Steve Cishek

After two busy years with Joe Maddon, 'beautiful man' Steve Cishek ready for more with White Sox

After two busy years with Joe Maddon, 'beautiful man' Steve Cishek ready for more with White Sox

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Joe Maddon called on Steve Cishek an awful lot during the right-handed reliever’s two years on the North Side.

Cishek wouldn’t have had it any other way.

“You get paid a lot of money to play this game, I want to make sure that I’m keeping up my value,” Cishek said Wednesday at Camelback Ranch. “You get paid to go out there and pitch and perform. I take a lot of pride in that, I want to make sure I’m going out there and giving everything I possibly have. Hopefully my teammates and organization reap the benefits of that.

“That’s always been my approach. I always try to make myself available. I prepare every day and take care of my body to the best of my ability using the staff that we have to hopefully give the manager the option to use me during the game.”

Cishek’s pitching on the South Side now, one of the many veterans Rick Hahn’s front office brought in to complement the young core and build realistic postseason expectations for the 2020 campaign. During his two years with the Cubs, Maddon called on Cishek a combined 150 times. In 2018, only one pitcher in baseball, Brad Ziegler, made more appearances. In 2019, Cishek again ranked in the top 25.

That’s a lot, but it never seemed to make Cishek any less effective: In those two seasons, he had a combined 2.55 ERA.

While plenty have suggested that Maddon's use of Cishek had some sort of detrimental effect on the pitcher, as Cishek's words illuminate, he’s always game to head to the mound. That attitude is what made Maddon use Cishek so much. It’s what made Maddon love the guy.

“'Shek is one of the finest teammates you’re ever going to find,” Maddon, now managing the Los Angeles Angels, said Tuesday during Cactus League Media Day. “I love him because he’s so durable, but he’ll tell you when he needs a day, which is important. He’s fearless.

“This guy, you’ve got to be careful because he’ll keep wanting to go out. This guy wants to play all the time. So you have to have a conversation to know when he needs a day.

“But he’s a beautiful man, and I’m going to miss him.”

It’s hard to find many better compliments than that. When told about what his former skipper said, Cishek laughed and said: “Thanks, Joe.”

But even though Cishek is no longer playing for Maddon and the Cubs, he’s ready to continue the same kind of thing he was doing up north. Rick Renteria can expect to have at his disposal a pitcher who’s ready to go every day.

“That’s what the offseason’s for. I don’t really mess around much. I prepare and try to get my body to endure a long season,” Cishek said. “I do everything that I’m able to do because I don’t want to go out there and not be able to perform or be hurt, not able to help the team win. So that’s what I focus on when I prepare for these games.”

Cishek figures to be a big factor at the back end of the White Sox bullpen in 2020, someone who can provide durability and reliability to a unit, regardless of team, that could always use more of that.

The White Sox bullpen was pretty good in 2019 and returns many of the arms that made it that way: Aaron Bummer, Alex Colome, Jimmy Cordero and Evan Marshall. But as Hahn will tell you, there’s a good deal of volatility with relief pitching. So bringing in someone with Cishek’s track record of not just pitching a lot but pitching a lot and pitching well figures to be a successful addition.

“You always anticipate a good result when he pitches,” Maddon said. “Always.”

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In order to be contenders, the White Sox must learn how to win in 2020

In order to be contenders, the White Sox must learn how to win in 2020

GLENDALE, Ariz. — If the White Sox are going to start winning in 2020, they're going to have to learn how.

Certainly a talented roster will play a large role in that. But the influx of veterans this winter didn't just bring on-field capabilities. In adding Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel, Edwin Encarnacion, Gio Gonzalez and Steve Cishek, Rick Hahn's front office injected this team with winners, guys who have been to the playoffs and made sizable impacts on winning clubs.

If anybody can teach the young White Sox how to win, it's these guys.

"Yasmani's been in the postseason each of the last five years, Keuchel four of the last five years and Edwin each of the last five years," Rick Hahn said after the Encarnacion signing became official in early January. "That's obviously a tremendous track record for each of them but also speaks in part to what we're trying to accomplish not just on the field but in terms of taking that next step in our clubhouse and this young core not only growing together but learning how to win and learning what it takes to be successful not only over the course of the summer but well into October, as well."

And that playoff experience is rather extensive:

— Grandal won four consecutive NL West championships with the Dodgers and went to back-to-back World Series in 2017 and 2018 before helping the Brewers reach — and hitting a home run in — the NL wild card game last season.

— Keuchel reached three out of four postseasons with the Astros, including in his Cy Young season of 2015 and the team's now-controversial World Series season of 2017, and won an NL East title with the Braves in 2019.

— Encarnacion played in three of the last five AL Championship Series and won AL Central crowns with the Indians in 2017 and 2018.

— Gonzalez played in four postseasons with the Nationals and made the NLCS with the Brewers in 2018.

— Cishek pitched with the Cubs team that played in the NL wild card game in 2018.

Considering even the White Sox team leader, Jose Abreu, has never finished a major league season above .500, all this new playoff experience adds something that was sorely missing.

