White Sox

The learning curve for Welington Castillo

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The learning curve for Welington Castillo

MILWAUKEE Welington Castillo has a rocket arm, and his bat has shown enough pop in the minors that the Cubs think they have a potential All-Star behind the plate.

But the 25-year-old catcher still has to work on the details of his game.

Cubs television analyst Bob Brenly, a former catcher, pointed that out during Fridays broadcast, and the idea that Castillo has trouble framing pitches quickly gained traction on Twitter.

An 8-7 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers that took 13 innings and lasted more than five hours only amplified things. Cubs pitchers hit three batters and handed out 14 walks, one off the franchise mark set in 1962 during a 13-inning game in New York.

Welly will say it wasnt one of his better games receiving the ball, manager Dale Sveum said Saturday. Sometimes you do struggle with certain pitchers and you lose concentration.

But we got a grip on it. He knows what he was doing and we know what he was doing, so its not a big concern.

The Cubs specifically staff assistant Mike Borzello have been drilling this into Castillo and all their catchers since workouts at Fitch Park in spring training. The point of emphasis is making sure your thumb is up when you catch the ball (and not sticking out your elbow).

You dont want your thumb down when you catch it, Sveum said. You always take it out of the strike zone (that way).

Its like anything. If youre changing your mechanics hitting, it sometimes takes (awhile) to really (sink in). You can forget what youve been working on when you get in the batters box.

Its one of those things where we got to stay on (it) and make sure we dont revert back to our old habits.

The Cubs are still very high on Castillo, who came through their system in the Dominican Republic and worked hard to learn English. Hes played in the All-Star Futures Game and been on the prospect lists.

Castillo hit 28 homers in 130 games combined the previous two seasons at Triple-A Iowa. But his catching skills could still use a little polish. Its all part of the learning curve.

In the course of a game, Sveum said, it kind of speeds up and youre just worrying about calling the game, so you revert back to whats comfortable for you, but its not necessarily the right thing.

Keep it simple: How Daniel Palka has emerged as the clutch king of Chicago

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USA TODAY

Keep it simple: How Daniel Palka has emerged as the clutch king of Chicago

Daniel Palka’s been asked a lot about his approach in clutch situations, mostly because he keeps coming through in them.

Palka flexed his walk-off muscles again Tuesday night, driving in the tying and winning runs with a base hit off Cleveland Indians strikeout machine Carlos Carrasco in the bottom of the ninth and giving the White Sox an exciting win in their penultimate home game of the 2018 season.

It was just the latest in an increasingly unbelievable series of clutch hits from the guy White Sox fans have fallen in love with during this rebuilding season. He now has 10 hits, two doubles, six homers and 13 RBIs in the ninth inning this season. Heck, it wasn’t even the first time he’s walked off these Indians this season.

You might think that explaining how to come through with a game-winning hit against a major league pitcher is easier than actually doing it. But that’s the thing: Palka’s making it look easy specifically because he’s trying to keep it easy.

“I just try to keep it as simple as possible,” Palka said, a reasonable follow up to what he said after a big home run earlier this season. “What were you trying to do in that situation?” was the question lobbed his way. He hit the answer to that one out of the park, too: “I was trying to hit a home run.”

Palka’s big moments continue to fuel the conversation surrounding his place in the long-term plans of an organization with its eyes squarely set on the future. He long ago took the title of Surprise of the Year, considering he wasn’t on the Opening Day roster and yet will almost certainly finish as the team leader in home runs. He’s five ahead of his closest competition, the injured Jose Abreu, with a team-best 27 dingers and five games to play. Tim Anderson and Matt Davidson would need seven apiece over the next five contests to catch Palka.

Whether Palka’s place on those planned contenders of the future is as an everyday designated hitter or an everyday outfielder or a platoon guy or simply a left-handed power bat off the bench, he’s looking more and more like the totally unexpected success story of this rebuilding effort. Of course, there’s still a long time to go — and plenty of prospects still to develop and reach the major leagues — before any final assessments on lineups of the future can be made.

Still, it figures Rick Hahn’s front office could find a spot for a guy with such a flair for the dramatic and a knack for big hits in big moments.

And for someone who makes all that so easy.

“I think the outcome is just based on him keeping it simple,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He really doesn’t complicate it. He really does focus on the baseball and tries to get something he can handle and tries to hit it hard. It’s kind of that simple. You can’t control what happens once the ball leaves your bat, but you can control how simple you approach the at-bat. And he does that.”

White Sox fans know how they feel about Palka’s heroics. How does Palka feel about them?

“Yeah, it’s cool.”

See? Simple.

“I don’t really know what else to say about it besides I like that moment and I’m happy to be in that moment. That’s it.”

Cam Ward won't let 'embarrassing' United Center debut with Blackhawks ruin his training camp

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AP

Cam Ward won't let 'embarrassing' United Center debut with Blackhawks ruin his training camp

Cam Ward's United Center debut as a Blackhawk couldn't have gone any worse. After allowing two goals on the first two shots he faced, he bounced back by stopping seven in a row to end the first period, but gave up four goals on eight shots in the second for an overall save percentage of .647.

