White Sox

LaHair feels like he can do some damage

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LaHair feels like he can do some damage

As Alfonso Soriano surveyed the scene, a big smile crossed his face: Yeah, babe, swagger.

Inside the visiting clubhouse at Busch Stadium, a pack of reporters moved toward Bryan LaHair. The 6-foot-5-inch, 240-pound first baseman filled up the space in front of his locker.

LaHair is measured and polite, and answered questions about the Adam Wainwright fastball he lifted over the left-field fence and into the Cubs bullpen. That grand slam on April 13 helped ruin the day the Cardinals raised their World Series banner.

Swagger may not be the right word, at least not after 230-plus big-league at-bats. But theres an inner calm to LaHair. At the age of 29, he believes he belongs, that hes in the right place at the right time.

You saw it late Monday night at Wrigley Field against Cardinals closer Jason Motte. LaHair fouled off six straight fastballs that were clocked between 95 and 98 mph. That 12-pitch walk in the bottom of the ninth set in motion a 3-2 comeback victory.

I just dont have any fear, LaHair said. Im real confident with two strikes. Sometimes when youre struggling, thats when you lose confidence. But I just feel like I can do damage with two strikes, as much as I can with no strikes.

In that kind of situation, you just got to relax and just breathe and let the anxiety go.

This is what Theo Epstein means when the Cubs president talks about grinding out at-bats. LaHair grew up a Red Sox fan and played high school hoops for J.P. Ricciardi a Moneyball figure and the former Blue Jays general manager at Holy Name in Worcester, Mass.

Entering Tuesday, LaHair had seen 4.11 pitches per plate appearance, second among Cubs regulars and trailing only David DeJesus (4.16), who ranked 11th in the National League.

LaHair has reached base safely in his last 14 games, and hit three of the teams six home runs. He knows he will strike out often, and doesnt expect to walk all that much. Hes just looking for a good pitch to hit hard.

LaHair believes the sample sizes are too small to read too much into the splits against right-handers (13-for-30, .433 average) and lefties (0-for-6 with five strikeouts until Tuesday's heroics).

Im not afraid of left-handers, he said. I feel like any time I come to the plate I can do something. (But) Im onboard. I have a role right now (and) we just accept it and be part of the team.

Nothing against LaHair, but pretty soon fans will want to see Anthony Rizzo, the first baseman of the future whos hitting .373 with seven homers and 19 RBI in 19 games at Triple-A Iowa.

Ive been following him, LaHair said. I know hes doing really well and thats expected. (The) kid can really hit. Theres no doubt about it. I know down there hes been working on some things and trying to make some adjustments for the big-league level.

Ive been there before and hes going to figure that little part out (and) Im sure hes going to have success.

Thats not quite Ryan Theriot having a little fun and telling Starlin Castro: Come and get it. And Rizzo talked in spring training about wanting to be in the same Cubs lineup with LaHair.

Two left-handed bats, a lot of power, (seeing) a lot of pitches, LaHair said. (Thats) definitely a good combo. Its just whenever the right time is.

LaHair hasnt practiced at all in the outfield this year, but thinks it would only take him a few days to get back up to speed if the Cubs ever make that decision (and somehow move Soriano).

But Epstein believes that players whove hit at every level can do it in the big leagues. Its time to see what sort of asset LaHair can become across the next few months.

The guy who last season won the Pacific Coast Leagues MVP award and then went to play winter ball in Venezuela will act like hes been here before.

This is my opportunity, LaHair said. This is something Ive been visualizing my whole entire life. So its like Ive been there a million times. Ive been seeing myself do this for awhile.

A deeper look at why Yoan Moncada is off to a hot start this season

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USA TODAY

A deeper look at why Yoan Moncada is off to a hot start this season

Yoan Moncada continued his hot start to the season with a leadoff home run in Detroit on Friday.

He finished with two hits and a bases-loaded walk in a 7-3 White Sox win.

Moncada’s base numbers are all up this season. He is hitting .325 with a 1.002 OPS and a team-leading six home runs. Beyond that, a deeper look at the numbers show why Moncada’s production is up.

Moncada didn’t show much, if any, improvement in 2018 from 2017. Most of his numbers across the board were similar or slightly worse.

Moncada was patient at the plate, but maybe too patient in his first two seasons with the White Sox. He led the majors with 217 strikeouts last season and 85 of those were strikeouts looking. So far this season, Moncada is yet to strikeout looking.

