White Sox

White Sox prepare to face Orioles in empty stadium

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White Sox prepare to face Orioles in empty stadium

BALTIMORE -- After all options were considered, the White Sox and Baltimore Orioles will resume their disrupted series Wednesday afternoon in front of an empty stadium.

In deference to city and state officials and law enforcement, the Orioles and Major League Baseball determined Tuesday afternoon to move the start time of Wednesday’s game up by five hours to 2:05 p.m. EST in a contest that is closed to the public.

After several days of civil unrest following the death of Freddie Gray, MLB and the two clubs -- who already canceled contests on Monday and Tuesday -- don’t want to jeopardize the public safety efforts of local law enforcement, whose resources may be needed elsewhere. The Orioles also announced that Monday and Tuesday’s games would be made up in a May 28 doubleheader.

“We tried to make it clear from the start: we’ll do what everyone feels is in the best interest of everyone’s safety and getting the games played in the best environment that we can under the circumstances,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said from Eutaw Street outside of Camden Yards on Tuesday afternoon. “We’re willing to do whatever it takes to get these games played in the safest possible way.”

Hahn said both clubs offered potential solutions after the cancellation of Monday’s game about 50 minutes before first pitch. With a citywide curfew in effect beginning at 10 p.m. Tuesday for the next week, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said Monday that all options would be considered, including potentially moving venues.

Even though Nationals Park is only 40 miles away and not in use this week, the Washington Post reported Tuesday that the Orioles never called to request use of the site. That could be related to a television rights dispute between the clubs related to MASN, the sports network the two teams share.

[WATCH: Dan Hayes sets the scene of unrest in Baltimore]

Other scenarios considered included moving up Tuesday’s first pitch to as early as 1 p.m. White Sox manager Robin Ventura had his players on call Tuesday morning in case they needed to be at the park.

But none of those options ever came to fruition.

The Orioles have already moved this weekend’s home series with the Tampa Bay Rays to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.

“There was talk of us playing today, playing during the daytime,” Ventura said before an impromptu afternoon workout. “I know there’s a curfew they have in place here for the next week. There was a chance we could get a phone call and we’re playing during the daytime. For us, we’re just sitting and waiting. I know the Orioles are too. It’s sensitive for everybody.”

The waiting ends Wednesday afternoon in what promises to be one of the more surreal scenes in MLB history. The normally packed 45,971-seat venue will be almost completely empty when White Sox leadoff man Adam Eaton faces Baltimore’s Ubaldo Jimenez.

Eaton, Hahn and White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers all said the experience is akin to B games in spring training and minor league promotions.

“The only disadvantage may be for the home team because you kind of feed off the energy,” Eaton said. “When you're on the road there's not much energy in your favor usually. If anything Baltimore may be slighted a little bit.”

[WHITE SOX ROAD AHEAD: Will Carlos Rodon see a start on road trip?]

Said Flowers: “Catching wise it might be more pleasant for me, not hearing people make fun of me. I think I'll be locked in when I'm on the field.”

Either way, the scene promises to be different. English Premier League events have been played in similar circumstances after fan issues but Hahn couldn’t recall any sporting events in the U.S. being played in empty stadiums.

As strange as it may be, Hahn and the White Sox are on board with the plan.

“It’s going to be an interesting experience, a little bit different but obviously from a safety standpoint it makes sense,” Hahn said. “Also it helps potentially relieve some of the logjams later in the season in terms of makeup games. We certainly support the decision of Major League Baseball and the Orioles and we’ll be here ready to go.”

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

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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.