White Sox

Sox Drawer: Does Adam Dunn have ESP?

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Sox Drawer: Does Adam Dunn have ESP?

Adam Dunn is not psychic. Hes not a prophet or a soothsayer. Bring up the word clairvoyant and he might think youre talking about a woman named Claire Voyant.

The man is a baseball player. The celestial, mystical world is not exactly in his wheelhouse.

But there was the 285-pound slugger on June 1, 2011, photographed at Fenway Park, fastening his White Sox helmet onto the head of Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis, an image that today looks as if Dunn was seeing into the future, predicting a day when Youkilis would actually change allegiances, going from Red Sox to White.

Was Dunn given a message from the heavens? Had a spiritual being entered his subconscious mind to inform him that Youkilis would be on his way to Chicago in one of the most lopsided trades in franchise history?

No, I was checking to see if my helmet could actually fit on his head.

Oh.

I have a tiny head. My helmet is like a 7 or 7 18. He wears like an 8. Im not kidding, Dunn said by phone Wednesday from Boston. Looking at the photo now, it certainly appears to have a different meaning.

It sure does, especially for the White Sox who have immediately reaped the benefits of the Youkilis trade. Theyve gone 12-6 in his first 18 games, with Youkilis batting .319 with four home runs and 18 RBIs. In 42 games with the Red Sox, he had four home runs and 14 RBIs.

His mere presence has also had an affect on other hitters in the lineup, specifically Dunn, who bats right behind him in the order.

The good thing is Im going to have at least four or five pitches to get ready for that at-bat. Hes going to see a lot of pitches, Dunn said. On any given day in that first inning, we could see 30 pitches between myself, Kevin, and Alejandro De Aza before Paulie Konerko steps to the plate. He works the count and has great at-bats.

The friendship between Dunn and Youkilis goes back to their days in Cincinnati, when Adam starred for the Reds and Kevin played at the University of Cincinnati.

I was young. He was young. We met up at a lot of different places. We struck up a friendship there and kept it going, said Dunn, whose personality definitely vibes with the Sox third baseman.

Hes just a goofer. He has a lot of fun. Believe it or not, he doesnt take things too seriously. I know hes a real intense guy on the field. Off the field, hes laid back and likes to have fun, Dunn explained.

Maybe the two of them can make a bet: Who will steal more bases this season? After his surprising theft last night, Dunn currently leads 1-0.

I havent ran in a few years. I used to sneak a few in here and there, Dunn said. If theyre going to give it to me, Im going to take it in the second half for sure.

I asked Adam to describe his speed.

I wouldnt put it at the speed of light, but I wouldnt put it as sloth-like, either.

So something in the middle?

I dont want to say it because Paul Konerko is standing right here. I dont want to hurt his feelings. Im going to say average.

Adding Youkilis to the team? Theres been nothing average about that. And if Adam happens to see Zack Greinke, Ryan Dempster or a veteran reliever with a low ERA in the next two weeks, he has the green light to test their head size as well.

Because Youkilis has fit right in.

James Shields is having a stellar May and making comeback wins possible for the White Sox

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USA TODAY

James Shields is having a stellar May and making comeback wins possible for the White Sox

If you haven’t checked in with what James Shields is doing in a while, your opinion of the veteran pitcher’s performance might need some updating.

Shields didn’t exactly win the confidence of White Sox fans during his first two seasons on the South Side. After arriving in a midseason trade with the San Diego Padres in 2016, he posted a 6.77 ERA in 22 starts, during which he allowed 31 home runs. He followed that up with a 5.23 ERA and 27 home runs allowed in 2017.

And the 2018 season didn’t start out great, either, with a 6.17 ERA over his first five outings.

But the month of May has brought a dramatic turn in the vet’s production. In five May starts, he’s got a 3.27 ERA in five starts, all of which have seen him go at least six innings (he’s got six straight outings of at least six innings, dating back to his last start in April).

And his two most recent starts have probably been his two best ones of the season. After allowing just one run on three hits in 7.1 innings last Thursday against the Texas Rangers, he gave up just two runs on five hits Tuesday night against the Baltimore Orioles.

The White Sox, by the way, won both of those games in comeback fashion. They scored four runs in the eighth against Texas and three in the eighth against Baltimore for a pair of “Ricky’s boys don’t quit” victories made possible by Shields’ great work on the mound.

“That’s what it’s all about,” he said after Tuesday’s game. “It’s our job as starters to keep us in the game as long as we possibly can, no matter how we are hitting in a game. At the end of the game, you can always score one or two runs and possibly win a ballgame like we did tonight.”

The White Sox offense was indeed having trouble much of Tuesday’s game, kept off the scoreboard by Orioles starter Kevin Gausman. Particularly upsetting for White Sox Twitter was the sixth inning, when the South Siders put two runners in scoring position with nobody out and then struck out three straight times to end the inning.

