White Sox

White Sox confident Rick Renteria can change clubhouse culture

White Sox confident Rick Renteria can change clubhouse culture

When Robin Ventura announced Sunday he wouldn’t return as manager, one of his main reasons for coming to his decision was the need for a “new voice” into the clubhouse. The White Sox view Rick Renteria, despite his bench coach perch next to Ventura in 2016, as providing that new voice. 

White Sox general manager Rick Hahn bristled at the notion that hiring Renteria signaled that this franchise prioritized continuity in the dugout after four consecutive losing seasons. So while Renteria was here for 2016’s 78-win campaign, Hahn believes Renteria will now have the platform to put his own stamp on a club that owns the American League's second-longest playoff drought. 

So, for Hahn, it's less about clubhouse continuity and more about hiring a guy who knows where change needs to be made to pull this franchise out of being mired in mediocrity.

“It’s a completely different role,” Hahn said. “I think his familiarity with the clubhouse culture will help his initial understanding, or already has, about what needs to be improved. Him having already been there for a year and having those relationships will help improve his ability to execute that plan and make it likelier it’s going to be more successful from the start. 

“But when a guy changes roles, there’s a different legitimacy that comes from being the guy in the big chair, so to speak, from being the manager — his influence is going to be greater than it is as the bench coach. He had a tremendous influence on our other coaches, which I think is going to continue. He had a tremendous influence on our players in a positive way, which I think is going to continue. But once he’s in the managerial chair and has the ultimate final say, I think you’re going to see a real change.”

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!] 

The White Sox, fair or not, had two separate incidents that made national headlines and cast a negative light on the clubhouse culture — players’ emphatic, public defense of Adam LaRoche in spring training, and ace Chris Sale’s destruction of the team’s 1976 throwback jerseys that earned him a five-day suspension. 

Of course, a winning season and contending for the playoffs would’ve pushed whatever negative vibes existed off to the side (the team's 23-10 start quickly made the LaRoche stuff a non-story). But Renteria will take over managerial duties with a more positive, rah-rah tone than Ventura’s even-keel approach. 

“I think (Renteria’s) got a lot of qualities that Robin has,” outfielder Adam Eaton said. “Maybe a little more vocal. He definitely will get his point across a little more, vocally. Not that he has more passion than Robin or anything like that, but he’s a little more upbeat, a little more bouncy. He’s kind of a bundle of baseball joy.”

Hahn said the White Sox would’ve hired Renteria for this position even had he not been with the organization for the last year, but noted that those pre-existing relationships and the ability to evaluate him all season helped bolster his case. 

It’s clear the White Sox, who haven't made the playoffs since 2008 (only the Seattle Mariners, at 15 years, have a longer playoff drought in the AL, while the Miami Marlins haven't reached the postseason in 13 years) need things to change. From the front office’s perspective, the guy to help change things for the better was sitting next to Ventura the whole season. 

“I don’t view hiring a guy who has been here for a year and in our opinion is a candidate who would be on the market in the offseason would be a big triumph for continuity,” Hahn said. “It’s a triumph for finding the highest caliber individual who’s the best fit for us going forward and making that person the manager.” 

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.