White Sox

Phillies' pitcher finally gets his first victory

809892.jpg

Phillies' pitcher finally gets his first victory

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW YORK (AP) -- Cliff Lee was savoring a most elusive win when Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels sneaked up behind him, giving their fellow Phillies ace a Gatorade bath. Now that was one early shower Lee could enjoy. Lee finally posted his first victory of the season and Philadelphia hit three late homers, breaking past the New York Mets 9-2 Wednesday and stopping a six-game losing streak. "Got a win, Fourth of July. Good for Cliff," manager Charlie Manuel said. Lee (1-5) had gone a puzzling 13 starts this year without a victory, a key reason the five-time NL East champions have fallen far behind. The lefty hadn't been awful, nor had he consistently shown good command. "I would've loved to have a win a long time ago," Lee said, adding the slump was a bigger deal to others than to him. "I wouldn't say it doesn't matter, but it's something I can't control," he said. "Sometimes, weird things happen." If anything, he said, he's been disappointed "because I've let innings snowball." That happened in his previous outing at Miami, his poorest start of the season. Manuel said Lee's teammates kidded and joked with him after he broke his hex. Lee's jersey and uniform pants were soaked when he returned to the clubhouse. "That was good," Lee told Halladay. Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz hit consecutive home runs in the seventh inning as the Phillies rallied from a 2-0 deficit. Ty Wigginton's two-run homer in the ninth capped the surge. Facing the Mets for the fourth time this season, Lee came out sharp and struck out three of the first four batters. He wound up going eight innings and struck out nine, most of them looking. "He pretty much dominated us today," Mets star David Wright said. Lee's drought was the longest by a former Cy Young winner since Greg Maddux went 14 starts without a win in 2008 with San Diego -- the worst skid for a Cy winner was 19 starts by Fernando Valenzuela in 1988-89, STATS LLC said. Lee seemed as if he might wind up in the loss column again after the Phillies managed just two singles in the first six innings against Chris Young (2-2). Juan Pierre led off the seventh with a sharp single and Utley followed with a tying drive into the right-field seats, his second homer since missing nearly three months because of knee trouble. Ruiz, set to play in his first All-Star game, then put the Phillies ahead by connecting for the second straight day, hitting his 13th home run. That was plenty for Lee on this afternoon. "Once they took the lead, we saw a different side of him," said Mets catcher Mike Nickeas, who fanned twice. "He's one of the better ones in the game. He was tremendous today." Philadelphia pulled away with a three-run eighth and a three-run ninth against the Mets' bullpen. Jimmy Rollins doubled home a run, Ruiz hit an RBI single and Wigginton hustled home from second on Hunter Pence's single off shortstop Ruben Tejada's glove in the eighth. Rollins added an RBI grounder and Wigginton homered the next inning. Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon made his first appearance in a week and pitched the ninth. "Make sure we nailed that one down," Manuel said, smiling. The six straight losses matched the Phillies' longest slump of the season. They also had lost seven in a row on the road. A day after routing Philadelphia, the Mets lost for the second time in seven games. Scott Hairston put the Mets ahead with a solo homer in the fourth, lining an 0-2 pitch over the left-field wall. As Hairston rounded the bases, Lee scuffed at the dirt and looked out toward center field, where a replay of the pitch was playing on the videoboard. The Mets, as they've done all season, strung together some two-hits and made it 2-0 in the fifth. Wright drove in the run with a single. NOTES: RHP Jeremy Hefner gave up five hits and three runs in 1 1-3 innings and was optioned to Triple-A Buffalo after the game. ... Utley's sixth homer at Citi Field matched Raul Ibanez for the most by a visiting player at the ballpark. ... Pierre stole his 20th base, the 12th straight year he's reached the mark. His 574th career swipe tied Hugh Duffy for 22nd place. ... Mets OF Kirk Nieuwenhuis didn't play. He was a late scratch from the lineup the previous day after hurting his right hand while swinging in batting practice. He said his hand was feeling better. ... Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey goes for his 11th straight win on Thursday night vs. Hamels. Dickey leads the majors with 12 victories. ... Phillies 1B Ryan Howard (left Achilles) was set to have a day off with Triple-A Lehigh Valley in his rehabilitation assignment. He homered Tuesday night.

