White Sox

Major League Baseball hands Welington Castillo an 80-game suspension after positive test for banned substance

Major League Baseball hands Welington Castillo an 80-game suspension after positive test for banned substance

A day after it was reported that Welington Castillo would receive an 80-game suspension for violating baseball’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs, Major League Baseball made it official and announced the ban.

Castillo, the veteran catcher brought in by the White Sox this past offseason, tested positive for a banned substance, per the league’s announcement, and was handed the 80-game suspension for first-time offenders.

Castillo released a statement a few hours after the suspension was officially handed down.

“I was recently notified by Major League Baseball that I had tested positive for EPO, a substance that is prohibited under MLB’s Joint Drug Agreement,” he said. “The positive test resulted from an extremely poor decision that I, and I alone, made. I take full responsibility for my conduct. I have let many people down, including my family, my teammates, the White Sox organization and its fans, and from my heart, I apologize. Following my suspension, I look forward to rejoining my teammates and doing whatever I can to help the White Sox win.”
It was the first time since new, harsher rules were put in place in 2005 in the wake of baseball’s steroid era that the White Sox have had a major league player suspended for such an offense.

Reports Wednesday night — which came out while Castillo was playing in the White Sox game against the visiting Baltimore Orioles, his former team — indicated that Castillo did not test positive for a steroid, but rather for a non-steroid performance-enhancing drug. Baseball's announcement indicated that Castillo tested positive for Erythropoietin, a performance-enhancing substance.

White Sox general manager Rick Hahn released a statement on the suspension: "The Chicago White Sox were saddened and disappointed to learn of the suspension of catcher Welington Castillo for violating Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. Welington has apologized to the team and his teammates and has taken full responsibility for his actions.  He understands that he has negatively affected the team and has fallen short of the expectations we have of our players.  The White Sox fully support Major League Baseball's policy and its efforts to eliminate performance enhancing substances from our game.”

Castillo has a key role on this White Sox team as a veteran catcher tasked with helping to develop a group of young pitchers, two of whom are seen as very important pieces of the organization’s ongoing rebuilding effort: Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez. How Castillo’s 80-game absence affects their development remains to be seen. Omar Narvaez, not as adept defensively behind the plate as Castillo, will take over as the team’s No. 1 catcher.

While the White Sox work to develop a specific identity and culture through this rebuilding process, this suspension seemingly flies in the face of what manager Rick Renteria is attempting to create with his preaching of playing hard, playing the right way and giving everything you’ve got. It was Castillo who was benched earlier this week for not running to first base on a popup. Renteria has done that several times this year, and it makes one wonder how such an egregious violation of baseball’s rulebook will be handled inside the clubhouse both during and after Castillo’s suspension.

Castillo’s future is also a topic of discussion in the wake of this news. He signed a two-year deal with the White Sox during the offseason, and there’s a team option for a third. It seemed to be an addition that would act as a bridge to highly ranked catching prospect Zack Collins, who along with fellow catching prospect Seby Zavala is having a nice offensive season at Double-A Birmingham. Collins and Zavala aren’t necessarily close to hitting the major leagues, and if this suspension should change Castillo’s future with the team, perhaps it could impact those prospects’ futures, as well. Maybe Castillo wouldn’t be around to provide a veteran safety net in 2020 or whenever they reach the big leagues.

With Kevan Smith, who lost out on the backup catcher’s job in spring training, on the disabled list at Triple-A Charlotte, the White Sox brought Alfredo Gonzalez up from the minors to serve as the backup to Narvaez and take Castillo’s spot on the active roster. But it’s possible Gonzalez will be just a temporary solution until Smith returns to full health.

Carlos Rodon's first win in 10 months showed he could still be the ace of the future for White Sox

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Carlos Rodon's first win in 10 months showed he could still be the ace of the future for White Sox

As encouraging as the reports are on many of the White Sox’s minor-league pitching prospects, Carlos Rodon’s effort against the Athletics on Sunday at Guaranteed Rate Field could prove just as significant to the rebuild on the South Side.

Looking much like the ace the Sox envisioned prior to Rodon’s rough 2017 season that ended with shoulder surgery, the left-hander put together his most successful effort of ’18 during a 10-3 drubbing of the Athletics before a sun-drenched crowd of 21,908.

Making his fourth start of the season, Rodon matched a career-high by going eight innings. He yielded two runs on seven hits with no walks and three strikeouts. Rodon earned his first win of the season to help the Sox salvage a split of the four-game series.

