White Sox

White Sox reportedly shop comeback candidate Adam LaRoche

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White Sox reportedly shop comeback candidate Adam LaRoche

NASHVILLE — If he returns, the White Sox think Adam LaRoche should bounce back to form next season. But there’s a chance he might not be back.

The White Sox are reportedly shopping the veteran first baseman this week at the Winter Meetings at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel.

LaRoche — who hit .207/.293/.340 with 12 home runs and 44 RBIs in 484 plate appearances last season — is set to earn $13 million next season. While it has never been the team’s practice to eat significant chunks of salary to trade a player, the White Sox might be motivated to move LaRoche, 36, to free themselves up for other plans.

Still, White Sox manager Robin Ventura has to operate under the assumption LaRoche will return next season. Ventura said Tuesday he thinks LaRoche would receive a big boost once his stats are reset to zero.

“Anybody would need that,” Ventura said. “There's been a lot of guys that have had bad years, and once you can clear it off and almost reset your mind as well as the numbers ... it's not always easy going out there and looking up at the board, and it's not a very attractive number. You see it every time you walk to the plate. I think it would help him to just have it scratched out and ready to go next year.”

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Both the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Seattle Mariners are in need of a first baseman and would prefer a left-handed hitter. The Mariners also place a premium on defense (LaRoche is still considered a strong defender) and have shown a willingness to take on players who could potentially rebound. But even though LaRoche has only one season left on his deal, neither team would sign on for the full amount.

One industry source suggested the White Sox would have to eat at least $8 million of LaRoche’s salary to trade him for a mid-level prospect. Though the White Sox absorbed more than $7 million of Jeff Keppinger’s three-year deal when they released him in May 2014, they haven’t made that type of move a common practice.

Still, $5 million of freed up salary could help general manager Rick Hahn in his quest to improve the team’s offense. It also would clear more playing time for Trayce Thompson, who impressed the White Sox down the stretch.

But the White Sox view LaRoche as a bounce-back candidate and could hang on to him. LaRoche owns a career .798 OPS and has hit 20 or more home runs 10 times in his career, which leads the White Sox — and perhaps other clubs — to think he should make a comeback in 2016.

“He did have a couple of injuries during the year that hopefully are behind him now, and hopefully they don’t reoccur once we get to Glendale,” Hahn said. “And simply because we have had such a long track record of performance, he’s the type of guy you’d want to bet on at least in terms of having the potential to bounce back.”

One plate appearance was all it took for Zack Collins to show White Sox fans what he's all about

One plate appearance was all it took for Zack Collins to show White Sox fans what he's all about

Though only four runs separated the White Sox from the Cubs in the ninth inning Wednesday night, it felt like a blowout when Zack Collins made his first trip to the plate as a big leaguer.

The No. 11 prospect in the organization was called up to the majors ahead of Tuesday's game, though he didn't see any action then, and he wasn't in the starting lineup for Wednesday night's Crosstown contest on the North Side, either.

But manager Rick Renteria called on Collins to pinch hit — an appearance perhaps only made possible by National League rules in a National League park — with two outs to go in the top of the ninth inning.

"It was huge for me. It was a dream come true," he said after the game. "Just stepping up to the plate, looking to the outfield, seeing the crowd. We were down four in the top of the ninth and obviously trying to get on base, trying to keep the train moving. I thought I put a good at-bat together and it was a lot of fun.

"Rizzo said a couple things to me, said congratulations and stuff like that. That was pretty cool. Other than that I was kind of in a daze out there looking around. Like you said, soaking it all in, enjoying the moment."

It only took one plate appearance for Collins to show White Sox fans what he's all about. He worked the count full and took a walk. Get used to that.

Collins made quite a habit of that kind of thing in the minor leagues, posting huge on-base percentages over the last few years. In 122 games at Double-A Birmingham last season, he had a .382 on-base percentage, and he wasn't far off that mark in his 50 games at Triple-A Charlotte this season, reaching base at a .374 clip. Last season, he walked 101 times for a 19 percent walk rate. This season, he walked 36 times for a 17.5 percent walk rate.

His walk rate in the majors is a cool 100 percent at the moment. The 1.000 on-base percentage looks even better.

"That's pretty good, right?" he joked.

Patience at the plate might end up being Collins' most valuable attribute at the major league level. His offensive skills have been lauded since the White Sox took him with a top-10 pick in the 2016 draft, and he hit 49 homers in his four minor league seasons, also showing off that power by winning the Home Run Derby at the Southern League All-Star Game last year. His defensive skills have remained a question, though, and while he'll most likely serve as the White Sox No. 2 catcher behind James McCann, who's in the midst of an All-Star campaign, he can also be utilized at designated hitter and perhaps even first base.

