White Sox

Back end of White Sox bullpen clicking: This is the year they don't get traded, right?

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USA TODAY

Back end of White Sox bullpen clicking: This is the year they don't get traded, right?

David Robertson. Tommy Kahnle. Anthony Swarzak. Joakim Soria. Xavier Cedeno.

The White Sox haven’t been short on good relievers during their rebuilding seasons. And because of it, there have back-to-back mass exoduses out of the bullpen at the trade deadline.

The 2019 ‘pen has settled in nicely, with manager Rick Renteria repeatedly turning to the trio of Aaron Bummer, Evan Marshall and Alex Colome late in games and doing so with great success.

Bummer’s given up just one earned run in 14.1 innings since coming up in late April. Marshall’s given up nothing in 11.1 innings since coming up in early May. And Colome has been as advertised, a dominant closer with a 1.59 ERA and a perfect 11-for-11 mark in save tries. Only twice in his 23 appearances has Colome had to face more than four batters.

Bummer has suddenly flipped a switch, shutting down opposing bats after posting a 4.36 ERA in his first two big league seasons.

“I think, honestly, just some confidence,” Bummer said of the key to his success. “End of spring training, I had a little problem with my oblique, and I think I was able to slow a lot of things down and, honestly, just kind of take it day by day. And it’s working right now, just being able to build confidence every time I go out there on the mound.

“Instant success is obviously a great confidence booster. It makes life a lot easier when the first couple times you go out there you get the job done. So it’s just trying to build off that. I’m happy with where I am, but I know that there’s still a lot of work to do. It’s a good time, I’m happy to be here, happy to be working with the guys and getting my opportunity.”

Colome, meanwhile, has been excellent, to the point of already sparking trade speculation. There are contenders without closers, reliable ones anyway, and Colome is one of the best closers among those pitching for teams not expected to make the postseason.

“He’s been really, really good,” Renteria said of his closer earlier this week. “I think Alex has done a great job. We’ve called (on him) a few times and quite a few over the last couple days. So he’s been really, really good and we’ve been happy the he’s been performing the way he is. And I think that we expected for him to be able to do what he’s doing for us.

“I didn’t take umbrage to (trade speculation). The fact he performs the way he performs, he’s been touted over the years, and he’s probably sought after by many. I am certainly glad that we have him in our bullpen. Many people will raise that question. I don’t think about it.”

In 2017 and 2018 — when the rebuilding White Sox lost a combined 195 games — the plan from here would have been clear: to trade these guys. Rick Hahn’s front office dealt five relievers in 2017 and traded three more last summer.

Flipping relievers hasn’t necessarily been an overly rewarding practice for these White Sox. It’s not like those trades netted the kinds of returns the Chris Sale, Adam Eaton and Jose Quintana deals did, nor were they ever expected to. But it was a reliable way, with contenders always searching for relief help, to squeeze something positive out of those losing campaigns.

So with the rebuild still chugging along, will Hahn’s front office try something similar this time around?

Well, the differences are pretty clear this season. As of this writing, the White Sox are a second-place team riding a five-game winning streak. No one should be blocking out hotel rooms for October quite yet, but the bright spots are much brighter than they’ve been at any other point during this process, at least at the major league level. A host of players are playing at All-Star levels, and no matter your feeling on where the White Sox will go from here, they’re currently in the thick of the race for the second wild-card spot in the American League.

While Hahn has talked multiple times about not wanting to jump up and make a push for one wild-card berth if that proves detrimental to the quest for perennial championship contention, hanging on to a trio of relievers under team control beyond 2019 likely wouldn’t do that. And so the thought becomes: Should the White Sox keep these guys to build a potentially contending bullpen for the 2020 season?

Relief pitching is volatile, as Hahn will tell you, and so good 2019s out of Bummer and Marshall don’t guarantee good 2020s. Colome, of course, is a bit more proven, an established closer who’s been racking up saves for years. All three could be back with the White Sox in 2020, when they figure to be even closer to making the transition from rebuilding to contending.

Michael Kopech will be back from Tommy John surgery, and Dylan Cease and Luis Robert — the organization’s top two prospects who haven’t yet reached the big league level — could both be a part of the Opening Day roster. Not to mention the obvious returns of this year’s stars: Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada and Lucas Giolito, as well as Jose Abreu and James McCann, who seem to be in the team’s plans past the end of this season.

If the White Sox feel they’re ready to start contending next year, why wouldn’t they want to keep Colome, Bummer and Marshall? Certainly any proposed return packages would have a lot to do with that, and teams sure to get desperate for closers as the summer wears on.

There’s a lot of baseball to be played before this season’s trade deadline. Two months of it, to be exact, and things can obviously change. But the White Sox plan with their relievers should perhaps be the same whether they’re in the race or not. The future has always been the most important thing in this rebuilding effort, and if that future is due to arrive next season, keeping some of the most effective arms in the relief corps, as opposed to dealing them for a third straight summer, would help usher it in.