“I felt good today—a lot of strikes,” Rodon said. “It was good to go eight and just be ahead of guys.”

Helping matters for Rodon was an offensive explosion by the Sox, led by Yoan Moncada’s career-high six RBIs. After falling behind 2-0, the Sox plated five runs in each of the fifth and sixth innings as Moncada cleared the bases with a double off the base of the wall in the fifth and launched his 10th home run of the season to drive in three more an inning later.

“Today was a great day,” Moncada said via a team interpreter. “I just went out to play the game the way that I play. Just to have fun. It was a very good game for me.”

Daniel Palka and Yolmer Sanchez also homered as the Sox won for just the second time in their last 11 games.

Rodon was the happy recipient of the run support to win his first game since Aug. 21, 2017, against the Twins. On Sunday, he threw 99 pitches, 69 for strikes and was consistently in the mid-90s with his fastball.

“I’m looking to do that every time out,” Rodon said. “Just show up and establish the strike zone with the fastball and be aggressive.”

The 25-year-old’s second-inning strikeout of Khris Davis was the 400th of Rodon’s career. It is a career that is continuing after a surgery that was a setback, but one that did not derail Rodon’s confidence that he would again pitch effectively.

“There are up-and-down days when you go through shoulder surgery or any surgery for any player,” Rodon said. “You've just got to work through it and try to make your way back. I'm here now and it’s looking up and I’m trying to get better.”

So is it reasonable to view Rodon as the future ace after all?

“You certainly can’t discount that,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He has to go out there and continue to get his feet underneath him and get through the rest of the season healthy and climbing.”

In other Sox pitching news, Renteria said starter Dylan Covey, who was removed in the fifth inning of Saturday’s game due to a hip flexor injury, “felt better” Sunday and the team will continue to monitor the right-hander’s progress.

Meanwhile, veteran Miguel Gonzalez made a rehab start for Triple-A Charlotte as he continues to recover from inflammation in his right rotator cuff. Gonzalez went three innings and allowed one hit with a walk and a strikeout. Outfielder Eloy Jimenez belted his first homer for the Knights in the game.

Joakim Soria knows he is turning into a valuable trade asset for White Sox

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Joakim Soria knows he is turning into a valuable trade asset for White Sox

No one knows better than Joakim Soria that the more successful he is as the White Sox’s closer, there is an increased likelihood that the veteran right-hander will be headed out of town at some point.

Soria has not only solidified the back end of the bullpen, the 34-year-old has emerged as perhaps the Sox’s most valuable trade asset to a contending team in need of relief help.

Over this last 14 appearances, Soria has not allowed an earned run and has converted all seven save chances with five hits allowed, two walks and 15 strikeouts.

“My body feels good and my arm feels good,” Soria said before the Sox defeated the Athletics 10-3 on a sunny Sunday afternoon at Guaranteed Rate Field. “I come to the ballpark expecting to pitch and … I try to be out there and help this team win.”

While the Sox haven’t done a whole lot of winning of late—Sunday’s win was just their second in their last 11 games—when they are victorious it’s accompanied by a Soria save. With the Sox’s rebuild in full swing, Soria understands that general manager Rick Hahn won’t hesitate to flip him in a trade.

“Players say they don’t think about it but you have to think about it,” said Soria, who was acquired from the Royals on Jan. 4 in a three-team trade also involving the Dodgers. “When you have a family with three kids and a wife you have to be prepared for everything. But it’s not like I come to the field thinking about that. It’s just God’s plan and whatever happens it’s a business and you prepare.”

Soria has 215 career saves, including 162 in seven seasons with the Royals, but hadn’t been a full-time closer since notching a combined 24 saves with the Tigers and Pirates. With the Sox, Soria won the closing job over fellow veteran Nate Jones in spring training and has been nearly unhittable in recent weeks.

Over his last 13 2/3 innings pitched, Soria has held opponents to a .109 batting average and sports a 2.89 ERA for the season. He has issued five walks in 28 innings and is averaging 10.29 strikeouts per nine innings pitched.

The two-time All-Star has settled in nicely in a Sox clubhouse featuring a mix of veterans and promising talents. Soria has to balance that with the knowledge he might not be around as the season progresses.

“It’s something I can’t control,” Soria said. “I have a really good relationship with these guys and the chemistry with this team is very good. I can’t think outside of the box because (a trade) hasn’t happened yet. You have to keep focused and be ready for today’s game.”