White Sox

White Sox rally, but comeback falls short in loss to Mariners

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White Sox rally, but comeback falls short in loss to Mariners

SEATTLE — The White Sox aren’t in a position where feel-good stories aid their cause.

Morale victories have little value to a team as desperately in need of wins as the White Sox are. So even though Adam LaRoche’s bat continues to warm up and the White Sox had a big mid-game rally, they didn’t have any warm and fuzzy feelings after an 8-6 loss to the Seattle Mariners in front of 30,537 at Safeco Field.

LaRoche homered and doubled and Jose Abreu also homered, but it wasn’t enough to overcome a big early deficit created by John Danks. Mariners relievers Carson Smith and Tom Wilhelmsen combined for 2 1/3 scoreless innings to snap a three-game White Sox winning streak and prevent them from finishing their seven-game road trip with a winning record.

“Where we are we can’t afford to do that and the team put me in a good position today,” Danks said. “Everyone did their jobs exceptionally well today except me, and unfortunately I sucked bad enough that we weren’t able to get the win. We need to win more than three out of seven. Just being blunt, we don’t have that much season left to do that.”

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The White Sox have a significant hole to climb out of to if they wish to remain relevant in September. Sunday’s loss drops them back to six games below .500 and 5 1/2 games out in the wild-card race.

The Texas Rangers currently sit in second place in the wild-card race and are on pace to finish 84-78. To reach 84 wins, the White Sox would have to play .650 baseball over their final 40 games (26-14).

So far the White Sox haven’t proven to be that team, and there has been little evidence to suggest they’re capable of such a run. But one factor in the club’s favor is that they play teams with losing records in 24 of their final 40 contests, including seven at home this week against the Boston Red Sox and Mariners.

Though they opened it with three straight losses, the White Sox still had a chance to salvage a winning road trip with a victory Sunday.

Danks opened the game with two scoreless innings, but it quickly became evident in the third inning he wouldn’t be at his best. Mark Trumbo doubled to start the third, one of five Seattle hits in the inning. Jesus Sucre made it a 1-all game with a one-out RBI single, and Nelson Cruz later doubled in two runs. Franklin Gutierrez singled in another to make it 4-1, but Robinson Cano was thrown out at the third on the play to end the inning.

“He was elevating some balls, and they got some good swings on him,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “In the third it seemed like his ball was up, and they put some good hacks on it and got something going.”

[MORE WHITE SOX: White Sox bullpen has enjoyed rotation's recent success]

Danks’ rough outing continued two innings later when Austin Jackson singled in a run and Cano crushed a two-run homer to put Seattle ahead by six runs.

Danks allowed eight hits and seven earned runs with three walks and four strikeouts in five-plus innings.

“Got in a lot of hitter’s counts and had to try and maneuver my way through and wasn’t very successful,” Danks said.

After a very difficult few months, LaRoche has started to find success through a combination of being more aggressive at the plate along with improved pitch selection.

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Three days after he had two hits, including a homer, LaRoche repeated his performance. He doubled ahead of an Alexei Ramirez RBI single in the second inning that gave the White Sox a 1-0 lead.

And his two-run homer in the sixth inning off Logan Kensing brought the White Sox back within a run. Tyler Saladino earlier doubled in a run, and Abreu had a two-run blast as the White Sox scored five times.

While LaRoche feels better about himself, he was left smarting after he struck out looking to start the ninth inning courtesy of what appeared to be a wide strike zone.

“Always nice to compete and make it a little bit closer ballgame,” LaRoche said. “Gave Johnny a chance to get off the hook but came up a little bit short.

“Last at-bat was a little frustrating.”

White Sox reportedly among most aggressive teams pursuing free-agent reliever Joe Kelly

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USA TODAY

White Sox reportedly among most aggressive teams pursuing free-agent reliever Joe Kelly

LAS VEGAS — Rick Hahn said the White Sox weren't done adding to their bullpen. Does that include one of the best relievers on the free-agent market?

According to a report from WEEI's Rob Bradford, the White Sox are one the most aggressive teams pursuing relief pitcher Joe Kelly, along with the Boston Red Sox (Kelly's team of the last five seasons), the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets.

The White Sox first addition of this Hot Stove season was a reliever and a potential new closer in Alex Colome, acquired at the end of last month in a trade with the Seattle Mariners. Colome saved 84 games in 2016 and 2017 with the Tampa Bay Rays, making the AL All-Star team in 2016 and leading baseball in saves in 2017. His save numbers dropped after getting dealt to the M's in May, where he worked as a setup man for 2018's saves leader, Edwin Diaz.

But Hahn made sure to say that he wasn't done adding to the South Side bullpen.

"We don’t think we are finished in terms of addressing the bullpen," Hahn said on Nov. 30. "Not quite sure on timing of that, but between now and the time we break camp, I suspect there will be further additions to the 'pen as well."

Could Kelly be another high-profile addition?

Kelly starred for the world-champion Red Sox during the postseason, allowing just one run in his nine appearances for a 0.79 ERA over 11.1 innings. Though he had a 4.39 ERA during the 2018 regular season, he put up stellar numbers in 2017: a 2.79 ERA in 54 games. Since coming to the Red Sox in a 2014 trade with the St. Louis Cardinals, Kelly posted an 8.0 K/9, a number that was even better in recent seasons, 9.2 since the beginning of the 2016 campaign.

