White Sox

White Sox: Justin Morneau's 'fun' return could have him back in 2017

White Sox: Justin Morneau's 'fun' return could have him back in 2017

KANSAS CITY -- He isn’t yet ready to think whether or not he’ll play next season, but Justin Morneau concedes this one has been enjoyable so far.

The White Sox designated hitter’s surgically repaired elbow still requires maintenance and he has some rough days. At the same time, Morneau -- who’s hitting .300/.351/.500 with three homers and nine RBIs in 77 plate appearances -- is surprised how quickly he has found comfort at the plate and how he’s been physically capable of preparing the way he needs. While for now he’s focused on the present and not 2017, Morneau makes it sound as if he’d have a difficult time calling it quits if all is well.

“As long as I’m still enjoying it and enjoying the work, I’ll probably assess that toward the end of September,” Morneau said. “But to be able to come out and work the way I'm used to working -- I’m someone that enjoys spending time in the cage and all that kind of stuff. I’ve been able to do that. That was the most frustrating part about last year -- I couldn’t take the amount of swings that I wanted and that was kind of what had me questioning whether or not I would enjoy playing again.”

“I’ve been able to do things that I wanted to do, so I’ll make that decision at a later point, but for right now, it has been fun.”

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]​

Morneau wasn’t sure what to expect when he had the surgery last December. After rehabbing for six months, he hoped he’d only need 20-30 minor league plate appearances to find some semblance of comfort at the plate. At that point he’d return to the big leagues knowing it would still be a work in progress.

So far, Morneau has been everything the White Sox needed since Adam LaRoche retired five months ago.

“He’s filled the left-handed presence we were looking for,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “Even against the lefty he’s having a quality at-bat.

“He’s had professional at-bats. It’s a very educated at-bat.”

Todd Frazier has had a front row view as he often has hit behind Morneau since he joined the team last month. He appreciates how Morneau competes and extends the lineup. Frazier pointed to Tuesday’s win when Morneau said he wasn’t feeling it and followed with a 4-for-5 performance, including a critical double in the 10th inning.

“Just consistency,” Frazier said. “Just a professional. Guy has been doing it for years. You look up to a guy like that. I have the best view in the house. I’m hitting right behind him and you see the battles he goes through and the at-bats and he finds a way to do it. Couldn’t ask for anything better.

“He came in after the first at-bat telling everyone he didn’t feel well. Next thing you know he’s got four hits. Whether that’s professionalism or he’s lying to us, either way we’ll take it.”

Those types of days are exactly one of the reasons Morneau wanted to return. Disappointed how his sore elbow hindered preparation in 2015, Morneau hoped to feel healthy once again. He believed he had some ability left and has proven it so far. As long he continues to enjoy it and all is well, Morneau may just have the same desire again in 2017.

“It’s usually when you have it figured out and your swing is locked in, that’s when you go 0-fer and those times you go up there and battle you surprise yourself sometimes and get some balls to fall in and usually that’s how you start rolling,” Morneau said. “It starts with a blooper or a two-strike hit or a two-out hit or whatever it is. That can get you going in the right direction.

“You never know when that’s going to happen. Those days like that are few and far between, but they are nice when they happen. It’s hopefully a sign of more good things to come.”

It's only one start, but that's the Lucas Giolito that White Sox fans expected to see this season

0622-lucas-giolito.jpg
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

0622-avisail-garcia.jpg
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.