White Sox

White Sox prospect Lucas Giolito trusting that things will eventually click in Triple-A

White Sox prospect Lucas Giolito trusting that things will eventually click in Triple-A

INDIANAPOLIS — Lucas Giolito trusts that the work he’s putting in will eventually lead to something clicking here at the Triple-A level, and ultimately in the major leagues. 

But that hasn’t happened yet, as evidenced by another day where the 22-year-old right-hander didn’t consistently command his fastball. The result was Giolito allowing five runs (four earned) with four walks and three strikeouts in five innings against the Indianapolis Indians (Pittsburgh’s Triple-A affiliate) on Monday night.

“I definitely am not pitching the way I know I can,” Giolito said. “The ball is not coming out the way I know it can. The process, working hard on it every single day — that's what I'm doing. Hopefully the results will start to show that.”

Charlotte pitching coach Steve McCatty has been working with Giolito on not only repeating his mechanics so he can command his fastball, but also on having a more positive, big-picture view of his development. 

While Giolito can focus on his fastball getting him into trouble — as it did in Indianapolis’ four-run fifth inning — McCatty wants him to look at some of the things he’s done well this year, too.

“You're always trying to improve on your weakness and make your strengths better but you just can't go out and say, 'Man I sucked because I didn't get through five innings,’” McCatty said. “He's made progress in a lot of areas. It's a growing thing. And he's got to know what he is first, he's not even close to being a finished product that he's going to be.” 

Giolito reached the major leagues last year with the Washington Nationals, starting four games and appearing in two others as both a mid-season and September call-up. But he’s still green — he’s about five years younger than the average Triple-A player — and only has three full years of starting experience in the minor leagues following Tommy John surgery shortly after being drafted by the Nationals out of high school in 2012. 

“For him, if it took the rest of this year and next year, so what’s he going to be, 24 years old?” McCatty said. “If he goes up to the big leagues and he's throwing pretty good, what's everyone going to say? ‘Well, Lucas is doing what we think he should.’”

That hypothetical situation McCatty presented isn’t a fast track to the White Sox rotation, but more of a slow build to getting Giolito ready to be a mainstay on 35th and Shields. Even if things were to click for Giolito soon, a handful of strong outings may not be enough to prove that he’s ready to stick in the major leagues. 

Another thing Giolito mentioned he wants to get better at is in-game adjustments, which could’ve prevented that rough fifth inning on Monday. Being able to identify and correct what’s going wrong after one pitch instead of after the game is something that could help prevent things from spiraling out of control.

The White Sox, though, have long preached patience in developing the hoard of prospects they acquired in December’s Chris Sale and Adam Eaton trades. Even if Giolito had a 1.37 ERA instead of his current 7.31 mark, he might not be in line for a call-up to the major leagues for a little while. 

So he has time to work in Charlotte and hope that eventually things will click, and stay that way once he gets back to the major leagues. 

“I wasn’t expecting to start the year like this,” Giolito said. “I mean, the numbers are atrocious. It frustrated me, definitely, a lot earlier in the year, like, why aren’t I figuring it out? Now, it’s just, all I can do is trust the work I’m putting in and hopefully put it together soon.” 

After Reynaldo Lopez said White Sox 'looked like clowns' in Cleveland, Rick Renteria fine with his pitcher's comments

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USA TODAY

After Reynaldo Lopez said White Sox 'looked like clowns' in Cleveland, Rick Renteria fine with his pitcher's comments

The White Sox are on a seven-game losing streak and are 25 games below .500.

It’s perhaps no surprise that the losses have piled up in a season that was always going to be about player development and advancing the rebuilding effort. Rick Hahn didn’t call this the hardest part of the rebuild for nothing.

But losing is fun for no one, and to be in the midst of such results on an everyday basis can unsurprisingly cause frustration to build.

The most verbalized display of that frustration to date came earlier this week, when at the end of a sweep at the hands of the division-rival Cleveland Indians, pitcher Reynaldo Lopez said he and his teammates “looked like clowns.”

“It’s unacceptable for us to look the way we looked today,” Lopez told reporters, including MLB.com’s Scott Merkin, through a translator after Wednesday’s 12-0 loss in Cleveland. “Nobody is happy about the way we looked today. Honestly, we looked like clowns there, starting with me. But I know we can do better. It’s a matter of us to keep grinding, improving and working hard.”

Calling the people you work with “clowns” might cause some problems in the average workplace. But the leader of this team, manager Rick Renteria, was fine with what Lopez said and complimented him for making the comments, not a dissimilar reaction to the one he had after veteran pitcher James Shields said he didn’t care about the rebuild and wanted to win now earlier this season.

“Good for him,” Renteria said of Lopez on Friday. “I think he was just speaking what everybody was probably sensing. I think nobody was hiding it. I think the players knew it. I think we addressed it a little bit. You know, when the pitcher comes out — I mean, he took accountability for himself, that’s one of the things we were talking about, that’s a good thing.

“I think when these guys express themselves to each other and make it known that we expect certain things and we’re not doing those things and we want to get back to what we’ve always preached.

“I think they’re all accountable. They look in the mirror. They understand, I believe, that he was speaking from a place of trying to get us back to understanding that there’s a level of play that you expect, there’s a level of focus and concentration that you’re looking to have, and it’s the only way you have a chance in order to compete.

“I mean, you’re playing against some of the best teams in the game of baseball. You need to have that focus and concentration in order to give yourself a chance. He just made it known.”

As Renteria kept saying, Lopez was just as hard on himself, and he had a right to be. He allowed five runs on six hits and four walks in just 4.1 innings. Surely he’d be happy to avoid the Indians again this season: In two starts against them, he’s allowed 11 earned runs on 14 hits over seven innings.

But he wasn’t alone in Wednesday’s ugliness. The offense mustered only two hits in the shutout, Yoan Moncada committed another fielding error, and the bullpen allowed seven more runs, six of them charged to Bruce Rondon.

Similar vocalizations of this team’s frustrations have come from the likes of Hahn, Renteria and Shields. But now it’s coming from one of the young players who are the reason for this organization’s bright future. Lopez has pitched as well as any White Sox pitcher this season, and he figures to be in the mix for a spot in the team’s rotation of the future.

“I think it speaks volumes for him,” Renteria said. “You can’t be scared to voice what you believe is, in your opinion, something that you’re viewing, especially (about) yourself. And then you can direct it, if you need to, to the rest of the club. And I think he did a nice job. I thought he did it very respectfully, to be honest.”

The level of talent on this roster obviously isn’t what the White Sox hope it will be in the coming years, and because of the development happening in the minor leagues, many of the big league team’s current players aren’t expected to be around when things transition from rebuilding to contending.

But the attitude and identity that made “Ricky’s boys don’t quit” a rallying cry is still expected to be on display every day. It’s hard to find that kind of thing in a 12-0 loss.

Of course these players don’t want to lose, and Lopez’s comments are a way of saying that. Hence why the manager of the supposed no-quit boys was happy to hear them.

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.”