White Sox

With Rose sidelined, Bulls still get revenge on Knicks

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With Rose sidelined, Bulls still get revenge on Knicks

Even with Derrick Rose missing his 23rd game of the season due to a sprained right ankle, the Bulls had plenty of motivation heading into Tuesday nights game against the Knicks at the United Center, as they lost in an overtime heartbreaker at New York just two days before, on Easter Sunday.

The Bulls, missing their All-Star point guard, turned the tables in the second game of the home-and-home series, avenging the loss in the rematch with a 98-86 win, in which prized offseason acquisition Rip Hamilton had a breakout performance and the squads vaunted depth and defense were on full display.

Turning the tables on the Knicks from Sunday, the Bulls (44-14) blitzed their guests at the outset with an 8-0 run to start the contest, as they pushed the pace to score in transition and executed in their half-court sets via crisp passing, much of which could be credited to Rip Hamilton (20 points, five assists).

However, following a timeout by New York interim head coach Mike Woodson to make adjustments, the visitors quickly stormed back, led by the efficient scoring of All-Star Carmelo Anthony and playmaking of veteran point guard Baron Davis.

With contributions from the likes of second-year swingman Landry Fields also helping the Knicks cause, they not only caught up to the Bulls, but built a slight cushion as their small-ball offense thrived and the hosts stalled with poor shot selection on a number of possessions. At the conclusion of the opening period, the Bulls trailed, 25-22.

Propelled by the energetic, defensive-minded play of the Bench Mob, the Bulls made their own comeback, starting the second stanza on a 14-2 run.

Swingman Ronnie Brewers high activity level was a major factor, as was the blend of scoring and playmaking provided by fan favorite John Lucas III, as well as the dual defensive presence of inside tandem Taj Gibson and Omer Asik, all combining for the home team to take a double-digit lead.

New York (29-28) again crept back into the contest, taking advantage of Bulls turnovers and capitalizing on the other end through Anthonys productive scoring and a spark off the bench from sixth man J.R. Smith (14 points).

However, upon the Bulls regulars being reinserted into the game, Duke products and starting forwards Carlos Boozer (10 points, eight rebounds) and All-Star Luol Deng (19 points, 10 rebounds, four assists) led a late-period charge to help the hosts head into the intermission with a 47-35 lead.

After the break, a chippy, more physical affair ensued, as both squads, who had managed to avoid fouls in the up-tempo first half, started to lay the wood on each other on attempted drives to the bucket.

While Anthony still had it going for New York, so did his All-Star counterpart, Deng, as well as Hamilton, who took a much more aggressive approach to scoring in the third quarter, particularly in transition, which aided the Bulls in maintaining their comfortable winning margin.

Hamiltons continued scoring exploitshe got to the rim, drew fouls and knocked down his trademark mid-range jumperpaired with a dominant team rebounding effort and the energetic play of rookie swingman Jimmy Butler off the bench buoyed the Bulls, allowing them to control the games flow and momentum, despite Anthony carrying New Yorks offensive load, with help from center Tyson Chandler (10 points, 15 rebounds), a former Bulls draft pick, and rookie guard Iman Shumpert (12 points), a Chicago native.

Heading into the games final stanza, the Bulls held a 72-62 edge.

Solid defense and timely plays by the usual cast of role players kept the Bulls in firm control of the contest early in the fourth period, though the Knicks only helped matters, as their high-flying offense got bogged down by bad shot choices and unforced errors.

The hosts effort, back to the high standards of earlier in the season, appeared to be the difference, as the Bulls simply beat their offensive-minded guests to loose balls and also outworked them in other aspects of the game, such as the all-important defensive end of the court, where consistently made big plays to keep New York in a double-digit hole.

As the game entered its stretch run, C.J. Watson (nine points, seven assists), who filled in for Rose as the starting point guard, and designated sharpshooter Kyle Korver (14 points, seven rebounds, three blocked shots), stepped up their games to ensure the gap between the two teams didnt get too close, but a determined Anthony persisted in pouring in points to keep the visitors hopes alive.

However, lockdown defense, Korvers outside marksmanship and a Deng putback layup with under a minute remaining sealed the deal, getting vengeance and some positivity with a Thursday home matchup against Miami looming and Roses status still unsure.

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

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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.