White Sox

Inside the White Sox's first 'Summer Camp' workout at Guaranteed Rate Field

Inside the White Sox's first 'Summer Camp' workout at Guaranteed Rate Field

The camp counselor gathered the kids in a circle, making sure they were spaced out properly. He shouted out instructions, slowly turning to make eye contact with everyone. Eventually the kids broke the circle and got on with their activities.

This might sound like a normal summer camp to you, but it most definitely is not. In this case, the camp counselor was White Sox manager Rick Renteria, who was wearing a mask. And the children were actually grown men -- White Sox players -- keeping a wide enough circle for proper social distancing.

Welcome to MLB “Summer Camp” in a global pandemic.

Shortly after 9 a.m. Friday, players started to trickle out of both the home and visitor dugout at Guaranteed Rate Field for the first workout session of the White Sox’s attempt to begin a season that was supposed to start over three months ago. Some players, like Dylan Cease, wore the same uniform worn in Arizona during spring training. Others, like Lucas Giolito and Steve Cishek, wore generic black workout tops. Tim Anderson sported a “Change The Game” shirt, representing the team’s 2020 slogan.

Indeed, the game has changed. Sure, Friday morning's session on the South Side was refreshing because the sounds of baseball were back, but there was also a distinct “should-we-really-be-here?” kind of vibe in the stadium.

“Boy, it was just fun this morning to be back out on the field and seeing guys playing catch,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. “Just hearing the sound of baseballs … today was a was a nice step forward for all of us, but there’s going to be challenges along the way.”

One of those challenges is that Major League Baseball teams are being tasked with executing a second spring training with access to only one field, all while maintaining proper distancing. For the White Sox, that means using both clubhouses in the stadium and adding more lockers to areas where furniture sat before. It means adding extra batting cages and pitching mounds to the service tunnel on the ground level. And, most importantly, it means everyone, from coaches to players to support staff to employees to reporters, doing their due diligence to keep everyone healthy. Everyone -- including reporters -- have to get their temperature taken when entering the ballpark.

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“We have two groups, two separate groups, one in the morning, one in the afternoon,” Hahn said. “And then we have sort of A and B groups within those groups to help keep the rotation going and keep guys socially distant from each other …  These are going to be a little bit longer days in order to get everyone their work in and do it in a safe and responsible way. But you’ve got to look at it from a net positive standpoint. There may be some challenges associated with it, but the bottom line is we’re building towards playing baseball.”

Manager Ricky Renteria set an opportant tone as he made the rounds on the field Friday. In his usual jovial manner, he joked to his players: “You can finally see my face!” Except they couldn’t, because he was properly wearing a mask throughout the morning workout. In fact, most of the coaching staff wore masks.

“Wear your masks for goodness sake,” Renteria said later.

On the field, cones were spaced out along both foul lines to keep players distanced from each other during warmups. Giolito and Cease played catch and long toss in the outfield, as pitching coach Don Cooper looked on from the bullpen. Cishek threw a bullpen session on the newly constructed pitching mound down the left field line. And eventually, Eloy Jimenez took a bat and started smashing baseballs into the seats during a hitting a session.

These indeed were signs that Major League Baseball games are on track to return, potentially in just 20 days. But there were also enough signs around the ballpark -- including the silent concourses that will be even more deafening when games return without fans -- to remind everyone that it won’t take much to stop the progress that is being made.

As of Friday, the White Sox were not ready to announce results of their COVID-19 testing as players arrived at the facility this week. Hahn said when the numbers are available, the team will announce how many tests were done and how many positive tests were recorded, if any. As good as it felt to be back on a baseball field, Hahn knows that any given test can lead to a sobering reality check. He admitted that he doesn’t want to see head trainer Brian Ball’s name pop up on his phone.

“Today was a real nice step back towards normal, but we realize what we're dealing with is going to be day to day," Hahn said. "We have to continue to understand that the health and safety of our players, staff and community are of the utmost importance with baseball being secondary to that at many times over the course of next few months. You know, ideal world, we go through this unscathed and get through October and have a successful season.”

The ideal world would be nice, but the White Sox, like everyone else, realize that nothing is ideal right now.

 

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Aaron Bummer latest to join big White Sox contingent on injured list

Aaron Bummer latest to join big White Sox contingent on injured list

In the last eight days, the White Sox have put four players on the injured list.

Aaron Bummer, arguably the team's best and most important relief pitcher, became the latest to join the sizable contingent of banged-up South Siders when the team sent him to the 10-day injured list Saturday morning with a biceps strain.