Jace Fry, who still hasn't allowed a hit, is penciling his name into the White Sox bullpen of the future

0516_jace_fry.jpg
USA TODAY

Jace Fry, who still hasn't allowed a hit, is penciling his name into the White Sox bullpen of the future

The White Sox best reliever through the first 42 games of this rebuilding season? Undoubtedly, it’s been Jace Fry.

With Rick Renteria’s bullpen hardly the most reliable relief corps the game has ever seen, Fry has been a revelation, starting his 2018 campaign with 7.1 scoreless innings over six appearances.

And now things are getting a bit more dramatic for the 24-year-old lefty, a guy who’s been through a pair of Tommy John surgeries. He pitched some high-leverage ball in Saturday night’s 5-3 win, sitting down all four hitters he faced in the eighth and ninth innings while protecting a two-run lead.

“I was ready the whole game, just waiting for my name to be called,” Fry said. “But it was awesome getting in there in the eighth inning, even getting the first guy in the ninth inning. After I got him I was kind of hoping he’d let me keep going.”

Renteria uses his bullpen in a non-traditional manner, one that perhaps he thinks is a way of the future or one that’s a result of his lack of dominant options out there. Whichever it is, he doesn’t really have a closer but rather a host of guys he uses in those high-leverage situations, whenever they might come during the late stages of a game. Joakim Soria, Nate Jones and Bruce Rondon have all been used to get big outs late in games, and Rondon threw a scoreless seventh Saturday, with Jones getting the game’s final two outs for the save.

But it could be argued that most difficult outs were recorded by Fry, who put away the visiting Texas Rangers’ fourth, fifth and sixth hitters before getting the seventh hitter to strike out to start off the ninth.

Renteria steered away from dubbing Fry one of his new high-leverage guys after the game, but why wouldn’t Fry be in that mix? All he’s done since joining the big league squad earlier this month is get outs. He’s got 10 strikeouts, hasn’t allowed a hit and has just two walks as the lone blemishes on an otherwise perfect season line.

“It just happens to be that it was the eighth inning and the ninth that he pitched,” Renteria said. “I think he’s looking very comfortable in those. It happens to be the eighth and ninth we needed him. He’s been very, very effective. He’s been commanding the strike zone very well, confidently approaching his hitters. He’s got pretty good stuff.

“He’s able to command the zone. Along with that nice breaking ball he’s got to lefties and righties, it’s pretty effective. But he’s continuing to show you he’s capable of coming in and getting some pretty good hitters.”

Fry has been a rarity this season in that he’s appeared to be a candidate for a long-term spot in the White Sox bullpen. Jones would perhaps be the only other guy coming close to qualifying for that, mostly because of his team-friendly contract that keeps him under control a few more years, but he’s had some rough moments, even with his ERA dropping to 3.50 on Saturday.

Fry, though, is young and is dealing at the moment. He even got a shoutout as a potential long-term piece from general manager Rick Hahn earlier this week.

“Take Jace Fry, someone we haven’t mentioned when we’ve had this conversation the last couple of weeks,” Hahn said Thursday, discussing the positives he’s seen during this developmental season. “He’s shown up here and shown that he’s made some progress in his last stint in the minors and now, at age 24, seems like he’s ready to take that next step, and pencil his name in as part of what we’re building here going forward.”

There’s a lot of season left, and no one’s expecting Fry to keep batters hitless and opposing teams scoreless from now through the end of September. But this is a nice development for the rebuilding White Sox at the moment, a guy who’s giving them at least one name to put into that bullpen of the future.

How long can he keep this thing going? As long as he keeps getting ahead of hitters.

“Having the success is awesome, but I realize it’s the plan, the plan of attack,” Fry said. “I’m going out and throwing Strike 1 and getting ahead. Actually doing it, seeing it and having the process work definitely creates more confidence. Once you go back to the blueprint of baseball, Strike 1 is everything.”

Carson Fulmer's demotion and the current state of the White Sox rotation provide several rebuilding reminders

Carson Fulmer's demotion and the current state of the White Sox rotation provide several rebuilding reminders

Carson Fulmer getting sent to Triple-A following Friday’s game might be, to this point, the biggest development this season on the South Side.

Fulmer doesn’t carry the same expectations as higher-rated prospects like Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen or Dane Dunning, but this is a top-10 draft pick who the White Sox still believe can play a significant role in their bright future. And he’s struggling. Badly. Once his ERA jumped up past 8.00 thanks to his third straight brief and run-filled outing, the White Sox made the decision to send him to Charlotte.