The original plan was for Ward to play the full game, but Anton Forsberg was forced to come on in relief for the third period to help stop the bleeding in a meaningless game.

"Not good," Ward said following Tuesday's 8-6 loss to the Detroit Red Wings. "Definitely was a rough game for me personally. Obviously got off to a rough start right from the get go, they got a fortunate bounce right in front and put it in and unfortunately just wasn't able to get comfortable throughout the game. It's just one of those games, whether it's preseason or not, you want to put forth a good outing and a good effort and tonight just wasn't the night. I'm going to do what I can to flush it away and not let it ruin my training camp and just get ready for the next one."

It's unfair to fault Ward for a few of them without looking at the defensive breakdowns that led to the goals, but there were a couple he would have certainly liked to have back. The 14-year veteran has been around long enough to know these games happen occasionally, but it doesn't make it any easier to reconcile with the final result.

"Any time you let in six it's embarrassing as a goaltender," Ward said. "But like I said you don't want to overanalyze or overthink it. Unfortunately games like this sometimes happen but at the end of the day it doesn't count and I don't want it to ruin my training camp."

With Corey Crawford unlikely to be ready by Opening Night, Ward is expected to shoulder the load until their starter is cleared to return between the pipes. Chicago is counting on the 34-year-old with a Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy on his resume who signed a one-year deal in the offseason to be a solid placeholder for the time being and backup because he can handle it physically and the ups and downs mentally.

A performance like Tuesday's doesn't exactly do much to reinforce the Blackhawks' confidence that Ward can do so, but at the same time picking apart a fluky preseason game isn't the best way to evaluate the bigger picture. The good news is that it didn't have any impact on the standings.

'Well, it’s one game," coach Joel Quenneville said. "40 minutes, preseason game. We’ll throw it in the basket. Goaltending tonight, pucks were going in at both ends at an abnormal rate. You have a few games like that over the course of a season. Good thing it was preseason."

Here are four other takeaways from the loss:

2. Dominik Kahun leaving strong impression

With every practice and preseason game that goes by, Kahun is making it difficult on the Blackhawks coaching staff to leave him off the 23-man roster because all he's done is take control of his opportunity. And it's hard to see him not making it at this point.

After scoring a goal in Friday's preseason content against the Ottawa Senators and whose line was most effective when it comes to puck possession numbers, Kahun was promoted to the top line with Alex DeBrincat and Jonathan Toews the next practice to get a stronger look at what he can do against top players and heavier minutes. He hasn't looked out of place since.

A crafty 23-year-old forward, Kahun stood out once again on Tuesday against the Red Wings after scoring a goal by batting the puck out of mid-air, recording seven shot attempts (two on goal), two blocked shots and one takeaway. He also had a breakaway opportunity in the first period.

"I think in camp you can see who's got skills, who can move, who can skate, who can handle the puck," said Toews, who had two goals and an assist. "When you get into games, you see a guy like Dominik has all that but he has a lot of hockey sense, too. As a line, just trying to talk about the little things. I guess I've been known to put too much in some guys heads something but we had some talks this morning as far as where we wanted to play with the puck and he went out there and he was in all the right areas. Nice to see him get one early in the game. I thought he played great in a lot of ways."

3. Adam Boqvist's audition

The Blackhawks have kept Boqvist around because they want to give him a serious look at what he can do playing with and against high-end players. Tuesday was his first real test at that and there were times where he got bodied around a little bit.

He and Brandon Manning struggled as a pairing at 5-on-5 after they were on the ice for 11 shot attempts for and 16 against, but Boqvist was one of four players on the Blackhawks who finished with a multi-point effort and looked effective quarterbacking the first power play unit.

"I thought he did some good things on the power play," Quenneville said. "Defensively there was some room to improve upon, but he still does some things you appreciate."

4. New-look power play paying off early

The Blackhawks changed up their power play format to a 1-3-1 scheme this season, and it's had some early success. For the second straight preseason game they found the back of the net with the man advantage, with two goals coming on Tuesday.

While they allowed a shorthanded goal late in the game, the Blackhawks registered 14 shot attempts on six opportunities and look solid in just about every facet. They were generating chances and didn't have any momentum-killers.

"The power play was dangerous," Quenneville said. "I thought our power play did some really nice things off the rush, on entries, we shot the puck, we had net presence, we had retrievals, we had different plays and different looks. It was good."

5. Top guns leading the way

The Blackhawks need their top guys to be their top guys this season if they want any chance at getting back to the playoffs. It was a good start on Tuesday.

Kane (three assists), Toews (two goals, one assist) and Duncan Keith (one goal, two assists) all had three-point outings in the loss and led the charge.

"Kaner was special, Jonny at the net and our net presence was better than we've seen," Quenneville said. "Our guys from the top are shooting pretty well."