Bummer departed Friday night's game against the Cleveland Indians with biceps soreness after noticing something was amiss when he threw a pitch in the seventh inning. That pitch was immediately preceded by a throwing error, Bummer spiking a throw to first base into the ground and putting two men on base with two outs. Bummer got a visit from the trainer and left shortly thereafter.

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The 26-year-old lefty emerged as a key cog in the White Sox bullpen with an excellent 2019 campaign, posting a 2.13 ERA in 67.2 innings of work. He's off to a similarly terrific start this season, with a 1.23 ERA in 7.1 innings.

The White Sox added Bummer to the group of young players they've locked up with long-term contracts in the last few seasons, and after getting that deal in spring training, he's under team control through the 2026 season.

Without him, manager Rick Renteria will have to turn to other options for high-leverage situations. Closer Alex Colomé, as well as Evan Marshall and Jimmy Cordero, have been strong in continuing their late-inning roles from a season ago. Rookie Codi Heuer and veteran Ross Detwiler have also been mighty impressive as part of a generally strong White Sox relief corps so far this season, and both could see more action in higher leverage spots.

Bummer's injury adds to a lengthy list for the White Sox. The team has 40 percent of its Opening Day starting rotation on the injured list along with its starting middle infield and top relief arm.

The injury updates from general manager Rick Hahn earlier this week were relatively positive, and none of the current injuries — aside from that of young pitcher Jimmy Lambert — seem to be of the long-term variety. However, in a season such as this one, which is already more than 23 percent over and done with, even missing the minimum 10 days of an injured-list stay is akin to missing a month during a normal campaign.

RELATED: White Sox in the thick of it as AL Central race with Indians, Twins heats up

Per Hahn, injured starting pitchers Carlos Rodón and Reynaldo López, both on the IL with shoulder soreness, could be back in the next few weeks. Shortstop Tim Anderson, put on the injured list last weekend with a groin strain, is expected back when his 10 days are up in the coming days. Second baseman Nick Madrigal, whose Tuesday-night shoulder separation looked like it could have been something significantly worse, could be back in action in just a couple weeks. And designated hitter Edwin Encarnación, who also left Tuesday night's game early, missed an IL trip altogether, even though he remains out of the lineup for a fourth straight day with SC joint inflammation.

And now Bummer. It's a long list of maladies for these White Sox, worrisome in any scenario but perhaps more costly in a short season in which numerous players talked about staying healthy as a hopeful competitive advantage. But the White Sox are certainly not the only major league team bitten by the injury bug through the first couple weeks of this most unusual season, the months-long layoff and a brief ramp-up period before Opening Day figuring to have something to do with that.

The White Sox, expectedly, will continue to soldier on with pro sports teams' favorite mentality: next man up. The team called on a pair of arms from its alternate training site in Schaumburg, bringing local favorite and 2016 first-round draft pick Zack Burdi to the major leagues, along with Drew Anderson. The bullpen churn also saw the White Sox designate Brady Lail for assignment Saturday morning.


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White Sox in the thick of it as AL Central race with Indians, Twins heats up

White Sox in the thick of it as AL Central race with Indians, Twins heats up

This AL Central race is going to be fun.

It looked like the Minnesota Twins might have blitzed right past the White Sox in the season’s first weekend, issuing a 14-2 clubbing on their way out of Chicago in the decisive third game of that series. The White Sox went on to Northeast Ohio and dropped the first two of that three-game set against the Cleveland Indians, and a 1-4 start threw some chilly Great Lakes water on the preseason thought of the South Siders running with the class of the division in this season’s 60-game sprint to October.

But the White Sox turned their 1-4 start around with a six-game win streak. And after a 2-0 nail-biter of a win over the Indians on Friday night that reshuffled the standings, the Pale Hose have now won their last five games against division foes, including a pair against these Clevelanders.

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The intensity’s been there all week. After a sweep of the Kansas City Royals, the first three of the White Sox four games against the Milwaukee Brewers had a distinct playoff-style feel to them, well pitched, closely decided contests that struck as the most intense games the White Sox have played in years.

Be it the compressed nature of this season’s schedule or the fact that these White Sox are finally equipped to compete for a division title, this is unlike anything that’s graced the South Side in some time.

“We're treating every game like a must-win,” White Sox starting pitcher Dylan Cease said Friday night. “These games definitely don't have the same feeling as Game 15 of a 162-game season. We're coming to the ballpark to win every day."

