White Sox

White Sox pitchers falter late in loss to Cubs

White Sox pitchers falter late in loss to Cubs

That inconsistent White Sox offense has managed to appear at the worst times throughout the 2016 season.

Cubs starter Jason Hammel drew it out on Wednesday night and prevented Anthony Ranaudo from creating his own sterling chapter in Crosstown Cup history.

Hammel stymied the White Sox for seven innings to outpitch Ranaudo, who had a no-hitter for 5 1/3 innings and hit a solo home run in his White Sox debut. But too much Hammel and a bunch of late offense by the Cubs sent the White Sox to an 8-1 loss in front of 41,166 at Wrigley Field. Kris Bryant, Javy Baez and Addison Russell all homered as the Cubs snapped a four-game White Sox winning streak.

“(Hammel) spins it really good,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “His breaking stuff is his bread and butter. Anthony got a fastball, pretty much the only guy to get one really in the zone. You have to be sitting on it, and he can break it both ways.”

Everything was going swimmingly for Ranaudo through five innings.

Not only had he pitched out of a potential first-inning disaster, he hadn’t allowed a hit in two trips through the Cubs lineup. On top of that, Ranaudo’s solo homer off Hammel in the fifth inning gave the White Sox a 1-0 lead. The opposite-field blast was the first career hit for Ranaudo, who was acquired from the Texas Rangers in mid-May.

“He knows how to pitch,” outfielder J.B. Shuck said. “He was mixing up speeds really well. Once he finally settled down here after the first inning, he was locating well and able to throw strikes with all his pitches.”

But Bryant energized the crowd in the sixth inning when he belted a 3-1 curveball from Ranaudo out to left for his 26th homer. Ranaudo rebounded nicely, however, inducing weak fly outs off the bats of Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist to end the sixth.

With the back end of the bullpen still running on fumes, Ranaudo returned for the seventh inning and quickly recorded two outs. But a two-out walk by Jason Heyward set up Baez’s heroics. Baez, who lined out hard to center field in his previous at-bat, worked the count and hammered a 3-2 curveball for a two-run homer to put the Cubs ahead for the first time in three games.

Ranaudo allowed three runs and two hits with four walks in 6 2/3 innings.

But the Cubs turned into on in the eighth inning, scoring five times off Carson Fulmer and Jacob Turner, including Russell’s grand slam.

“Definitely something I’ll remember the rest of my life,” Ranaudo said. “The way the game kind of turned, that kind of took a bad turn for us. Definitely a great experience. The atmosphere was electric and thought we played really well for most of the game.”

The White Sox offense couldn’t keep pace against Hammel and Co., who struck out the side in his seventh and final inning. The right-hander only allowed more than one batter to reach base in a single inning once. Todd Frazier doubled with one out in the fourth and Shuck walked. But Hammel, who struck out seven, got Dioner Navarro to fly out and struck out Tyler Saladino.

Hammel allowed five hits and walked two in a 103-pich effort.

It was the 48th time in 101 games the White Sox have scored three or fewer runs and second straight day. They’re 13-35 in those contests.

“(Hammel) was down in the zone, mixing speeds really well and just was locating,” Shuck said. “Wasn’t giving us anything to hit today.”

Michael Kopech hasn't had a good June, but that hasn't changed White Sox optimism regarding top pitching prospect

0226-michael-kopech-sox.jpg
AP

Michael Kopech hasn't had a good June, but that hasn't changed White Sox optimism regarding top pitching prospect

It wasn’t long ago that the question was: “Why isn’t Michael Kopech pitching in the major leagues?”

The question is now firmly: “What’s wrong with Michael Kopech?”

The new script is of course a reflection of how quickly opinions change during a baseball season, when “what have you done for me lately?” tends to drive the conversation more than looking at the entire body of work.

But the body of work doesn’t look too awesome for the White Sox top-ranked pitching prospect these days. He carries a 5.08 ERA through 14 starts with Triple-A Charlotte. But it’s the recent struggles that have folks second guessing whether he’s ready for the big leagues.

The month of June hasn’t gone well for Kopech, who has a 9.00 ERA in four starts this month. That features two especially ugly outings, when he allowed seven runs in two innings and five runs in three outings. But for a guy who’s got blow-em-away stuff, it’s the walks that are of the utmost concern to box-score readers: He’s got 21 of them in 16 innings over his last four starts. That’s compared to 20 strikeouts.

More walks than strikeouts is never a good thing, and it’s been a glaring bugaboo for White Sox pitchers at the major league level all season. Kopech wasn’t having that problem when this season started out. He struck out 68 batters and walked only 25 over his first 10 starts. But things have changed.