Kelly would be an obvious upgrade to a White Sox bullpen that ranked 23rd out of 30 major league teams with a 4.49 ERA in 2018. That relief corps is stocked with intriguing young arms who could be a part of the rebuilding franchise's long-term future, guys like Ian Hamilton, Caleb Frare, Jace Fry, Ryan Burr, Jose Ruiz and Thyago Vieira. But those guys got off to rocky starts at the end of the 2018 season, and adding more veteran presence could help them in their development.

In fact, that's been a stated goal of Hahn's in describing his approach to retooling the bullpen this winter.

"We do like how the bullpen projects out both in '19 and certainly '20 and '21, but at the same time we don't want — especially early on — a lot of these young guys to feel like they have to carry all the water," Hahn said. "We'd rather have some guys who have been through this before, whether it's a guy like Colome or Nate Jones or other guys we might add in the coming months to help relieve some of the burden.

"There's going to be development at the big league level, and we certainly feel we have some high-caliber, high-end arms that are going to pitch important high-leverage innings in the future. But there's going to be a maturation process that's part of getting them there. Having, for lack of a better term, a veteran presence in the bullpen to help show them the way and relieve some of the burden on them early on, it's part of the benefit of this deal and what we're trying to do with the bullpen."

While Kelly is only 30 and could command a longer-term deal, an interesting question is why the White Sox would potentially spend sizable dollars on relief pitching in a season in which they're not expected to contend for a playoff spot. Even in acquiring Colome, Hahn was not exactly trumpeting long-term value.

"Obviously he fits in well for the short term over the course of the next two seasons. How he'll fit in '21 and beyond, it's way premature to make that assessment," Hahn said. "Obviously we can extend him at some point during his stay here or revisit it once he hits free agency. On relievers, it's tough to project out on any of them, even the best, quite how they're going to perform three or four years out into the future. We're very optimistic about what he's going to bring the for at least next two seasons. If it makes sense at that point to extend him and have him continue to be part of this growing core into '21 and beyond, we'll certainly remain open-minded to that."

But in looking for upgrades and ways to help the development of the young guys, you could do a lot worse than Colome and Kelly.

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Bryce Harper 'warming up to the White Sox'? Could the future-focused pitch work?

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USA TODAY

Bryce Harper 'warming up to the White Sox'? Could the future-focused pitch work?

LAS VEGAS — The White Sox remain in the hunt for Bryce Harper, according to one report after another, and as they jetted off to his hometown for their own kind of warm up at the Winter Meetings here in Sin City, maybe Harper's starting to warm up to the idea of playing on the South Side.

WBBM's George Ofman tweeted just that Monday morning — though he later deleted the tweet — the latest Twitter link between the White Sox and the biggest fish in this winter's free-agent pond.

In pro sports, it's easy to say that it all comes down to money, and while that kind of blanket statement is not exactly true, money plays an obviously enormous role. The White Sox, simply by being in the mix, would have to be willing to hand out a contract that is expected to be the biggest the sport has ever seen.

There's a perception among certain White Sox fans that they will not do that. Well, consider it another preconceived notion that Hahn will be happy to shatter. He's talked often about how the team has flown in the face of those preconceptions over the past two years: that they wouldn't undergo a full-scale rebuild, that they wouldn't make a blockbuster deal with the Crosstown-rival Cubs. He's held the door open for more of that kind of behavior, and making a gargantuan contract offer would fall into that category.

And a gargantuan contract offer is what it would figure to take to get Harper, as high-spending clubs like the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies are also reportedly in the hunt. The Phillies have even promised to "spend stupid," which could price just about anybody out of a bidding war.

Plus, those teams can offer what the White Sox cannot: the ability to start winning championships, plural, right now.

The White Sox have big plans and a bright future, but they remain just plans. Meanwhile, the Yankees won 100 games last season, the Dodgers have been to each of the last two World Series and the Phillies made a big jump in their rebuilding effort last season and would figure to be a contender if Harper signed on.

But Hahn thinks that bright future is as big a selling point as any, and he's confident there's an allure to buying into such plans and seeing them through to a championship.

“You have to understand these guys are professionals and they understand deep nuances about each individual franchise,” the White Sox general manager said on a conference call last week. “And from a macro standpoint, the idea of potentially being part of a winner in Chicago has very broad appeal. From a nuanced standpoint, the chance to be part of the White Sox organization based upon what our future looks like, futures that these players are familiar with and understand having either seen personally some of these young players play or video or talked to other players about them, it’s something that they buy into.

“There’s an allure not just to winning in this city. But there’s an allure of being part of building something that’s potentially sustainable and potentially great. Where we were in Year 2 of a rebuild I don’t think really plays a huge role in the decision-making process of what a player is buying into in terms of the long term future.”

So is that what this whole "warming up" business is about? Is the White Sox pitch — which was reportedly aided by the presence of Hall of Famer Jim Thome — making an impact? Or is the contract offer simply the biggest out there?

Those questions remain unanswered. But, you would figure, it's going to take more than just money, and you would figure, it's going to take more than just the ability to win championships. So maybe the White Sox long-term focused pitch is working, maybe it's the right blend of money and winning and the ability to do something special that makes Harper "warm up" to the South Side.

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