But Shields went out and pitched a shut-down seventh, keeping the score at 2-0. Bruce Rondon did much the same thing in the eighth, and the offense finally sparked to life in the bottom of the inning when coincidentally presented with a similar situation to the one in the sixth. This time, though, the inning stayed alive and resulted in scoring, with Welington Castillo, Yoan Moncada and Yolmer Sanchez driving in the three runs.

“I’m out there doing my job,” Shields said. “My job is to try to keep us in the game. And we had some good starters against us that have been throwing well. If I can keep them close, we are going to get some wins and get some wins throughout the rest of the year like that. That’s the name of the game.”

Shields’ value in this rebuilding effort has been discussed often. His veteran presence is of great value in the clubhouse, particularly when it comes to mentoring young pitchers like Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, among others. Shields can act as an example of how to go about one’s business regardless of the outcomes of his starts. But when he can lead by example with strong outings, that’s even more valuable.

“I’m trying to eat as many innings as possible,” he said. “We kind of gave our bullpen — we taxed them a little bit the first month of the season. We are kind of getting back on track. Our goal as a starting staff is to go as deep as possible, and in order to do that, you’ve got to throw strikes and get ahead of hitters.

“Not too many playoff teams, a starting staff goes five and dive every single game. My whole career I’ve always wanted to go as deep as possible. I wanted to take the ball all the way to the end of the game. And we’ve done a pretty good job of it of late.”

It’s a long time between now and the trade deadline, and consistency has at times escaped even the brightest spots on this rebuilding White Sox roster. But Shields has strung together a nice bunch of starts here of late, and if that kind of performance can continue, the White Sox front office might find that it has a potential trade piece on its hands. That, too, is of value to this rebuild.

Until that possibility occurs, though, the team will take more solid outings that give these young players an opportunity to learn how to come back and learn how to win.

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Tyler Chatwood looked to be turning the corner with his control issues, but alas, he and the Cubs aren't so lucky.

After walking only two batters in a solid start in Atlanta last week, Chatwood had taken a big step in the right direction. It was, after all, only the third time he'd walked fewer than 5 batters in an outing this season.

Those control woes reared their ugly heads once again Tuesday night at Wrigley Field in a 10-1 loss to the Indians. Chatwood walked 6 batters and managed to net only 8 outs, getting hammered for 4 runs in the third inning.

"Ugh, it was tough," Maddon said. "The stuff was so good, we just couldn't get a strike."

"It's definitely frustrating," Chatwood said, "because one at-bat, I'll feel really good and the next one, I feel like I'm fighting myself.

"Last time [out], I was able to stay in the rhythm. Tonight, I was kinda battling, rushing rather than staying back, so it's just keeping that feeling and maintaining that."

His season ERA is only 3.74, which looks good until you consider his WHIP is 1.62 and he's walked 40 batters in 45.2 innings with only 41 strikeouts in the process. He now leads baseball in walks per 9 innings.

Chatwood said earlier this month in St. Louis that he's figured out what has led to the startling lack of control and while he didn't elaborate on the mechanical issue, he was working hard at correcting the problem in bullpens.

He's also used the term "fighting myself" at least a dozen times this month alone and it's become a common refrain for his explanation of what's going on. 

"He's got a busy delivery when he throws the baseball," Maddon said. "He's kinda busy what he does with his hands. It's not like he can just change it easily because that's how his arm works, how his body works.

"Sometimes, like you see him the other day, everything's on time and how good it can be and when it's out of sorts a bit, then all of the sudden it becomes shotgun. Ah man, you can see the movement [on his pitches] from the side, how good it is. 

"We gotta harness it somehow. I spoke to him briefly on the bench; I reassured him it's gonna be fine, it's gonna be really good by the end of the year. We gotta figure it out and he knows that. But man, that's good stuff. We just gotta get it in the zone."

Chatwood also admitted part of the problem is mental in that he's trying to force pitches rather than trusting his stuff. He's also gotten into the bad habit of drifting down the mound, though he's not sure when or where he picked up that hitch in his delivery.

Chatwood and Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey are working on slowing his delivery down to get his arm in the same spot on a more consistent basis.

When the Cubs signed Chatwood over the winter, it was easy to see why.

He just turned 28 in December, his peripherals and a move from hitter-friendly Coors Field foretold a potential leap in performance and his stuff is nasty. Plus, he signed a three-year deal at a relative bargain of $38 million.

Once the Cubs signed Yu Darvish in spring training, you could make the case that Chatwood could be among the best No. 5 starters in baseball.

Nine starts later, the honeymoon period is well over with Chatwood, as he threw only 30 of his 74 pitches for strikes Tuesday night and sent catcher Willson Contreras sailing all around home plate for pitches way out of the zone.

Still, it's clear to see there is some intriguing talent there and the season there is roughly 70 percent of the season remaining before the Cubs make what they hope is another run at the World Series.

"I have a lot of faith," Maddon said. "I know we're gonna reap the rewards, the benefits as he figures this thing out."