White Sox

White Sox: Jeff Samardzija ends rough August on another sour note

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White Sox: Jeff Samardzija ends rough August on another sour note

The White Sox kept Jeff Samardzija at the non-waiver trade deadline to compete for a playoff spot, but instead, he’s been one of the reasons why they’ve remained on the periphery of the American League wild card race.

The 30-year-old right-hander and free agent to be surrendered five runs in 5 2/3 innings as the White Sox lost to the Seattle Mariners, 7-6, in front of 26,011 Saturday night at U.S. Cellular Field. Samardzija’s ERA sits at 4.85, surpassing John Danks (4.82) for the highest mark on the White Sox. And only seven qualified starters have a higher ERA (Kyle Lohse, Jeremy Guthrie, C.C. Sabathia, Matt Garza, Drew Hutchison, Anibal Sanchez and Alfredo Simon) in 2015.

The White Sox were 49-51 when the trade deadline passed the afternoon of July 31, but are 11-17 since. They’ve lost all six of Samardzija’s starts over the course of which he has an 8.82 ERA.

“I feel good,” Samardzija said. “Everything's as is. It feels great, throw all the same. Sometimes there's a couple pitches, you always have a couple games where you don't make 100 percent great pitches. Sometimes they turn to pop outs or roll overs. Just for me recently, they've been coming up to bite me in the butt. So you've got to go out there and have a perfect game and turn the tides on your own.”

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Seattle quickly jumped on Samardzija in the first inning Saturday night, with Kyle Seager belting a two-run homer and Seth Smith delivering an RBI on a sacrifice fly to put Samardzija and the White Sox in an early 3-0 hole. The first inning has been a massive problem for Samardzija all year — he’s allowed 23 runs in 27 first innings, good for a 7.67 ERA.

“I don’t know, I don’t really have an answer for that,” Samardzija said. “You can’t really control when you give the runs up. It’s just the same routine I’ve done for years. It’s just a pitch here and a pitch there that we need to improve on and pay attention to and then we go from there.”

Samardzija gave up another run in the third when Smith doubled in Robinson Cano, though he could’ve allowed more in the frame if not for Tyler Flowers’ leaping catch and tag of Seager at home plate on Cano’s double off the wall the previous at-bat. The Mariners added another run in the fourth when Ketel Marte flew out to left to score Brad Miller.

Over his 5 2/3 innings, Samardzija allowed 10 fly balls and line drives and only four ground balls. That’s been another problem — his home run/fly ball rate is basically the same as last year (10.7 percent in 2015, 10.6 percent in 2014), but he’s allowing about 10 percent more fly balls and line drives (59.6 percent of balls in play entering Saturday) and 10 percent fewer ground balls (40.4 percent of balls in play).

The result has been Samardzija allowing 23 home runs this year, which is well on pace to surpass his previous career high of 25 in 2013.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!] 

“Especially in this park, you’ve got to be able to get them to hit it on the ground,” manager Robin Ventura said. “Tonight, especially, I think they got the ball in the air and hard. You’ve got to stay away from that.”

It’s been a confounding season for Samardzija, who has the same velocity he’s always had and has gone through dominant stretches — he had a 2.27 ERA in July and shut out a powerful Blue Jays lineup that month. He has one more month to turn things around and steer the conversation away from if he’d be smart to accept a one-year qualifying offer from the White Sox back to how many years and how many millions of dollars a team will shell out for his services this winter.

“As far as being prepared and competitiveness, all that stuff is as good as it’s going to get,” Ventura said. “You see him prepare not only for tonight’s game but in between starts and all that. He’s a gamer. And he’s willing to go. He’s probably scratching his head too as to how it’s ended up like this.”

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.