White Sox

Zach Putnam becoming a strikeout machine out of White Sox bullpen

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Zach Putnam becoming a strikeout machine out of White Sox bullpen

Four of baseball’s top five relievers at generating strikeouts feature mid-to-upper 90’s fastballs and devastating breaking balls. The other is Zach Putnam.

The 27-year-old White Sox reliever is averaging 13.9 strikeouts per nine innings, the fourth-highest rate in baseball. He’s doing it with his sinker/cutter/splitter combination, baffling opposing hitters with pitches that range between 84 and 89 miles per hour.

Putnam doesn’t fit the profile of the hard-throwing, strikeout machine relief pitcher. But he’s nonetheless up there with Cincinnati’s Aroldis Chapman (15.7 K/9), New York’s Andrew Miller (14.7 K/9) and Dellin Betances (14.7 K/9) and Cleveland’s Cody Allen (13.7 K/9). Established power relievers like San Diego’s Craig Kimbrel and White Sox closer David Robertson haven’t generated strikeouts at a rate as high as Putnam.

“I don’t know if it’s surprising, but we know what he’s got and he uses his offspeed stuff very well,” manager Robin Ventura said. “He’ll sit there and he’ll throw out his fastball and be able to get a guy chasing after it, but you know his bread and butter is going to be his offspeed stuff. So he has to be able to throw it for strikes and get guys to chase it. When he’s doing that, he’s tough to pick up.”

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After a rough start to 2015, Putnam’s found that balance and a way to build on his success last year. The right-hander allowed four runs in his first two games this season, but since has a 2.18 ERA while limiting opponents to a .181 batting average over 22 games. 

That he’s having success while striking out so many batters (35 in 22 2/3 IP) is a little more surprising than Ventura is letting on. 

Putnam had one game in 2014 in which he struck out three or more batters, and that came in a two-inning appearance. He finished the year with 46 strikeouts in 54 2/3 innings, good for a strikeout rate of 7.6 per nine innings.

Despite that low K-rate, Putnam still had a 1.98 ERA. But he had some luck on his side — a .257 BABIP and 80 percent left-on-base rate.

He’s counter-acted those luck regressions (.319 BABIP, 73.6 percent LOB rate) by striking out tons of hitters so far this season. His splitter has been an effective out-pitch — he’s throwing it on three of every four pitches with two strikes, and opposing hitters are whiffing at it nearly 25 percent of the time.

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Putnam credited his catchers with setting up ideal pitch sequences to generate plenty of swings and misses so far.

“Honestly, I’d like to thank Geo (Soto) and (Tyler Flowers) for that more than anything,” Putnam said. “I’m doing everything the same. I trust those guys to put down the right fingers. They do a lot of research, they work real hard trying to figure out what’s going to be the best pitch in the right spot to certain guys and they’ve done an unbelievable job with me and the rest of the staff.”

After his rough beginning to the season, Putnam and pitching coach Don Cooper made a few minor tweaks to his mechanics that he said have helped. With his memories of his strong 2014 season still fresh, he was able to trust his ability to get major league hitters out, too.

Putnam has only recently been eased into some higher-leverage situations, and as recently as June 13 he coughed up two runs and was saddled with a loss in a 5-4 defeat to the Rays at Tropicana Field. But as long as he’s racking up strikeouts, Ventura plans on turning to him in those pressure-packed spots going forward.

“He’s worked his way into getting into some tough situations, as far as innings and those tougher, late innings, where there’s no room for error,” Ventura said. “He’d done a really good job of coming in there and bridging that gap to where we can get to (Zach) Duke or Robertson.”

Extended netting makes its debut at Guaranteed Rate Field: 'Enough is enough'

Extended netting makes its debut at Guaranteed Rate Field: 'Enough is enough'

The All-Star break is over, the White Sox have completed a 10-game road trip, and the South Side is hosting Major League Baseball games again. This time, though, with a new feature.

Monday, the White Sox unveiled extended protective netting stretching from one foul pole to the other, shielding fans sitting in the stands from foul balls screaming off the bats of the best hitters in the world.

Fans getting hit with batted balls has, unfortunately, been a recurring talking point this season. Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr. lined a foul ball that hit a young fan during a game in Houston. Guaranteed Rate Field has seen multiple instances of fans being hit with foul balls this season. And across the game the increased exit velocities are producing more dangerous projectiles entering the seating area.

Extending the protective netting, which Major League Baseball currently mandates needs to reach only to the end of the dugouts, seems like a no-brainer, and the White Sox acted quickly to do just that.

“It’s a great idea,” White Sox relief pitcher Evan Marshall said before Monday night’s game. “It’s a shame it wasn’t done sooner and just almost the standard across baseball, I think. Finally the players are kind of speaking out because everybody is tired of seeing people get hit.

“I get it. You can make the argument it takes away from the fan experience, the whole chance to get a foul ball. But I don’t know. Enough is enough. People are getting crushed in the stands. It happens to a little kid, it just devastates you.”

