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White Sox reemphasize importance of base running this spring

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White Sox reemphasize importance of base running this spring

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The White Sox really want the awful base running that has acted as a life-sucking force for their offense to come to an end.

While they continue to deliver the same message they have for the past few years, the White Sox have doubled down and are working harder to emphasize just how important the practice can be.

New bench coach Rick Renteria said earlier this week that the White Sox — who last season led the majors in outs on the bases — hired him in part to address their base running woes. With a new cast in camp, the White Sox want to stress to players how much running into extra outs can suppress an offense.

“That’s an area we need to tighten up,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “We’ve simply given away too many outs on the bases. You want a club that’s going to be aggressive, that’s going to take the extra base when it’s there. And it’s a fine line between doing that and forcing the issue and giving away outs. Unfortunately, for the last couple of years we’ve been more on the side of the ledger of giving away outs as opposed to getting that extra bag.”

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The White Sox gave away outs on the bases in 2015 like the trusting neighbor who leaves a bowl of Halloween candy on the porch. The team’s 74 outs on the bases last season were 19 more than the major league average even though the White Sox had the fifth-worst on-base percentage among 30 teams, according to baseball-reference.com.

Outs on the bases only accounts for plays in which runners were thrown out on tag ups, hits or other miscellaneous plays where they tried to advance a base. Force outs aren’t counted. Plays that result in a caught stealing aren’t either. And pickoffs are also excluded.

The White Sox didn’t gain much of an advantage from their aggressive style. They finished two percent below the league average in Extra Bases Taken, which while imperfect because it doesn’t account for the location of the ball, offers another indication the White Sox need to improve.

“It wasn’t very good,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said.

It impeded scoring for a team that scored three or fewer runs 82 times.

The White Sox had little power last season and forced the issue on the bases, running themselves out of innings or potential rallies. By simple subtraction of the team’s 74 outs on the bases, the White Sox on-base percentage dropped from .306 to .294. Hence the additional emphasis this spring.

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Renteria was hired in November in part because of his high baseball IQ, Hahn said. But his highly energetic, hands-on approach has also caught the attention of players.

Earlier this week, Renteria stood directly behind White Sox players as they worked on secondary leads off second base. Not only did they practice reading the ball, Renteria talked to and hopped toward third and back toward second with players depending upon how the ball was hit.

Outfielder J.B. Shuck said he can’t remember many coaches who operate the same way. He thinks the style is effective because Renteria repeatedly communicates the message without going over the top.

“He just brings a lot of energy and I think that’s what we needed,” Shuck said. “He knows what he wants to say and gets it across. But in the same sense, it’s in a positive way and you can just feel the good energy from him.”

It’s the same message but the White Sox have addressed things a little different this spring because they have a bunch of new players, Ventura said.

Renteria said he preaches what first base coach Daryl Boston has for years. He just wants to emphasize exactly what is expected of players, something he learned from the front office during their offseason discussions.

“A lot of it had to do more with figuring out where the club was at with the bases,” Renteria said. “I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel. This is something I was taught in terms of going station to station and I just implemented from the way it was shown to me. The most important thing though is that when we’re out there with them, they know they’re supposed to be doing things a certain way. Every now and then they’ll get away with one or two. But you stay on top of them and make sure they understand it’s very important.”

Daily White Sox prospects update: Gavin Sheets hits his first homer of 2018

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Daily White Sox prospects update: Gavin Sheets hits his first homer of 2018

Here's your daily update on what the White Sox highly touted prospects are doing in the minor leagues.

Class A Winston-Salem

Gavin Sheets hit his first home run of the season in a 12-4 loss. While it's taken him this long to hit his first ball out of the park, Sheets has a .380 on-base percentage and his 24 walks make for one of the top 10 totals in the Carolina League. Blake Rutherford doubled in this one, while Sheets, Rutherford, Alex Call and Luis Alexander Basabe combined to draw five walks.

