White Sox

Lester, Red Sox hoping to bounce back from slow start

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Lester, Red Sox hoping to bounce back from slow start

The Red Sox entered the 2012 season with high expectations, especially after a heart-wrenching September collapse to end 2011.

Things didn't start out on the right foot for the Red Sox this year, as injuries and ineffectiveness struck the core of the roster, leaving Boston in last place in the AL East. They were dealt another blow Saturday when starting pitcher Josh Beckett landed on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation.

"You can't worry about it," pitcher Jon Lester said. "It's stuff we can't control. This game is full of stuff you can't control. If you let it eat at you, it just makes for an even longer season.

"We hope that the injured players are going to come back shortly. We're just going to keep trying to show up everyday and grinding out games and see if we can't win some more."

CSNNewEngland's Sean McAdam interviewed Theo Epstein prior to Friday's game to discuss the state of Epstein's old team. The new Cubs president of baseball operations pointed to a hangover effect from the September collapse as part of Boston's slow start, but he also mentioned the Red Sox starting pitching.

Boston's rotation ranks 12th in the American League with a 4.82 rotation ERA. Prior to Saturday, Lester was carrying a bloated 4.57 ERA and off to one of the worst starts of his career.

But he picked up the win in the Red Sox 4-3 victory over the Cubs Saturday, throwing 6.2 innings and allowing just three runs -- all of which came on an opposite-field home run from Luis Valbuena in the seventh inning.

"Lester had six great innings," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said. "He was in total control, working through the humidity, working through his setbacks...He did what it took to get us a win."

"Johnny pitched great," catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. "He really had everything working. His changeup was probably the best I've seen. It was just one pitch at the end there. You can't really hang your head on that because he pitched a great game."

Lester allowed seven hits, but was saved in the first inning when second baseman Dustin Pedroia snared a hard-hit line drive from Starlin Castro and turned it into an inning-ending double-play.

"I threw 102 pitches and one was a mistake," Lester said, referring to the Valbuena homer. "It's still frustrating. To start the game, a couple hard-hit line drives. Pedroia made a great play on the double play there in the first, getting me out of that inning.

"Other than that, you look at the hits they had -- A couple flares to right, three infield hits. I have to take that positive from the bad contact. One squared up ball gives them three runs and it is what it is.

"I'll take the hits I gave up tonight with the exception of one. Bad contact is good contact. I'll take my chances on getting guys out with that."

The Cubs and chairman Tom Ricketts have been trying to copy the Red Sox model for over a year. When Ricketts hired Epstein in October, their goal was to build a team capable of sustained success.

Epstein accomplished that goal with the Red Sox, and Lester was a big reason why. The 28-year-old lefty sat atop the Boston rotation, compiling a 65-32 record and 3.33 ERA from 2008-11. He topped the 200-inning mark for three straight years and struck out 225 batters in both '09 and '10.

But 2012 has been a different story for Lester and the frustration showed in the locker room after the game.

"I have to keep executing and doing the same thing," he said. "I've been saying that for every interview. It seems like it's getting redundant."

White Sox catcher Welington Castillo will reportedly be suspended 80 games for use of PED

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USA TODAY

White Sox catcher Welington Castillo will reportedly be suspended 80 games for use of PED

For the first time since new rules came into effect in 2005, the White Sox will reportedly see a major league player suspended for violating baseball’s ban on performance-enhancing drugs.

Welington Castillo, the team’s biggest offseason addition, will be suspended for 80 games, according to a pair of reports.

The veteran catcher was brought in over the winter to help the rebuilding White Sox in the short and long term. He had a career year offensively and defensively in 2017, and he was acquired to help develop a young pitching staff featuring big pieces of the future like Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, and also to swing a solid bat and help this young team learn how to win.

If Castillo proves productive over the course of his two-year deal, the White Sox have a team option that could keep Castillo on the South Side for the 2020 season. That could make him a piece of the puzzle for when the rebuild reaches its apex and the team is ready to start contending for championships. But this news has the potential to change that dramatically.