Players in the White Sox clubhouse have been vocal about the need for extended netting since the incident involving Almora and repeated their desire to see it implemented after the team announced their intent to do so last month. The issue’s not going away, either, with Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor recently speaking out after a similar occurrence involving a 3-year-old fan in Ohio.

Now the nets are up on the South Side, and again, it seems like a no-brainer of a decision.

Certainly there will be those opposed, as Marshall alluded to, though even in person, the nets don’t do much in the way of blocking views from the stands.


But any change is often enough to set off some fans. Still, White Sox spokesman Scott Reifert said the reaction to the team’s move has been positive.

“The reaction we've seen so far has been really positive,” he said Monday. “People understand that the ballpark experience has changed from just a few years ago. Pitchers throw harder, balls come off bats harder, people are spending more time looking down at their phones — we're all guilty of that — or at the scoreboard. And so I think safety matters to folks.

“I think overall it's been a positive reaction. … If you look, it's light colored, it doesn't really seem to impact (the view). We've tested, we've sat in seats, and we don't think the impact will be very dramatic for most people.”

The bottom line is the safety of the fans. And though some will make the tired argument that fans should pay closer attention to the game, that’s simply an impossibility in these times — and it’s potentially meaningless, too, as White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito has brought up in the past that it’s impossible for players in the dugout to avoid these hard-hit balls, and they’re playing plenty of attention.

Just ask White Sox pitching prospect Ian Hamilton, who was hit by a batted ball while sitting in the dugout earlier this season. That ended his season, as he’ll require multiple procedures to repair the damage to his face.

“Dude, no matter how much you're paying attention to the game, if that thing's coming in 115 miles an hour with tail, no matter if you have a glove this big, it could hit you right in the forehead,” Giolito said when the netting was announced in June. “For me, being around baseball for so long, I think it's a smart move because it just keeps people safe. I hate seeing young kids get hit, having to go to the hospital. It just leaves a sick feeling in all of our stomachs. At the end of the day, I think it's the right move.”

For those autograph-seekers concerned with how the new netting might affect access to players before games, the White Sox left the door open for changes in the future. Think of the remainder of the 2019 season as a test run with the new netting, which can be tinkered with before the 2020 campaign rolls around.

“One of our approaches is: Let's see over the next two months,” Reifert said. “Fans are going to adapt, players are going to adapt. Let's see what happens, and then we can make decisions about next year moving forward.”

One interesting wrinkle is what effect the extended netting will have on the game itself. According to Reifert, the nets will effectively serve as a wall in foul territory (think of the brick walls at Wrigley Field). A batted ball that hits the net on the fly becomes an instant foul ball, which might take away a few flyouts from the left fielder. But a batted ball that bounces in fair territory and then bounces into the net is live, potentially taking away a few ground-rule doubles.

But, of course, the main takeaway here is the increased level of safety for fans attending games at Guaranteed Rate Field. White Sox fans will get the first taste of what this extended netting looks like. Don’t be surprised if it reaches every stadium in the game soon after.

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Moncada's moves help seal White Sox epic extra innings win

Moncada's moves help seal White Sox epic extra innings win

To say the 2018-19 White Sox have had an up-and-down season would be an understatement. The season has been filled with more good than bad for sure‒three All-Stars, 42 wins, one possible Rookie of the Year candidate‒but their seven-game losing streak coming out the All-Star break certainly seemed taxing.

Chicago’s Leury Garica-fueled bounce-back win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday certainly helped spirits but Saturday’s dramatic, extra-innings win at Tropicana field could be the type of win that really gets the team back on track.

It looked like the White Sox were headed for their eighth loss in nine games. They were down to their final out when catcher James McCann decided to add another chapter to his storybook season.


 

McCann took a slider from Rays relief pitcher Emilio Pagán 373-feet out to left field for the game-tying home run.

It was another huge moment in a great season from McCann, heightened by the fact that there were so few baserunners (total) in this game and that another o-fer in the scoring column would’ve marked the second shutout loss in a week for the White Sox.

Instead, McCann’s heroics extended a game in which the White Sox bullpen‒2 H, 0 ER‒was excellent in relief of Lucas Giolito, who also pitched well.

Over 6.2 innings, Giolito racked up 9 Ks while giving up 7 hits, 1 walk, 1 earned run. The lone run Giolito gave up was a high changeup that former White Sox outfielder Avisaíl García.

This game was without a doubt a pitchers' duel, so it was only fitting that the game-winning run was scored on an RBI-single by  José Abreu in which Yoan Moncada personified "Ricky's boys don't quit" on the basepaths.


Despite the lack of strong offensive production on Saturday night, the White Sox were able to grind out the win in a Giolito start, something that has been a recurring theme for the squad.

As elder statesmen Abreu hinted at, the White Sox need their key players back but wins like Saturday’s will help build confidence in the meantime.

The South Siders head into Sunday’s noon game with the Rays‒and their subsequent series with the Miami Marlins‒with their seven-game losing streak further in the rearview mirror and that is the best news we could hope for as we await the cavalry.

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