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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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The story of Luis Robert's mammoth home run over the bull in Durham

The story of Luis Robert's mammoth home run over the bull in Durham

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Home runs simply don’t sound like this.

“We were all in awe.”

Those who were there say they’ve never seen one hit like this, either.

“It just disappeared into the night. The ball just kept on truckin’.”

Last August, White Sox prized outfield prospect Luis Robert grabbed a brand new bat in the Charlotte Knights dugout. From the on-deck circle, he joked to his teammates he was going to hit a home run.

“Because when I get a new bat I usually hit homers,” Robert said.

What happened next on this memorable night in Durham, N.C., only adds to the legend of Robert. He is still in the infancy of his young baseball career, but is already telling a special, even mythical story that will soon be adding many chapters when he makes his major league debut this spring in Chicago.

Those who witnessed Robert completely obliterate this one helpless baseball say they will never forget what they saw. They’re still talking about it six months later.

“I think everyone just looked at each other like, did that really just happen?” said Nick Madrigal, who was standing on first base.

Robert’s towering home run went so far into the darkness, nobody has any idea where it actually landed, which is even more perplexing considering what stands in left field at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, the Triple-A stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays.

First, there’s a 32-foot high fence they call the Blue Monster, named after the famous Green Monster at Fenway Park. Beyond that, there’s a concourse and concession area. And even beyond that, stands a massive 25-foot high snorting bull, made famous in the 1988 movie, "Bull Durham."

Durham Bulls players win a free steak whenever they hit the bull with a home run.

Robert’s homer sailed high over everything: the fence, the concession stand, even the enormous bull. Nothing but gravity could stop it.

“That was honestly the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. He should have gotten a steak for hitting it over the bull,” catcher Zack Collins said.

Robert believes it was the hardest contact he made on a baseball last year. Watching as the ball left the stadium (and possibly the city of Durham) in a heartbeat, his teammates aren’t going to disagree with him.

“One thing that stands out about that home run is how fast it got out. It got out in what felt like a matter of seconds,” Madrigal said. “It was still going by the time it got over the bull. That was one of the hardest hit home runs I’ve ever seen.”

Everyone in the ballpark watched in awe as the ball rocketed into infinity, everyone except Robert, of all people.

“When I hit that ball, I didn’t follow it. I didn’t know how far the ball went,” Robert explained through team interpreter Billy Russo. “Then my teammates told me how far it went and then I saw the video and I was impressed with myself. I saw in the news that they didn’t know if the ball has landed yet.”

Maybe it still hasn’t.

“The pitcher knew it immediately,” said Danny Mendick, who was playing shortstop that night. “And everyone (on the Bulls) just put their head down and was like, ‘Let’s just pretend this didn’t happen.’”

Robert began to realize the sheer enormity of his home run as soon as he trotted to first base.

“I remember I was running the bases and the first baseman said, ‘Damn bro,’” Robert said. “And the Latinos from the other team were saying, ‘You are an abusador.’”

That’s Spanish for the word “beast.”

“What I remember about that game was that homer. He hit the ball really high and it was over the bull,” said Yoan Moncada, who happened to be on a rehab assignment and batted in front of Robert that night. “It was impressive. When I played in Triple-A, I didn’t see anybody hit a homer like that.”

Which begs the question: has anyone ever hit a ball that far at that ballpark?

Scott Strickland is the assistant general manager of operations for the Durham Bulls. He’s worked there for 16 years. Is Robert’s home run the farthest ball he’s ever seen hit there?

“Yes. I would agree with that. I would absolutely agree with that,” Strickland said. “The way it disappeared, everyone was in shock. It was very quiet in the ballpark because it was so shockingly well struck.”

How far did it actually travel? No one will ever know, but what about an estimate?

“That ball more than likely landed on the street that’s behind the office building,” Strickland said.

So for the record, that would mean Robert hit the baseball over the fence, over the concession stand, over the 25-foot bull and now over an office building.

“I would estimate that he hit it north of 450, but probably between 450 and 475," Strickland said. "The hard part there is, that ball was still going up. It’s not like it was coming down as it was going over the bull’s head. It was still going up.”

That sounds more like over 500 to me.

And here’s the crazy part. Robert doesn’t think this was the longest home run he hit last season.

“The farthest I think was the one I hit in Birmingham. It was over the scoreboard,” Robert said.

If you’re wondering whatever happened to the bat Robert used to launch this majestic home run, it didn’t have much of a shelf life.

He says it eventually broke.

Robert played 47 games for Charlotte last season, slashing .297/.341/.634. The rest of the International League likely rejoiced when he signed that big extension with the White Sox this offseason, basically punching his ticket for the major leagues on Opening Day.

“He had played so well against us. The question was already going around, ‘What in the world is he doing down here?’ And then he hit that one,” Strickland said of Robert’s home run. “If there was a debate at all of whether or not this kid is a future star or a future big leaguer, then that question was 100 percent answered in that one swing.”

Somewhere somebody probably has the baseball from that one swing.

That is, unless it’s still going.

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