White Sox

White Sox setup man Nate Jones has developed into more than 'regular guy'

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White Sox setup man Nate Jones has developed into more than 'regular guy'

CLEVELAND -- When it comes to his recovery from elbow surgery, Nate Jones feels as if he’s like any other pitcher in the big leagues.

Now two years and two weeks removed from Tommy John surgery, the White Sox right-hander can be used on three straight days. He can pitch multiple innings. About the only thing the White Sox won’t do is ask Jones to warmup twice in the bullpen during the same game.

It’s a spot Jones wasn’t sure he’d ever reach when he returned to the majors last August. But here he is and look what Jones has developed into.

Not only has Jones -- 5-2 with three saves and a 2.13 ERA in 55 innings -- continued to strike out more than a hitter per inning, he has harnessed his command of the zone and drastically improved his walk rate.

“Right away last year I was kind of battling a little bit of soreness each time I threw,” Jones said. “But the further we got away from the surgery the better I recovered. This year I haven’t had any problems or major soreness or anything like that. I can tell how much more quickly I bounce back than right out of the gate last year.

“I’m just a regular guy.”

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]​

Perhaps on the injury front he’s a regular guy, but Jones has developed into a formidable late-innings pitcher. Several major league scouts said Jones’ improved command of the fastball and slider has turned him into an outstanding setup man and potentially a closer.

Headed into this season, Jones walked 3.58 walks batters per nine innings, including four per in 2012. This season, Jones has averaged 2 walks per nine. He attributes it to applying some of the lessons he learned early in his career and credits many of his former veteran teammates for helping him to make the adjustment.

“It’s always good to have that foundation,” Jones said. “I’ve just learned what they taught me and applied it to now because in ’14 and ’15 I had a lot of time to think about it.

“Just attacking hitters and getting ahead with strike one. That’s the biggest thing, if you get ahead and stay ahead you can attack and go after the hitters instead of, if you’re falling behind, you have to throw strikes and they know that and that’s when they start hitting.”

Jones is on pace to appear in a career-high 76 games this season.

He broke through the scar tissue last season and hasn’t experienced the same soreness when he’s on the mound in 2016. Still, White Sox manager Robin Ventura remains cautious with Jones. He said one of the reasons he doesn’t like to ask him to warm up more than once in the bullpen is he doesn’t want to jeopardize Jones’ career.

“You’re always going to be very careful, especially the guy who is high velocity and has the ability to do the things and be available as much as Nate is,” Ventura said. “So you are careful, as far as if he feels anything or is tired, you monitor his usage.”

Jones is pleased to be in this position. He wasn’t sure what to expect as he rehabbed from his July 30, 2014 surgery. He just trusted what doctors, trainers and teammates who’d had Tommy John told him and worked hard.

Now he has seen the benefits.

“You’re always wondering is it ever going to go away? Or am I going to be sore throughout my career constantly?” Jones said. “That goes through your mind a little. But you’ve got to trust the process and keep working hard at it and it has worked out this year.

It’s a long process. Trust the process and you get out of it what you put into it, so bust your ass every day and it will show in the end.”

White Sox get lesson in why they need their own Justin Verlander type to finish off rebuild

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USA TODAY

White Sox get lesson in why they need their own Justin Verlander type to finish off rebuild

Who will be the White Sox version of Justin Verlander? Their version of Jon Lester?

The big-name veteran brought in from outside the organization to be the cherry on top of a rebuilding effort and push things into contention mode. Who will Rick Hahn & Co. bring in to play that role on the South Side?

The White Sox got a firsthand lesson in why such a player is a necessity, dominated in every sense by Verlander on Tuesday night in Houston. Verlander, who long tormented the White Sox when he played for the division-rival Tigers, took a no-hit bid into the seventh inning and finished with one run, one hit and one walk allowed in eight dazzling frames. Jose Abreu's solo homer that broke up the no-hitter in the seventh was the one moment on the evening in which Verlander looked human.

That's the kind of thing Verlander's been doing since the Astros traded for him during the 2017 season, which ended with them winning the World Series. They might do it again this year, the best team in baseball halfway through this four-game series against the White Sox. And he's a big reason they've stayed atop the list of championship contenders the last two years.

