his fastball.

“I’m looking to do that every time out,” Rodon said. “Just show up and establish the strike zone with the fastball and be aggressive.”

The 25-year-old’s second-inning strikeout of Khris Davis was the 400th of Rodon’s career. It is a career that is continuing after a surgery that was a setback, but one that did not derail Rodon’s confidence that he would again pitch effectively.

“There are up-and-down days when you go through shoulder surgery or any surgery for any player,” Rodon said. “You've just got to work through it and try to make your way back. I'm here now and it’s looking up and I’m trying to get better.”

So is it reasonable to view Rodon as the future ace after all?

“You certainly can’t discount that,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He has to go out there and continue to get his feet underneath him and get through the rest of the season healthy and climbing.”

In other Sox pitching news, Renteria said starter Dylan Covey, who was removed in the fifth inning of Saturday’s game due to a hip flexor injury, “felt better” Sunday and the team will continue to monitor the right-hander’s progress.

Meanwhile, veteran Miguel Gonzalez made a rehab start for Triple-A Charlotte as he continues to recover from inflammation in his right rotator cuff. Gonzalez went three innings and allowed one hit with a walk and a strikeout. Outfielder Eloy Jimenez belted his first homer for the Knights in the game.

Joakim Soria knows he is turning into a valuable trade asset for White Sox

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USA TODAY

Joakim Soria knows he is turning into a valuable trade asset for White Sox

No one knows better than Joakim Soria that the more successful he is as the White Sox’s closer, there is an increased likelihood that the veteran right-hander will be headed out of town at some point.

Soria has not only solidified the back end of the bullpen, the 34-year-old has emerged as perhaps the Sox’s most valuable trade asset to a contending team in need of relief help.

Over this last 14 appearances, Soria has not allowed an earned run and has converted all seven save chances with five hits allowed, two walks and 15 strikeouts.

“My body feels good and my arm feels good,” Soria said before the Sox defeated the Athletics 10-3 on a sunny Sunday afternoon at Guaranteed Rate Field. “I come to the ballpark expecting to pitch and … I try to be out there and help this team win.”

While the Sox haven’t done a whole lot of winning of late—Sunday’s win was just their second in their last 11 games—when they are victorious it’s accompanied by a Soria save. With the Sox’s rebuild in full swing, Soria understands that general manager Rick Hahn won’t hesitate to flip him in a trade.

“Players say they don’t think about it but you have to think about it,” said Soria, who was acquired from the Royals on Jan. 4 in a three-team trade also involving the Dodgers. “When you have a family with three kids and a wife you have to be prepared for everything. But it’s not like I come to the field thinking about that. It’s just God’s plan and whatever happens it’s a business and you prepare.”

Soria has 215 career saves, including 162 in seven seasons with the Royals, but hadn’t been a full-time closer since notching a combined 24 saves with the Tigers and Pirates. With the Sox, Soria won the closing job over fellow veteran Nate Jones in spring training and has been nearly unhittable in recent weeks.

Over his last 13 2/3 innings pitched, Soria has held opponents to a .109 batting average and sports a 2.89 ERA for the season. He has issued five walks in 28 innings and is averaging 10.29 strikeouts per nine innings pitched.

The two-time All-Star has settled in nicely in a Sox clubhouse featuring a mix of veterans and promising talents. Soria has to balance that with the knowledge he might not be around as the season progresses.

“It’s something I can’t control,” Soria said. “I have a really good relationship with these guys and the chemistry with this team is very good. I can’t think outside of the box because (a trade) hasn’t happened yet. You have to keep focused and be ready for today’s game.”