White Sox

White Sox hope offense can reduce bullpen's workload

White Sox hope offense can reduce bullpen's workload

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Robin Ventura would really love it if his relievers’ arms don’t fall off because the team relies on its bullpen so much.

If they continue at their current pace, some White Sox relievers would likely require a new appendage before the season ends. Common sense says it’s easier to win ballgames if pitchers have all their parts working.

With that in mind, the White Sox desire more production from their offense. They’ve managed to produce big hits at the right time and done enough to help the club to its best start since 1982. But the White Sox also believe their offense — which has averaged 3.8 runs through nine games and hasn’t been shut out — has more in the tank and they’d like to tap into that as soon as possible.

“You always take (blowouts),” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “I don’t think there’s ever a day where you don’t want those. We’re learning now how to win close games, and that’s nice. But you’re not going to be able to run the bullpen out there necessarily the way we’ve been doing it every night. You’ll end up wearing them out.”

Matt Albers, Zach Duke, Nate Jones and David Robertson already have combined for 23 appearances through the team’s first nine games. At this rate, Duke is on pace to appear in 126 games.

It’s not as if it’s bad thing the White Sox have had to rely on their bullpen so much. They already have played three one-run games, another two-run contest and two more decided by three. The team’s record in those games is 5-1.

But they’d love if they could get a little more breathing room and reduce the bullpen’s workload. Though you never can tell based on spring training how an offense will perform, the White Sox felt confident they’d improve. They scored 5.75 runs per game in Arizona, up more than a run from last season.

“We can be better,” first baseman Jose Abreu said through an interpreter. “No doubt about it. We can be better, and we can produce more. Our offense has been good but not as good as we expect we can be. But we put in effort every day trying to do other things and sooner rather than later we’re going to show what we’re able to do from the offensive side.”

Abreu has been impressed with the team’s pitching staff as a whole. The team brought an American League-best 2.25 ERA into Friday’s contest. Abreu said it’s a comfort to know how good the staff is, that they can keep the White Sox in the majority of games.

Ventura also is comfortable because he believes the team is capable of much more. The White Sox have done enough to win seven of their first nine. But Adam Eaton is the only player who has had any kind of hot streak early in the season.

“They’ve been coming up with the runs when you need them,” Ventura said. “When you look at them, Adam seems to be getting on base. He’d be the one guy.

“But as far as scoring a ton of runs, we’re not doing that. But we’re able to get the hit, get the guy on when we need to get him on, get him over, get him in.

“Would you like (a blowout)? Yeah. We’ll take one any time we can get one.”

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.

Ozzie Guillen offers his solution to PED use in baseball

Ozzie Guillen offers his solution to PED use in baseball

Ozzie Guillen is not one to shy away from having a strong opinion about something.

On NBC Sports Chicago’s Baseball Night in Chicago show on Tuesday, Guillen gave his view on how Major League Baseball can stop the usage of performance-enhancing drugs.

“Major League Baseball, you want to cut this thing down?” Guillen said on the show. “You cancel the contract to this kid. Then you’re going to see that. You get caught one time, you’re banned from baseball, then you’re going to stop with that. Because if you’re going to make $200 million and lose $11 million? I’m going to do it.”

Guillen is going off the idea that a player who used PEDs to get a big contract only loses part of it when he eventually gets caught and suspended. Canceling the rest of a contract takes away some of the financial incentive to use PEDs.

“If you get caught when you are young and you try to survive in the game, well, I don’t agree with them, but you can survive in this game that way,” Guillen said. “You know how hard it is right now. How Major League Baseball is on the top of this thing, day in and day out. They’re not going to play around with this thing.”

Marlon Byrd, who was twice suspended for PED use, was also on the show and talked about his PED suspensions.