Zack Collins and Seby Zavala are both having strong offensive seasons at Double-A Birmingham and figure to be the long-term answers behind the plate. But Castillo’s absence from any long-term picture could leave the White Sox without a veteran safety net in the years ahead, depending on how the team decides to react to this news in the coming seasons.

Castillo’s absence for the next 80 games could also have an impact on the development of aforementioned pitchers like Giolito and Lopez. Lopez, in particular, has been throwing really well this season, and Giolito has control issues to work through, as he leads the American League in walks. Without the veteran catcher brought in to help those guys transition to the major league level, how will the transition continue for those two pitchers?

As for who could take Castillo's place on the major league roster, the options are limited. Kevan Smith, who was edged out by Omar Narvaez for the backup-catching job in spring training, is on the disabled list at Triple-A Charlotte, placed there Tuesday. The aforementioned Zavala is also injured at Double-A Birmingham, and it seems far too early to rush Collins to the big leagues. Alfredo Gonzalez is a catcher on the roster at Charlotte. A spot on the 40-man roster would need to be freed up to bring him to Chicago.

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

There's a legit case to be made that Ian Happ has been the Cubs' second-best hitter in 2018.

Yes, really.

Happ ranks second on the Cubs in OPS (.895), behind only Kris Bryant (.995) among regulars, though a recent hot streak has buoyed that overall bottom line for Happ.

Still, it's been a pretty incredible hot streak and it's propelled Happ back to where he began the season — at the top of the Cubs order. 

Happ has walked 10 times in the last 6 games and hammered out 3 homers in that span, including one on top of the Schwarboard in right field as a pinch-hitter Tuesday night.

Even more jaw-dropping: He's only struck out 5 times in the last 9 games after a dreadful start to the season in that regard.

"It was just a matter of time until things clicked a little bit," Happ said. "That's why we play 162 games and it's a game of adjustments. At the end of the day, it all evens out.

"Look at the back of Tony [Rizzo's] baseball card — it's the same thing every single year. That's how this thing goes. You're gonna have your ups and your downs and I'm just trying to be as consistent as I can. If I can level it out a little bit and be more consistent over a period of time, that'll be better for our team."

So yes, Happ is on the upswing right now and he'll inevitably have more slumps where he strikes out too much and looks lost at the plate.

Such is life for a 23-year-old who is still a week away from his 162nd career MLB game.

The league had adjusted to Happ and he had to adjust back, which he'd been working hard doing behind the scenes.

"I just try to get him to primarily slow things down," Joe Maddon said. "Try to get him back into left-center. And I did not want to heap a whole lot of at-bats on him. When you're not going good, if you heap too many at-bats on somebody, all of a sudden, that's really hard to dig out of that hole.

"So a lot of conversations — a lot of conversations — but nothing complicated. I like to go the simple side of things. I wanted him to try not to lift the ball intentionally, really organize his strike zone."

Maddon believes Happ had lost sight of his strike zone organization, chasing too many pitches out of the zone — particularly the high fastball.

Now, the Cubs manager sees Happ using his hands more and less of his arms in his swing, working a more precise, compact path to the ball.

The Happ experiment at leadoff was a disaster to begin the year — .186 AVG, .573 OPS and 22 strikeouts in 10 starts there — but all the same tools and rationale exist for why Maddon likes the switch-hitting utiliy player in that spot.

And that's why Happ was leading off Wednesday with both Ben Zobrist and Albert Almora Jr. getting the night off.

"We're gonna find out [if he can stick at leadoff]," Maddon said. "I just thought he's looked better. He's coming off a nice streak on the road trip. [Tuesday night], pinch-hitting. I know the home run's great and of course that's nice.

"But how he got to the pitch that he hit out, to me, was the important thing. Got the two strikes, took the two borderline pitches and then all of a sudden, [the pitcher] came in with a little bit more and he didn't miss it.

"That's the big thing about hitting well, too — when you see your pitch, you don't either take it or foul it off. You don't miss it. He didn't miss it."