White Sox

White Sox season preview: Relief pitchers

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White Sox season preview: Relief pitchers

Every day this week leading up to Friday's Opening Day contest against Texas (1 p.m., Comcast SportsNet), we'll be previewing a different unit of the White Sox. Be sure to check out the looks at the White Sox infield, outfield and starting rotation if you haven't already. Today's topic: the bullpen.

It's the day before Opening Day. Do you know where your closer is?

Robin Ventura, his coaching staff and probably the team know who's going to take the ninth inning reigns. But the media, fans and Texas Rangers have no clue.

The safe bet is Matt Thornton will trot in from the bullpen to finish off the first save situation of the year for the White Sox. While his foray into closing didn't go so well last year thanks to a combination of suspect command and horrific defense from Juan Pierre, he's the safest pick Ventura could choose.

Reports of Thornton's demise last year were largely exaggerated, as from mid-May through the end of the season he was his usual dominant self: 2.40 ERA, 49 strikeouts, 15 walks, .563 opponent OPS. While Thornton is 35, he doesn't have a ton of innings on his arm and as long as his fastball velocity doesn't decline (it hasn't yet), he'll be fine.

If it's not Thornton, Hector Santiago seems to be the trendy pick thanks to an outstanding spring. The lone screwballer left in the majors, Santiago struck out 13 in 11 preseason innings -- but he also walked six, which could get him into trouble in high-leverage spots. Of course, he'll face plenty of those in a setup role, some of which will be more important than save situations.

But the emergence of Santiago this spring should work in Thornton's favor -- Will Ohman is better served as a lefty specialist, which would mean the Sox would have trouble getting through setup situations that feature a righty sandwiched by two lefties.

That's where Santiago comes in. If Thornton is the closer, Santiago would slide into the primary lefty setup role, leaving Ohman to be utilized mainly against lefties -- against whom he's pretty good.

Regardless of who begins the season as the closer, though, it's likely we'll see Addison Reed in the ninth inning at some point in 2012. While Reed's thrown all of 7 13 innings at the major-league level, he's posted gaudy strikeout rates everywhere from San Diego State to Chicago. He has the profile of a closer, and it's a matter of when, not if, he'll be finishing off games for the Sox.

Jesse Crain could get an opportunity to close later in the season, although he's more likely to stay in the setup role he's held his entire career. Crain has undergone a pretty interesting transformation in the last few years, going from a fastball-slider-curveball pitcher to ditching the curveball and throwing more sliders than fastballs.

That combination has worked out nicely, as two of Crain's three best seasons ERA-wise have come in the last two years. Opponents swung and missed at 13.2 percent of Crain's pitches -- easily a personal best -- and as a result, Crain posted the highest strikeout rate of his career in 2011.

Nate Jones earned a spot in the White Sox bullpen thanks to his upside, although the 26-year-old hasn't thrown a pitch above the Double-A level. He's a big strikeout guy, but he's also a big walk guy -- if Jones can harness his control, he could be an effective middle relief option, but for now, he'll likely be used primarily in low-leverage spots to ease him into big league competition.

Rounding out the bullpen is long reliever Zach Stewart who, outside of one magical start against the Twins, was pretty hittable last year with the White Sox. But he has decent stuff, and perhaps a move to the bullpen will lead him to throw harder and have more success. That's a minor thing to follow, but it could determine Stewart's future with the White Sox.

All in all, the Sox bullpen doesn't appear to be a weakness heading into 2012. The combination of Thornton, Santiago, Crain, Reed and Ohman should work to hold plenty of leads -- no matter who's closing.

G-Elite-O: Lucas Giolito turns in his best outing of the year by silencing Twins

G-Elite-O: Lucas Giolito turns in his best outing of the year by silencing Twins

"Lucas G-Elite-O."

That shirt was visible while Lucas Giolito's younger brother, Casey, was being ... I guess you would call it "interviewed" by Bill Walton last week in Anaheim.

The T-shirt is right. The White Sox most definitely have an elite arm on their hands.

The elder Giolito brother, the All-Star pitcher and ace of the South Side starting staff, has bounced back from his post All-Star break bump in the road and returned to the dominant form that made him a Cy Young candidate in the first half.

Wednesday he turned in what was probably his finest performance of the season to date, silencing a Minnesota Twins team that lit him up for seven runs less than a month ago. This time through the menacing Twins lineup, Giolito tossed nine shutout innings, allowed just three hits, walked no one and struck out 12 batters. It was his third straight start with double-digit strikeouts, and he's got 36 of them in those three outings.

He was downright filthy Wednesday, keeping quiet a lineup that leads baseball in home runs and torched White Sox pitching for 14 runs just hours earlier on Tuesday night.

Wednesday's performance went hand in hand with his other shutout of the season, when he kept the Houston Astros from crossing home plate back in May. That night he was also excellent, but with fewer hits and walks allowed and more strikeouts against the Twins, I'll give the title of best outing of the year to Wednesday's.