But it's that good eye that the White Sox are hoping to see from the get-go. They saw it Wednesday night, and it's something Collins said has always been a part of his game.

"I've never really worked on that, so I would guess it kind of came naturally. It's a good thing to have," he said. "Guys at this level have some pretty good stuff. I'm looking to be aggressive but also swing at strikes."

You only get one chance to make a first impression, they say. Collins' first impression was pretty emblematic of the kind of hitter he hopes to be in the bigs.

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Lucas Giolito’s streak comes to an end, and now comes true test of his transformation

Lucas Giolito’s streak comes to an end, and now comes true test of his transformation

Mama said there’d be days like this.

I’m not entirely sure whether Lucas Giolito’s mama told him that or not. But you don’t need a baseball-lovin’ mama to know that even the best pitchers in the game can get lit up sometimes.

If Giolito is truly that now, one of the best pitchers in the game, he’ll prove it with what follows, not with what happened Wednesday night at Wrigley Field.

A year after struggling to the tune of seven walks and three wild pitches in a Crosstown game he still won, Giolito entered the second of the two North Side rivalry games as a surefire All Star, a completely transformed pitcher who currently sits as one of the best Cy Young candidates in the American League. But you might not have known that watching him give up three homers worth a combined six runs in his 4.1 innings Wednesday.

This wasn’t exactly shades of the 2018 version of Giolito, who gave up more runs than any pitcher in baseball, had the highest ERA and WHIP of any qualified starting pitcher in baseball and walked more batters than any pitcher in the AL. No, Wednesday he still managed to strike out nine Cubs hitters and walked only three. But the Cubs hit him hard, with three balls leaving the yard, the back-breaker of which was a first-inning grand slam off the bat of White Sox killer Willson Contreras.

"I got hit hard," Giolito said after the game. "That was the hardest I've been hit in a long time. Just hanging some sliders, changeup was probably the worst it's been this year. It is what it is. You're not going to go out there and have a great outing every single time."

It doesn’t compare to some of the worst outings Giolito had last season, but it was shocking to see considering the incredible run he came in on. Entering Wednesday night’s contest, Giolito had won eight straight starts, with a 0.94 ERA during that stretch. He had given up as many runs after facing five batters Wednesday as he had in his previous five starts combined.

That stretch is now over, and it’s up to Giolito to make this a blip rather than a turning point.

"It’s just a blip in the season. It’s a little bump in the road," catcher James McCann said after the game. "You are not going to go eight-inning shutout every time. It’s how do you bounce back from this one and learn from tonight and move forward."

What he’s done so far this season would lead you to believe that’s very possible. One of the biggest talking points for Giolito, as well as McCann, when it comes to describing the difference between the 2018 and 2019 versions has been Giolito’s ability to turn the page. That’s typically been discussed as something that happens within games: A bad first inning hasn’t led to a complete meltdown like it did too often last season.

“The physical stuff has always been there,” McCann said before Wednesday’s game. “There's a few tune-ups he did, shortened his arm, all that stuff. But obviously, it's the mental approach.

“I can point to multiple occasions this season where he's had a rough first inning. In Toronto, he gave up three base hits to the first four hitters, and then the next thing you know he's hasn't given up another base hit and we're in the eighth inning. He gave up a three-run homer to the Royals in the first inning, and all of a sudden it's the eighth inning and those are the only three runs he's given up.

“So that's kind of been the most impressive thing to me. His last outing, he gave up the solo homer in the first and really didn't have his best stuff, and next thing you know it's the sixth, seventh inning and that's the only run he's given up. Last year, some of those outings turn into bad outings where he gets chased in the fourth inning. This year his mental approach, his determination, his grit is a little different.”

Now he’ll have to do something he’s rarely had to in 2019, and that’s flush a bad start. Wednesday night’s outing was Giolito’s shortest of the season, matching the 4.1 innings he threw against the Seattle Mariners on April 6 and not including the 2.2 innings he logged before being removed with an injury against the Kansas City Royals on April 17. Wednesday marked the first time Giolito gave up multiple home runs in a start this season.

The bottom line is that Giolito has been so good in 2019 that he hasn’t had to deal with the fallout of a bad outing. Giolito has credited his turnaround to the improvement in his routine. That will be tested now, and it’s no surprise that he’s confident enough in it to be ready for anything.

“I'd say now I'm just on the same mental routine, the same physical routine day in and day out. Nothing changes,” Giolito said Tuesday. “It's just like my last start or future starts, I'm going to go out there with the same good, positive outlook going into the game. Whereas last year, I think I was searching for things a lot, so it was a little more up and down. Now it's much better.”

One rough start won’t change Giolito’s status as an All Star or put a damper on what’s been a season worth celebrating. But how he responds will be the true test of whether the transformed Giolito is here to stay.

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