"You've got to have the talent, and we have the talent on this team," Encarnacion said. "This team makes me remember the team that we had in 2015 with the Blue Jays. A lot of young talents, a few veteran guys and we put everything together and this team is going to be right.

"The team has to be together. If you're going to win, we've got to be together like a team. Pick up your teammates. That's why you have to stay together. If your teammate does something wrong, you're going to feel it and you're going to want to do something to help them out. That's all about it.

"This team makes me remember what we had in Toronto. ... This team has the talent to compete in the division and win."

That 2015 Blue Jays team won the AL East and made it to Game 6 of the ALCS before being eliminated by the eventual world-champion Kansas City Royals. Encarnacion hit 39 homers and drove in 111 runs that season, a set of numbers that would be good news for the White Sox half a decade later.

But in addition to that production, the White Sox could reap the benefits of Encarnacion's playoff experience. The same goes for what they can glean from Grandal, Keuchel and Gonzalez.

"I think that these guys in particular have played a huge role in postseason play in terms of actually performing and being in the limelight. I think their presence in and of itself and probably some of the conversations that they suddenly have with the group play a big part," manager Rick Renteria said Tuesday at Camelback Ranch. "I think that's one of the things that we're hoping to take advantage of. For us, it's a really important time, because now we're trying to take those young men that have developed and are putting themselves on the map, as very good Major League Baseball players trying to take it to the next place.

"And it's like anything too, those moments you can't replicate until you get there. So everybody deals with them differently. Hopefully we're able to deal with them positively. And they have some guys in that I've gone through it that will help them be able to make some adjustments."

The winning-experience ingredient has been added to the interesting gumbo that is the 2020 White Sox, a team that has designs on bringing October baseball to the South Side for the first time in more than a decade. All these veterans can serve as resources for the young guys and teach them what is necessary to be a contender along the way.

And these veterans can feed off the talent of those same youngsters to drive toward another addition to their postseason resumes.

"Once you get a little taste of the playoffs, that's why you play is to get that feeling," Keuchel said. "As much as you want to replicate it in the regular season, for guys who have no playoff experience, I think the regular season is that feeling. But there's another feeling to it that pushes you and wants you to be a better player.

"Ultimately I told Rick Hahn this: I said, 'Four out of the last five years, I've made the playoffs, and I don't expect any of these three years (during the contract with the White Sox) to be any different.'" 

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A new training program has Kyle Hendricks, and the Cubs, believing the best is yet to come

A new training program has Kyle Hendricks, and the Cubs, believing the best is yet to come

MESA, Ariz. – It’s not hard to argue that over the past two seasons, no one on the Cubs’ pitching staff has been better – or more consistent – than Kyle Hendricks. Over that span, Hendricks leads the team in innings pitched (376), FIP (3.70), and K/BB ratio (4.1). He also has the lowest WHIP (1.14), highest amount of soft contact (21.1%) and is the only starter to have a wOBA below .300. It seems just about everyone, besides Hendricks himself, has been thrilled with the production. 

“I didn’t like the trend that was going the last two years or so,” Hendricks said on Friday. “So I changed a lot of my offseason program, as far as training. And then I started playing catch and throwing earlier in the offseason this year. Just started getting ready and getting prepared earlier, trying to come into spring really ready to go and try and take advantage of this time also just to get better, not just trying to get ready for Game 1.” 

Everyone’s in the best shape of their lives right now, ready to put together the best season of their careers, but both David Ross and Willson Contreras went out of their way to note Hendricks came into camp looking especially strong – the product of a new, altered training program the pitcher elected to try out over the winter. After years of standard weight training and fitness regiments, Hendricks began noticing a concerning trend. 

“I was just getting very mechanical, I guess,” he said. “It wasn’t athletic. My arm path wasn’t smooth and easy. Also, I was just kind of fatiguing more than I would like to at the end of a season – especially in my lower half. So I made some changes. I feel really strong shoulder-wise, because I had that shoulder thing last year. Lower half feels a lot better, and I just feel more athletic overall. My mechanics kind of show it, so I’m just going to keep working on it.” 

The idea to switch came after listening to relievers Steve Cishek and Brandon Kintzler rave about their trainer. So Hendricks gave it a shot. Not only did the routine have him beginning his throwing routine earlier in the year, but the new exercises emphasized strength and fluidity of motion over traditional muscle building. And it’s made a world of difference. 

“[It’s] a lot more new school kind of stuff – a lot more movement stuff and becoming more athletic,” he said. “Not just stuff in the weight room to get me ready to go pitch on the mound, but movement stuff so I can feel better moving around the mound, too. It’s just made my whole mechanics flow better and not just get so pushy with it.” 

The drive to reinvent himself as a pitcher – especially after two seasons that, on the surface, don’t necessarily call for it – is what makes Hendricks such a fun and special player to coach, according to his catcher-turned-manager. 

“Kyle’s one of those guys where you just don’t have to worry much about as a coach,” Ross said. “He sets the right example, he goes about his business. He’s unemotional in every aspect of his game. Good or bad, you’d never know how his last start was. He comes in, he’s a worker, he prepares the right way, and goes out and gives you his best effort. I feel like he’s one of the guys you have to worry about least.” 

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