Perhaps more impressive than anything, though, has been Giolito adding to the theme of this resurgent season, bouncing back when trouble has struck. It's the general transformation that's taken him from the highest ERA among qualified starters in 2018 to an All Star this season. Both Giolito and catcher James McCann have noticed one of the biggest differences being that early damage in games doesn't rattle him like it did last season. And now we have Giolito erasing a less-than-ideal stretch to return to dominant form.

Giolito's ERA was down to 2.22 after six innings of one-run ball against the New York Yankees on June 14. In the seven starts that followed, his ERA exploded to 3.52 thanks to a 6.38 ERA in those seven outings. He gave up 26 runs and 39 hits in those 36.2 innings. He's responded phenomenally, with a 2.12 ERA in his last six starts, a stretch that's featured 53 strikeouts and just nine walks in 34 innings. His season ERA stands at 3.20.

For any who might be skeptical that this is the pitcher Giolito will be for years to come, that's a pretty good sign.

In general, there seems to be a good deal of skepticism surrounding how the White Sox rotation will fare in 2020, and much of it is plenty warranted. Michael Kopech will be coming off Tommy John surgery with just four major league starts under his belt. Reynaldo Lopez has been mostly excellent since the All-Star break but had a miserable first half. Dylan Cease has struggled from a results standpoint in his brief big league tenure, with a 5.93 ERA in eight starts. And until the White Sox start making moves this winter, we don't even know who will occupy that fifth spot.

But Giolito is doing his best to show that he can be relied on to be a force at the top of that rotation. Performances against two of the best teams in baseball, the Astros and Twins, have been the biggest exclamation points on that statement to date.

It wouldn't be surprising, though, to hear that "reliable" isn't enough for him. It's not "G-Reliable-O," after all.

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In interview, Jose Abreu says Jerry Reinsdorf told him he'll never play for another team

In interview, Jose Abreu says Jerry Reinsdorf told him he'll never play for another team

The evidence that Jose Abreu will be back with the White Sox after his contract ends at the end of this season has been ample throughout 2019.

Here's some more.

In an interview with the Sun-Times' Daryl Van Schouwen, the slugging first baseman said that White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf has told him that he will play for the White Sox for the remainder of his major league career.

"Jerry, several times, has told me and my family that I am not going to wear a jersey other than a White Sox jersey," Abreu told Van Schouwen. "I believe him. I believe in his word. And like I said, I’m very happy with and loyal to this organization. Hopefully everything is going to pan out."

That's the latest example of the mutual admiration between Abreu and the White Sox. Abreu has spent much of 2019 talking about his love for the organization and his desire to stay with the team as it makes the transition from rebuilding mode to contention mode. Likewise, White Sox brass continuously talks about how much Abreu means to the team, not only as a productive hitter but as a mentor for the team's growing group of young players.

“The impact that I don’t think he really knows that he has is how hard of a worker he is,” James McCann said last month at the All-Star Game in Cleveland. “He’s a superstar. He’s a three-time All Star, he puts up unreal numbers, he’s setting organizational records. But you wouldn’t know that based on the way that he acts, the way that he goes about his business, the way that he works. He’s the first one in the cage, he’s in the weight room every day, he leads by example.

“So for me, the impact that he has is when a young kid shows up there and thinks he’s made it and then looks at this guy over here who’s busting his tail day in and day out. That’s only a good thing. It helps the culture. It helps the clubhouse realize, ‘Hey, we’ve still got to work.’”

While general manager Rick Hahn has made it clear that it's unlikely Abreu would get a new deal before the end of the season, with the White Sox preferring to take care of such business in the offseason, he's also said that it's "very likely" Abreu will be around for the good times after experiencing nothing but losing records in his six big league seasons with the White Sox since coming over from Cuba ahead of the 2014 campaign.

Abreu's resume is undeniably terrific, a three-time All Star with consistent levels of production that made him just the third player in major league history — along with Joe DiMaggio and Albert Pujols — to start his big league career with four straight seasons of at least 25 home runs and 100 RBIs.

He's also red hot at the moment, with a .325/.382/.613 slash line to go along with six home runs and 20 RBIs in 20 games this month. And that's before he started Wednesday's game with three hits. He's on pace to smash his career high for RBIs, up to 96 of them on the campaign as of this writing. After a pair of freak injuries last season that limited his production in 2018, Abreu has played in every White Sox game but one this season.

The White Sox have repeatedly mentioned their love for Abreu as a mentor and role model for all the organization's young players, and it's clear that they hold him in the same esteem as players who have their numbers retired and have statues built at Guaranteed Rate Field. Reinsdorf presented Abreu with a specially made ring when Abreu hit for the cycle in 2017.

Abreu has returned that love over and over again in his comments, and it seems like a new contract between the two parties is inevitable.

"I’m telling you guys that if the White Sox don’t sign me, I’m going to sign here anyway. I’m going to sign myself here," he said last month. "I’m going to be here, believe me. I’m going to be here.

"I don’t want to miss this, I don’t want to miss what is coming, and I’m going to be here."

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