With director of player development Chris Getz on the horn Thursday to talk about all of the promotions throughout the minor league system, he was asked about Kopech and pointed to Wednesday’s outing, which lasted only five innings and featured four more walks. But Kopech only allowed two earned runs, and Getz called it a good outing.

“Last night I was really happy with what he was able to do, and that’s really in comparison looking at his last probably four outings or so,” Getz said. “He did have a little bit of a hiccup, getting a little erratic. He was getting a little quick in his delivery, his lower half wasn’t picking up with his upper half. The command of his pitches was not there.

“But last night, although the line is not the best line that we’ve seen of Michael this year, it was still a very good outing. He was in the zone, commanding the fastball. His body was under control. He threw some good breaking pitches, a couple of good changeups. He was back to being the competitor we are accustomed to. We are hoping to build off of this outing. I know he’s feeling good about where he’s at from last night and we’ll just kind of go from there.”

It’s important to note, of course, that the White Sox are often looking for things that can’t be read in a box score. So when we see a lot of walks or a lot of hits or a small amount of strikeouts, that doesn’t tell the whole story nor does it count as everything the decision makers in the organization are looking at.

Still, this is development and growth in action — and perhaps a sign that the White Sox have been right in not yet deeming Kopech ready for the majors. Kopech perhaps needs the time at Triple-A to work through these issues rather than be thrown into a big league fire.

As for how these struggles will affect his timeline, that remains to be seen. The White Sox aren’t ruling anything out, not promising that he’ll be on the South Side before the end of this season but certainly not ruling it out either.

“If he builds off of what he did last night, commanding his fastball, his breaking pitches continue to kind of define themselves, I think we’ve got a chance to see him,” Getz said. “He’s going to find his way to the big leagues. He’s going to be an impact frontline type starter. I’m very confident in that.

“Now just like a lot of great players, sometimes it’s a meandering path. And to say that he’s gone off track is not fair because it’s only been a couple of outings. I think he’s in a really good spot. If he builds off of this, I don’t think it’s unfair to think he’ll be up here at some point.”

Dylan Cease promoted to Double-A as he continues to impress White Sox: 'He's more or less forced our hand'

Dylan Cease promoted to Double-A as he continues to impress White Sox: 'He's more or less forced our hand'

Rick Hahn’s been saying it all year: The good ones have a way of forcing the issue.

Consider Dylan Cease one of the good ones.

The pitcher acquired alongside top-ranked prospect Eloy Jimenez in last summer’s crosstown trade with the Cubs was one of the more than a dozen players promoted within the White Sox farm system Thursday. He put up stellar numbers during the first half with Class A Winston-Salem and because of it is on his way to Double-A Birmingham.

While many rebuild-loving fans could’ve forecasted Jimenez’s rapid journey through the organization, Cease’s acceleration is one that even the White Sox are considering a “pleasant surprise.”

“There’s definitely been some pleasant surprises,” Chris Getz, the White Sox director of player development, said Thursday. “For one, I think Dylan Cease was a guy, heading into the season, his first full year with us, the focus was: every fifth day, a full season’s worth of innings. He’s more or less forced our hand.

“He's really come on, he’s pitching with four pitches, four plus pitches, he’s commanding the ball, very mature kid. And he’s certainly ready for the next challenge at Double-A.”

Cease turned in a 2.89 ERA in his 13 starts with Winston-Salem, striking out 82 batters in 71.2 innings. Considering he made just 25 starts above Rookie ball during his time in the Cubs’ organization, the dominance in his first taste of High A is quite the positive for the White Sox.

The team’s starting rotation of the future is a mighty crowded one, with roughly a dozen different guys competing for those spots: current big leaguers Carlos Rodon, Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito; Triple-A arms Michael Kopech, Carson Fulmer, Jordan Stephens and Spencer Adams; Double-A hurlers Cease, Alec Hansen and Dane Dunning; and Class A pitchers Lincoln Henzman and Blake Battenfield, both of whom earned their own promotions Thursday.

There’s a lot of time before the White Sox have to settle on which five will make up that future starting staff. But Cease could be doing the work of making a name for himself, something that hasn’t been easy to do. With all the love he’s getting, he’s still the organization’s fourth-ranked pitching prospect. Heck, thanks to Jimenez, he wasn’t the top-ranked guy in his own trade.

But Cease is getting attention now, and if he keeps pitching like this, he could keep forcing the White Sox hand.