This season, Moncada is swinging at more pitches both in the strike zone and overall, which is leading to a lower strikeout rate. A look at the advanced stats from FanGraphs shows Moncada swung at 63.9 percent of pitches in the zone in both 2017 and 2018 (these numbers are before Friday's game). That number is up to 69.1 percent this season. On top of that, Moncada is making more contact on those swings on pitches in the zone (up to 86.5 percent this season after 77.5 percent in 2017 and 79.8 percent in 2018).

His strikeout rate (32 percent in 2017, 33.4 percent in 2018) is way down at 24.1 percent. Strikeouts were the biggest red flag for Moncada last year. By being more aggressive this season, Moncada has been able to cut way down on that number.

His power has gone way up as well. He already has 12 extra base hits (in 82 plate appearances) and his home run on Friday was an absolute bomb. Moncada took it deep for 458 feet. That’s the longest White Sox home run of the season and is tied for the eighth longest home run in the majors this season.


He later showed that despite being more aggressive, he still has that plate discipline that was such a big part of what made him a coveted prospect in the first place. He drew a five-pitch bases loaded walk in which he did not swing the bat.

No matter how it's happening, Moncada’s turnaround has been one of the most important things in the young White Sox season.

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It's safe to say Kyle Hendricks has figured 'it' out

It's safe to say Kyle Hendricks has figured 'it' out

It was only a matter of time before Kyle Hendricks figured it all out. 

It appears Friday was that day. 

The 29-year-old right-hander was off to a slow start to the season, surrendering 24 hits and 8 earned runs in 13.1 innings across his first three starts, good for a 5.40 ERA and 2.18 WHIP. 

Things looked a little better last time out — only 2 earned runs allowed on 6 hits in 5 innings last Saturday against the Angels — but even after that start, Hendricks admitted he still feels like he's fighting himself and searching for his fastball command.

"You can't rush it," he said after that outing. "You can't rush the process. But it definitely gets frustrating. I need to do a better job and give the team a better chance to win when I'm out there regardless. And set a better tone — be more aggressive with my fastball and set a better tone for the game. You want it to come quick, but at least I'm seeing something, so I just gotta stick with what I'm doing."

Whatever he was seeing with his mechanics came to pass in Friday afternoon's 5-1 Cubs win, as he completely baffled the Diamondbacks in a brilliant performance — 7 shutout innings, permitting only 3 singles while striking out 11. It was his first double-digit strikeout game since he whiffed 12 Cardinals on Aug. 13, 2016 en route to his ERA title that season.

"Yeah, like I said, you kinda always want it to come, but I didn't think it was gonna come this quick," Hendricks admitted after Friday's game. "So to go out and make that many good pitches, yeah it helps the confidence a lot. It solidifies the things we've been working on, so I just told the guys this was just one good day, so tomorrow, gotta get right back at it with another good work day and hopefully get on a roll here."

It was also the Cubs' third straight appearance from a starting pitcher of 7 shutout innings, after Cole Hamels and Jose Quintana turned the trick in the final two games in Miami earlier in the week.

The one pitch Hendricks felt good about last time out — his changeup — was his bread and butter Friday, too. He threw it 30 times out of his 100 pitches and induced 8 swings and misses.

"That was kinda classic Kyle," Joe Maddon said. "Great changeup, again. A lot of called strikes, pitching on the edges. ... That first inning or so, still seeking and then once he found it, he got into a nice groove."

Part of the success of the changeup was due to Hendricks' command with his fastball, which he apparently figured out — for one start, at least. He threw 66 percent of his pitches for strikes throughout the game and 35 of his 56 fastballs went for strikes. 

"From the get-go, I just felt more comfortable in my mechanics, so it just freed everything up," Hendricks said. "From there, I just used my fastball a lot better — kinda like what I was talking about. Fastball command and just establishing it early. Everything else worked off that and it just had good action today. Kept it down, made a lot of good pitches, so it worked out."

Hendricks even saw 17 pitches at the plate despite an 0-for-4 performance, as the Cubs offense put 19 runners on base throughout the course of the afternoon.

However, his day was not without negatives. He took a 110 mph liner off the left leg in the seventh inning, but stayed in the game and finished off the last two hitters he faced.

He also snapped his fascinating personal streak, as he threw his first wild pitch since Sept. 5, 2016 — a span of 6,662 pitches:

"I had no idea; I came in the clubhouse and someone brought that to my attention," Hendricks said, laughing. "Time to start a new streak."

In all, Hendricks picked up his first win of 2019 and lowered his season ERA to 3.54 and WHIP to 1.67 with his performance. He also helped pitch his team back to the .500 level (9-9) for the first time since the opening weekend of the season.

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