Verlander's acquisition was a little different than that of Lester on the North Side of Chicago. The Cubs needed to inject some legitimacy into their rebuilding project and got it by giving Lester, who knew Theo Epstein and his front office from the Boston days, a ton of money to top their rotation. The Astros needed a similar push from one of the game's best pitchers, and they got it by trading for Verlander in a waiver deal with the Tigers. But Verlander accomplished the same goal for the Astros that Lester did for the Cubs. Even in 2019, they're two of the more reliable arms around.

The White Sox might not be ready to vault into contention mode on Day 1 of the 2020 season. Michael Kopech's next start will be just his fifth as a big leaguer. Dylan Cease won't have much more than a month or two of big league experience. Eloy Jimenez has already missed a month of developmental time. Luis Robert will likely be getting his first taste of the majors.

But adding a Verlander type to that group could make a huge difference.

Now, Verlander is one of the best pitchers ever, plain and simple, a first-ballot Hall of Famer. To suggest that kind of pitcher will be available this offseason is perhaps unrealistic. Verlander was set to be among a loaded free-agent class before he signed an extension to stay with the Astros. He wasn't alone, and that thought-to-be-loaded free-agent class is now significantly less loaded. But there are still options, and perhaps more than ever a trade looks like it might be the way to go. If the White Sox do have a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher on their wish list, Verlander's teammate and Wednesday night's scheduled starter, Gerrit Cole, is on track to be among the available free agents.

So, too, is Madison Bumgarner, who more closely fits the mold of accomplished guys like Verlander and Lester. Bumgarner's got an unparalleled amount of postseason success, but he comes with plenty of questions, too. He pitched in just 38 combined games in 2017 and 2018, and while longevity hasn't been an issue this season — he's failed to go six innings in only one of his 10 starts — effectiveness has been an issue. He's got a 4.21 ERA through 62 innings. His highest single-season ERA prior to 2019 was 3.37 in 2012.

It doesn't have to be Bumgarner. And maybe it doesn't even have to be a pitcher. The White Sox have a list of potential starting-pitching options that includes Kopech, Cease, Reynaldo Lopez, Lucas Giolito, Dane Dunning and others. The Cubs and Astros couldn't craft rotations of homegrown players. The White Sox might be able to, though considering the injuries that have plagued those young arms and the current lack of major league ready starting-pitching depth, a big-time starting-pitching addition would really fortify things.

It could also add that kind of legitimacy that Lester brought to the Cubs. Get one big name to come aboard a still-emerging group, and that could draw more talent that could really kick things into high gear.

There might be no one way to do a successful rebuild, but if the White Sox want to follow the template the Astros and Cubs have used to win championships in recent years, a Verlander type would be a good way to go about doing that. The opportunity has to exist, but you'd have to imagine it's an opportunity the front office will be looking for this winter.

Certainly they're already motivated to do just that. Watching Verlander cut through their lineup Tuesday night should back that motivation up.

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Sports Talk Live Podcast: The White Sox are running out of starting pitchers. Should they bring up Dylan Cease now?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: The White Sox are running out of starting pitchers. Should they bring up Dylan Cease now?

Connor McKnight, Kevin Fishbain and Jay Cohen join Luke Stuckmeyer on the panel.

0:00- Ozzie Guillen joins the panel as the White Sox get ready to face the Astros. The guys discuss if there are any similarities between the Astros rebuild and the one the Sox are currently in.

4:00- The White Sox are running out of starting pitchers. Should they bring up Dylan Cease now?

7:00- Yu Darvish allowed 3 runs over six innings with 3 walks and 7 strikesouts. Is that considered a good start for him?

11:00- The Bears continue to unveil their top 100 players. Khalil Mack is 60th after just one season. The guys debate that and the fact that Jim McMahon is 32 spots ahead of Jay Cutler.

16:00- Scott Paddock joins Kap to talk about the fight in the NASCAR All-Star race and to preview a big few weeks at Chicagoland Speedway.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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