When it comes to the Twins, atop the Central standings with 10 wins — one of only two major league squads to hit double digits to this point, even with back-to-back defeats at the hands of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Royals — it seems the White Sox will have to win a few more home run derbies the likes of which we saw in that opening weekend.

But runs have been somewhat scarce for the White Sox after they scored a combined 20 runs and banged out a total of 35 hits in winning the final two games of that series last weekend in Kansas City. They’ve scored just eight times in their last four games combined. There’s more than one way to win a game, of course, and as injuries continue to make the White Sox dugout look like the Tune Squad bench late in that game against the Monstars, the South Siders have figured out a few others besides blowing up the scoreboard.

Friday night’s playoff feel brought the Indians’ sensational pitching staff to Guaranteed Rate Field, and Aaron Civale was just about as good as he was against the White Sox last week in Cleveland. He didn’t pile up the strikeouts this time, but he still pitched seven innings of one-run ball, the lone run he gave up coming home on a first-inning double-play grounder.

Cease, somewhat miraculously, countered with five shutout innings of his own despite putting nearly the entire city of Cleveland on base. He walked five guys, including issuing four leadoff walks, hit another and allowed a couple of hits. Thankfully for Cease and the White Sox, though, he also came up with multiple clutch, inning-ending double-play balls, and the defense was excellent behind him and a trio of relievers, the first two of which had as much trouble keeping the bases clear as Cease did.

You want playoff-style drama? Scatter the bases with potential runs every inning and watch the pitchers dance their way out of one jam after another.

RELATED: White Sox confident Eloy Jiménez will improve defense after outfield miscue

That’s not going to fly on a regular basis, obviously, but it sure made for some heart-pounding baseball, which is — as anyone who was pulling double duty with playoff hockey Friday night knows — fun.

“I can't expect those kinds of results if I'm going to have that many base runners all the time,” Cease said. “Fortunately, we were able to get out of here with a 'W,' but it's not something that's going to be sustainable. So I have to do a better job of getting ahead and not doing that.”

The onslaught of high-caliber Cleveland pitching continues the rest of the weekend, and who knows if the White Sox will be able to solve it as they barely did Friday. Zach Plesac, who stymied the White Sox with 11 strikeouts in eight shutout innings last week, is up Saturday. Then it’s a heck of a pitching matchup Sunday, with Lucas Giolito facing off against current AL Cy Young front-runner Shane Bieber, who’s struck out 35 hitters in his first three starts of the season.

That game ought to be another dandy, and with a frequently showcased rivalry between the Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals waved off this weekend, the White Sox will step into the nationally televised spotlight Sunday night, the perfect spot for such a pitching matchup and a division race that’s heating up like this one is. The White Sox swapped spots with the Indians on Friday, into second place and two games back of the Twins. The Indians are just two and a half games behind the division leaders.

“Both of those teams are very good clubs,” White Sox outfielder Adam Engel said of the Twins and Indians. “Two totally different makeups, they win games differently. We have a pretty balanced attack ourselves. It’s fun playing good baseball against good teams.

“The Indians, it seems like every time they come to town or we go to Cleveland, we are facing some pretty good arms. Makes it fun. You just have to stay disciplined, stay really focused in your work. It always feels like you’re going to be part of a good baseball game.

“Those are two tough teams, and hopefully we can keep playing them well.”

RELATED: Rick Renteria: Tim Anderson, not Luis Robert, will be White Sox leadoff man

Obviously, everything’s felt different this season. There are no fans in the stands, COVID-19 is constantly threatening the completion of the campaign, and a brief ramp up to Opening Day has made for a high number of injuries across the league.

But there’s a different feeling on the South Side, too, for much more positive reasons. This team has been talking about its high expectations for months, and they’ve got a roster that looks capable of living up to them. While an expanded playoff field gives the White Sox a pretty good chance of reaching the postseason, they’ve still got their eyes on the biggest prizes, and the first one of those is the Central crown.

They’ve played just 14 games. But it sure feels like a pennant race.

“I don’t remember ever really watching scoreboards so closely as a team through the first couple of weeks in the season,” Engel said. “We come in off the field and we want to see what’s going on around the league, or we’re announcing what scores are postgame for different teams. You control what you can control, and you want to win as many games as you can. But we’re all keeping our eyes on the scoreboard, and I’m sure it’s like that league-wide.

“Everybody kind of feels like they’re in it right now, and 60 games, this is going to be a heck of a season. I’m excited that we’re playing good baseball right now. Hopefully we can keep it going.”


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