White Sox

Ivan Nova isn't going anywhere, but on the field, the White Sox aren't getting what they expected out of the veteran so far

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USA TODAY

Ivan Nova isn't going anywhere, but on the field, the White Sox aren't getting what they expected out of the veteran so far

Ivan Nova struggling is different than some of the other White Sox pitchers struggling.

It seems pretty obvious that Nova, who the White Sox traded for over the offseason to be this year’s version of James Shields, isn’t in any danger of getting jettisoned from the starting rotation, like Ervin Santana was earlier this season. With the starting staff in the fragile state it’s in — perhaps turning to Ross Detwiler if necessary Monday night in Houston — the White Sox might even be rethinking that decision to move on from the Ervin Santana Experiment after just three starts.

Nova has certainly had his good moments, and he doesn’t deserve to have people marching toward him with torches and pitchforks any more than any other White Sox starter. Four of his nine starts this year have been quality starts, including the two prior to Friday’s. And just because some of the other results haven't been pretty, it doesn't mean he isn't having the desired effect inside the White Sox clubhouse as a positive influence on young pitchers.

But on the field, Friday was one of the bad ones. Nova gave up nine runs, eight of them earned, and lasted just three innings. Three of the eight hits he gave up to the Toronto Blue Jays, who entered with the worst offense in the American League, left the ballpark. Nova’s given up 10 home runs in his last five starts, which is obviously not good. To be fair, though, Shields gave up 34 homers last season and still got showered with praise for being an innings-eater and a mentor to the team’s young pitchers. That likely won't come as much comfort to White Sox fans.

“I didn't have command of my pitches,” Nova said after Friday's game. “Didn't throw my curveball for a strike. Threw a slider that didn't do nothing. Didn't command the changeup. I missed my command today. I was walking people, falling behind guys and paid the price.

"You never want to give up a lot of homers, obviously, that's how they do a lot of damage. You want to keep the ball in the park. It's off so far, but we continue to work on it."

Nova is earning much of the same ire being directed at every struggling White Sox starter by fans who see Dylan Cease putting up one quality start after another at Triple-A Charlotte and wonder why he can’t come to the South Side and take the place of guys who just aren’t performing.

Of course, as general manager Rick Hahn has said, a need for starting pitching at the big league level won’t have anything to do with when Cease makes his eventual major league debut later this season. But the frustration is understandable from this standpoint: Some of these starting pitchers have to get some outs.

Things have stabilized a bit lately, and a staff that had just one seven-inning effort for much of the season has gotten a few of them in recent weeks. Lucas Giolito is the team’s most reliable starting pitching at the moment, chasing away the demons of 2018, when he had the highest ERA in baseball. Reynaldo Lopez had an ERA north of 12.00 after his first three starts of the campaign but has chopped that in half since. Manny Banuelos went on the injured list Friday, a move plenty of fans on Twitter greeted with sarcasm that Banuelos — who has a 9.15 ERA as a starter this season — was no great loss for the rotation. With the organization’s starting-pitching depth what it is, that’s clearly not the case.

But Nova is different. He carried with him some expectations of the kind of performance the White Sox could expect coming into the 2019 season. In the three seasons prior to this one, Nova had a combined 4.16 ERA and averaged 170 innings a year. At the moment, Nova owns a 7.42 ERA and has averaged a little more than five innings an outing.

Shields didn’t always mow down opposing lineups, but the consistency of what he did deliver was invaluable in 2018. Nova was supposed to do more of the same. He hasn’t so far in 2019. If Nova can’t deliver on being an innings-eater, that’s troublesome for a pitching staff that’s been plagued in the season’s first month and a half by brief outings that have led to a taxed bullpen.

Given Nova’s veteran status, there’s more confidence, perhaps, that he can figure things out, that performances like Friday’s won’t be the norm for long. But so far, Nova’s been Jekyll and Hyde: really good when he’s on (a 1.38 ERA in his four good starts) and really not good when he isn’t (a 14.77 ERA in five tough starts).

"You would hope that they're capable of doing it quickly,” manager Rick Renteria said when asked how fast Nova might be able to right the ship. “But if a guy doesn't have it and you're trying to get him through working as deep as he can, even though his pitch count got up there. Obviously we've had a mixed bag, and today just wasn't one of his better days."

Those better days are going to have to start coming if the White Sox are going to get what they expected out of Nova. There’s no “growing pains” or “continued development” excuses for the veteran.

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Rebuild, meet overdrive: Eloy Jimenez provides best snapshot of White Sox progress yet

Rebuild, meet overdrive: Eloy Jimenez provides best snapshot of White Sox progress yet

A rebuild, White Sox fans know all too well, takes place over a lengthy period of time. Progression, development, these aren’t things easily pointed to as a single moment.

Allow Eloy Jimenez to provide an exception to the rule.