Class A Kannapolis

Luis Gonzalez and Evan Skoug each had a hit in a 9-3 win.

Triple-A Charlotte

Charlie Tilson had two hits in a 9-3 loss.

James Shields is having a stellar May and making comeback wins possible for the White Sox

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USA TODAY

James Shields is having a stellar May and making comeback wins possible for the White Sox

If you haven’t checked in with what James Shields is doing in a while, your opinion of the veteran pitcher’s performance might need some updating.

Shields didn’t exactly win the confidence of White Sox fans during his first two seasons on the South Side. After arriving in a midseason trade with the San Diego Padres in 2016, he posted a 6.77 ERA in 22 starts, during which he allowed 31 home runs. He followed that up with a 5.23 ERA and 27 home runs allowed in 2017.

And the 2018 season didn’t start out great, either, with a 6.17 ERA over his first five outings.

But the month of May has brought a dramatic turn in the vet’s production. In five May starts, he’s got a 3.27 ERA in five starts, all of which have seen him go at least six innings (he’s got six straight outings of at least six innings, dating back to his last start in April).

And his two most recent starts have probably been his two best ones of the season. After allowing just one run on three hits in 7.1 innings last Thursday against the Texas Rangers, he gave up just two runs on five hits Tuesday night against the Baltimore Orioles.

The White Sox, by the way, won both of those games in comeback fashion. They scored four runs in the eighth against Texas and three in the eighth against Baltimore for a pair of “Ricky’s boys don’t quit” victories made possible by Shields’ great work on the mound.

“That’s what it’s all about,” he said after Tuesday’s game. “It’s our job as starters to keep us in the game as long as we possibly can, no matter how we are hitting in a game. At the end of the game, you can always score one or two runs and possibly win a ballgame like we did tonight.”

The White Sox offense was indeed having trouble much of Tuesday’s game, kept off the scoreboard by Orioles starter Kevin Gausman. Particularly upsetting for White Sox Twitter was the sixth inning, when the South Siders put two runners in scoring position with nobody out and then struck out three straight times to end the inning.

But Shields went out and pitched a shut-down seventh, keeping the score at 2-0. Bruce Rondon did much the same thing in the eighth, and the offense finally sparked to life in the bottom of the inning when coincidentally presented with a similar situation to the one in the sixth. This time, though, the inning stayed alive and resulted in scoring, with Welington Castillo, Yoan Moncada and Yolmer Sanchez driving in the three runs.

“I’m out there doing my job,” Shields said. “My job is to try to keep us in the game. And we had some good starters against us that have been throwing well. If I can keep them close, we are going to get some wins and get some wins throughout the rest of the year like that. That’s the name of the game.”

Shields’ value in this rebuilding effort has been discussed often. His veteran presence is of great value in the clubhouse, particularly when it comes to mentoring young pitchers like Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, among others. Shields can act as an example of how to go about one’s business regardless of the outcomes of his starts. But when he can lead by example with strong outings, that’s even more valuable.

“I’m trying to eat as many innings as possible,” he said. “We kind of gave our bullpen — we taxed them a little bit the first month of the season. We are kind of getting back on track. Our goal as a starting staff is to go as deep as possible, and in order to do that, you’ve got to throw strikes and get ahead of hitters.

“Not too many playoff teams, a starting staff goes five and dive every single game. My whole career I’ve always wanted to go as deep as possible. I wanted to take the ball all the way to the end of the game. And we’ve done a pretty good job of it of late.”

It’s a long time between now and the trade deadline, and consistency has at times escaped even the brightest spots on this rebuilding White Sox roster. But Shields has strung together a nice bunch of starts here of late, and if that kind of performance can continue, the White Sox front office might find that it has a potential trade piece on its hands. That, too, is of value to this rebuild.

Until that possibility occurs, though, the team will take more solid outings that give these young players an opportunity to learn how to come back and learn how to win.