It leaves the White Sox rotation looking like this: James Shields, a struggling Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Hector Santiago and either Chris Volstad or the recently summoned Dylan Covey.

Four of those guys (Shields, Santiago, Volstad and Covey) don’t figure to play a role in the team’s long-term future, and Giolito is dealing with his own significant struggles, leading the American League in walks heading into his Saturday-night start. Lopez has been the rotation’s bright spot, but even he watched his ERA climb more than a full point after allowing six runs in two innings his last time out.

It’s not a great state for the rotation to be in if you, like the White Sox, have your sights set on the long-term future of this team, though it probably won’t look like that for too much longer. Still, it provides a few valuable reminders about not only this rebuilding effort but rebuilds in general.

This season is about development, and this is what development looks like

For better or worse, this is what development looks like. The White Sox own baseball’s worst record, and general manager Rick Hahn has been among the large number of White Sox fans to voice their disappointment over play that has been sloppy at times.

Fulmer’s struggles fall into the same category and serve as a reminder that growing pains like this are going to happen. We’ve seen it with Fulmer. We’ve seen it with Giolito. We’ve seen it with Lopez. Heck, we’ve seen it with Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson, too.

But more than wins and losses, this is what this season is about. Hahn calls it “the hardest part of the rebuild” because it features guys getting lit up and games being lost. The hope is that Fulmer can figure things out in the minors and that Giolito won’t require a similar demotion to right his ship. And if everything turns out all right, then this will be an easily forgotten chapter in both of those players’ development.

In the moment, though, it’s another reminder that rebuilds take time and that the waiting game provides minimal fun.

Each player’s development has a different trajectory

Just because Fulmer is getting bumped down to Triple-A doesn’t mean he can’t still turn into a successful major league pitcher. Player development and rebuilds aren’t linear, as rebuilders like to say. And to expect every prospect to travel in a straight line from potential to big league stardom doesn't make much sense.

“We reiterate, ‘It’s not the end of your career,’” Renteria said Saturday. “This is simply a reboot, a reset. Ultimately, I think after the initial shock for any player, they settle down and they understand exactly what’s going on when you look at it logically and look in the mirror. I think it’s easy to logically look at it and say, ‘I need to work on x, y and z.’

“This is a good kid with a really positive attitude and a lot of confidence. I think he’ll look in the mirror and go, ‘You know what, I got things I can work on, I’ll settle in and get over this initial bump and get to work.’ Those are the guys that end up giving themselves a chance to return sooner rather than later and have success.”

Not all prospects pan out

The other side of that coin is the reminder that not every single one of the White Sox wealth of prospects will pan out. Hahn & Co. have prepared for that and built up an incredible amount of prospect depth, but when someone doesn't live up to expectations, it will be painful.

This isn’t to suggest that Fulmer, specifically, won’t pan out, but it’s to point out that not everyone will. That’s a crowded-looking rotation of the future with Kopech, Hansen, Dunning, Fulmer, Giolito, Lopez, Carlos Rodon and Dylan Cease all competing for those eventual five spots. Rather than the White Sox having to make tough decisions about who will be left out, certainly a possibility, the developments of those pitchers might make those decisions for them.

Renteria is confident that Fulmer will be back in the big leagues, and there’s little reason to think that this is the end of Fulmer’s opportunity. But not every top-10 pick reaches All-Star status.

The future is on the way

The current starting rotation might have fans asking why the heck it looks like it does. But a month or two from now it will look drastically different.

Rodon makes his first rehab start Saturday at Class A Kannapolis as he battles back from shoulder surgery last fall, and he shouldn’t be too far away from providing a serious jolt to the starting staff. Not to mention, he’s a guy who as good a chance as anyone as grabbing one of those front-end spots, and with him in the rotation, things will look a tad more futuristic.

Same goes for Kopech, whose promotion figures to be coming at some point this summer. Given the hype and the expectations there, his arrival will obviously be a really big deal.

But regardless of the results either Rodon and Kopech put up in their first tastes of major league action in 2018, they’ll make the rotation into something that way more closely resembles the rotation of the future. There’ll be plenty of development left for the Hansens and the Ceases and the Dunnings in the minors. But a rotation featuring Rodon, Kopech, Giolito and Lopez looks a lot different than one featuring Shields, Santiago, Covey and Volstad.

Patience. It’s not much fun. But it’s necessary to build a contender.