The White Sox contention window might not have been yanked open with one broken-bat homer to beat the Crosstown-rival Cubs on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field. But Jimenez’s game-winner was the best single image yet of the direction Rick Hahn’s rebuilding project is moving.

Surely you don’t need a refresher on the highlight seen ‘round Chicagoland by now, but take a second to realize how incredible, how unscriptable it was: Jimenez, traded away by the Cubs two summers ago, up in a tie game in the ninth inning in his first game at the ballpark he always assumed would be where he’d be playing his big league games. Well, he finally played a big league game inside the Friendly Confines — and he delivered an unforgettable moment for the team on the other side of town.

Yeah, maybe it’s perhaps a little hyperbolic, maybe it’s a pure reaction to the moment, but: Rebuild, meet overdrive.

“We’re playing in the city of champions,” manager Rick Renteria said after the game. “The White Sox were champions at one time, the Cubbies have been champions. You have a history of basketball and football. It’s the city of champions, so a lot is expected of them. They’re starting to embrace it, understand it and revel in it.”

Talk of championships might seem a tad premature for these White Sox, still under .500 even after Jimenez blasted them to dramatic victory on the North Side. But then again, that’s been the end goal of the rebuild from Day 1. Rick Hahn has said repeatedly that the rebuild won’t be a success unless there’s a parade.

Jimenez’s homer came in June, not October. But it cranked the dial even further on the blindingly bright future these White Sox are building.

Lucas Giolito is providing examples of progress every time he steps on the mound these days. Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert and Dylan Cease are doing their part, too. But no one has been as central a part of the future than Jimenez, the guy who’s supposed to be the middle-of-the-order power bat in this lineup for the next decade. The way he delivered Tuesday made for a flag-planting type moment on the White Sox journey up baseball’s mountain.

“We all knew the talent was there from the get-go as soon as the club acquired him. It was just a matter of time for him to get to the big leagues, get comfortable in the big leagues,” Giolito said after the game. “I think he's getting comfortable with the big leagues a lot faster than I would've predicted. He's a really, really good player, great teammate. Can't say enough good things about Eloy. He really delivered for us tonight, and it was a big one.”

Again, it’s June. It’s a game against a National League opponent, not exactly the kind of game that helps chew up the deficit separating the White Sox and the out-of-this-world Minnesota Twins at the top of the AL Central. But within these city limits, it’s hard to imagine a bigger stage than this.

The media swarmed Jimenez postgame, causing him to express some shock at the number of cameras and recorders suddenly thrust in his face. He’s been asked a million times what it would be like to play in Wrigley Field. When he rounded first base, the smile on his face — a permanent fixture — was enormous. He gave a huge clap when he touched home plate. Were the emotions what he’d been dreaming of?

“Yes,” was the only verbal response. The body language told a much richer story. He let out ebullient sounds that brought to mind Tim “The Toolman” Taylor. The smile nearly got too big for his face.

These were the Cubs he just beat, a team so often the comparison point for these White Sox. They’re trying to find their way through the same total rebuild the Cubs went through. And without these Cubs, the White Sox might not be as far along as they currently are. Thanks to that trade, which brought Jimenez and Dylan Cease into starring roles in this rebuild, the championship future Hahn has envisioned looks realistic. It looks closer.

The North Siders came out the other end of a rebuild champions. The White Sox have their eyes on the same result.

It might not happen tomorrow, even if the bright spots are shining through now more than ever. But it’s something the White Sox are fully chasing. This is the city of champions, after all.

“It means a lot because we’re fighting for a spot in the playoffs,” Jimenez said. “We have been playing really good and I think that was a good victory for us.”

A good victory for now. A good victory for later. A good victory, indeed.

That was a storybook ending. And it’s only the end of Act I, Scene I.

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White Sox Talk Podcast: Eloy Jimenez drives to Wrigley with Chuck, then drives a dagger into the Cubs hearts

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Eloy Jimenez drives to Wrigley with Chuck, then drives a dagger into the Cubs hearts

For his first regular season game ever against the Cubs, Eloy Jimenez got a ride from Chuck Garfien which started at Guaranteed Rate Field, stopped at Wrigley Field and ended with Jimenez hitting the game-winning home run in the 9th. First, Vinnie Duber joins Chuck to discuss how Jimenez homered despite breaking his bat (2:00). On the ride, Jimenez' talks about playing at Wrigley (8:20), what Cubs fans say to him now that he's on the White Sox (10:00), how he persuaded Rick Renteria to let him pinch-hit against the Cubs in a spring training game in 2018, and homered (11:30), what his mother thinks of him saying "Hi Mom" (14:30), Jimenez sings hip-hop (17:40), why a home run against the Cubs would mean so much (24:50), his reaction when the Cubs traded him to the White Sox (27:20) and more.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: