White Sox

Matt Davidson pulls a Babe Ruth, continues to be poster child for baseball's position player pitching trend

Matt Davidson pulls a Babe Ruth, continues to be poster child for baseball's position player pitching trend

Matt Davidson pulled a Babe Ruth on Monday night.

Generally, when you do something only The Bambino has done on a baseball field, that’s a good thing. At least it’s noteworthy.

Davidson made his third pitching appearance of the 2018 season in the White Sox loss to the visiting New York Yankees, a fulfillment of the desire he expressed after his previous outing not two weeks ago, when he said he hoped to explore an expansion of his pitching role.

He recorded his third scoreless inning in as many outings. His career ERA is still an unblemished 0.00. He struck out Giancarlo Stanton, who launched a major league best 59 home runs in 2017.

Oh, and he joined The Babe.

Position players taking the mound has historically been a humorous affair, but it’s becoming more and more common as teams routinely exhaust their bullpen pitchers. It means throwing a position player out there is a more strategic option that straining another inning of relief out of an arm that might be needed in a high-leverage situation in a future game.

During the White Sox now-concluded four-game winning streak, Rick Renteria used a lot of relief pitchers in close games. He used five Thursday against the Kansas City Royals, then five, three and five in a weekend sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays. That’s a lot of work for those arms. So, down seven runs in the ninth inning Monday, Davidson became a way to buy an extra day of rest for at least one of those pitchers.

“I don’t know how many days we’ve had on recently, but (pitching coach Don Cooper) said, ‘If this game gets a little bit more out of hand, we probably want to send you to the bullpen for these two days before the off day.’ Like we said, we won four straight, we were using matchups a lot, and the guys were working hard in getting outs and getting big outs in those situations,” Davidson said. “It’s cool to give them a break.”

Renteria is far from the only manager doing this. Just prior to Davidson’s third appearance of the campaign, Major League Baseball saw its 50th outing by a position player this season. Davidson only raised that number.

And while this is a strategy almost exclusively employed in games with lopsided scores, it’s not something only sub-.500 teams like the White Sox are doing. You don’t have to go back too far in July to get to the first-place Cubs using four different position players to pitch in one weekend.

Renteria stopped short of calling this baseball’s new normal, but it sure is a popular trend at this point. And having a player like Davidson on the roster, a position player who can do more than just throw batting practice — and now one of four position players since 1973 to start their pitching careers with three scoreless outings (per STATS LLC) — can be a valuable piece.

“Listen I don’t know if it’s a new normal,” Renteria said. “I’ve done it before, not as often as we’ve done it this year already. I think that the way and depending on how bullpens are used and how many you end up riding for a period of time, sometimes you need a respite, and you hope you can put someone in there who will be able to throw the ball over the plate. You don’t want to make it an embarrassing type of situation. Matty is able to at least throw strikes and has a couple of secondary pitches that seem to be fairly effective.

“When the need calls, if you happen to have a guy like Matty who can do that, then it’s worth doing it because you know he’s going to at least throw the ball over the plate. They have a chance of putting the ball in play, we have a chance to make plays. Sometimes you may not have that luxury, and as much as you want to keep it from becoming an embarrassing situation, you do it because it’s what needed at the particular time.”

Davidson’s talked before — he’s had two other opportunities — about his boyhood dreams of being a big league pitcher, and his experience pitching in high school is paying off big time now as he helps save the White Sox bullpen.

Monday, he didn’t exactly throw a no-hitter or get a big save. But he did toss a scoreless inning against the New York Yankees, something that probably didn’t seem too likely to happen just a couple of years ago.

“I’m enjoying it, it’s fun. I’ve said before that really it was a passion of mine growing up. It’s something that I did all the way through high school,” Davidson said. “I’ve said before, that was the dream for me, was pitching in the big leagues, growing up. Every kid dreams about hitting that walk-off home run, and I was dreaming about sticking that guy out. That’s how I first loved the game. So it is a dream.”

The dream is now a reality for Davidson. And if baseball keeps going in this direction, it will be a reality for plenty of other position players, too.

What José Abreu knew was coming: White Sox wins and playoff-style baseball

What José Abreu knew was coming: White Sox wins and playoff-style baseball

This is what José Abreu has been waiting for.

This is what Abreu knew was coming.

This is what Abreu was talking about when he spent the entirety of last year saying how badly he wanted to be part of the franchise’s bright future.

“Something very big,” he said last summer, forecasting what the White Sox were building, “and I don’t want to leave here.”

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He later admitted he never even considered playing for another team during his brief time as a free agent last offseason. Heck, he didn’t even really make it to the winter, signing his new three-year contract to stay on the South Side before Thanksgiving.

He believed in the future. And now he’s seeing it.

The White Sox won their fifth straight game Monday night, a 6-4 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers that was dripping with playoff feeling, the kind of vibe that’s been absent from South Side baseball during the majority of Abreu’s time here. He’s yet to play for a team that’s finished the season north of .500.

But Monday, he delivered the game’s clutchest hit: a two-run homer that sent a 4-2 deficit to a 4-all tie in the seventh inning. A wild pitch brought the go-ahead run home the following inning, and the White Sox were winners.

Abreu’s personal heroics alone aren’t what’s made this year different. Those we've seen before. It’s what’s going on around him.

On the same night Abreu blasted that ball to center field at Miller Park, the young players who enticed him to stick around showed what they can do, too. Luis Robert had a single, a pair of walks and two stolen bases. Yoán Moncada had three hits, including a ninth-inning home run. Nomar Mazara picked up a single in his first game in a White Sox uniform. And Nick Madrigal took a four-pitch walk that ended with that game-winning wild pitch.

Expand the scope to the last five games, all White Sox wins, and there’s a heaping helping of the kind of stuff Abreu knew was coming: Lucas Giolito turning in an ace-like performance last week in Cleveland, Robert and Eloy Jiménez both coming a triple away from the cycle Saturday in Kansas City and Madrigal knocking out four hits Sunday.

“It’s always good to be around this team we have right now, this group,” Abreu said through team interpreter Billy Russo on Monday night. “A lot of energy and passion, that motivates you more every day. … I was looking to make good contact in that at-bat (that resulted in the home run). It was very special. I want to keep doing those things for this team.”

RELATED: Streaking White Sox turn slow start around: 'All these games are must-win'

Of course, what made Abreu’s multi-year contract feel like an inevitability — apart from Abreu saying on multiple occasions that he’d sign himself if the White Sox didn’t put the papers in front of him — was that the relationship was a two-way street. Abreu voiced his love for the White Sox, and they returned the favor, talking about everything he’s brought to the team as a team leader and a role model for the young players.

A lineup that’s been so productive this season is well stocked with members of the José Abreu Mentorship Program. That lineup is capable of doing things no other White Sox lineup Abreu’s been a part of could do. And, whether this year or down the road, that could include the biggest of things.

“Frankly, my happiness for a guy like José will come once we're able to present him with a ring,” general manager Rick Hahn said before Opening Day, “because that's what he deserves based on what he's meant for this organization and his performance on the field. Certainly look forward to, hopefully, the opportunity to do that in the coming years with him.”

Abreu didn’t have to wait long to get a taste of a different kind of baseball, with Monday night’s game — just the 10th of this season — featuring a parade of edge-of-your-seat moments.

One of those intense moments? Abreu’s at-bat in the fifth inning. With Robert on base ahead of him, Abreu fought off one pitch after another in an 11-pitch at-bat. It ended in a strikeout, but it allowed Abreu to see just about everything Corbin Burnes had to offer. Two innings later, Abreu homered off Burnes to tie the game.

"Those at-bats put you in a good position for next time you face the pitcher," Abreu said. "That at-bat was the key for me to get a homer in the next at-bat. I saw those pitches and was prepared for what he wanted to do. Even though I struck out, that was a really key moment and at-bat for me."

That’s the kind of player Abreu’s been all along. Now, he’s doing it in the middle of a potent lineup on a team with realistic postseason expectations.

RELATED: Nick Madrigal's four-hit day shows what White Sox newest core member can do

Intensity was hard to come by for viewers over three rebuilding seasons that featured a combined 284 losses. One five-game winning streak won’t wash all those rebuilding-era losses away by itself, but the White Sox are over .500 and in second place in the AL Central. That’s playoff position in this bizarre season with an eight-team American League playoff field. Fans are starting to get a little giddy, and the players are certainly recognizing a different feel in the clubhouse after they turned around a 1-4 start.

But this is Abreu we’re talking about.

Moncada might be stylish, Robert might be fast, and Jiménez might be fun-loving. But they all have one thing in common learned from their time in the José Abreu Mentorship Program: They work hard.

And so with the White Sox streaking, leave it to Abreu to deliver the most Abreu of messages.

“We can’t get too comfortable. We need to do our job and keep working because we need to get more results,” he said. “This is no time, by any means, to get comfortable and think we are a finished product. We need to keep working.”


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White Sox Quick Takes: Why Ross Detwiler’s dominance could be for real

White Sox Quick Takes: Why Ross Detwiler’s dominance could be for real

While it was unsettling to see Carlos Rodón leave Monday’s game after just two innings because of left shoulder soreness, a potential replacement may have been reaffirmed later in the game.

The White Sox are now on a five-game winning streak after a 6-4 win over the Brewers in Milwaukee and Ross Detwiler has played a huge role in the team’s early success. After starting his season by getting 16 straight outs, Detwiler came up big again Monday, striking out three Brewers in 1.1 innings of relief. That included picking off Ben Gamel to end the sixth inning and pitching over two defensive miscues in the seventh that nearly gave the Brewers the lead. With the go-ahead run at third base, Detwiler struck out Eric Sogard to end the threat.

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“Everybody has seen what he’s been able to do for us,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said after the game. “He’s eating up innings, big key innings, to keep us in ballgames.”

With Rodón status suddenly uncertain (he’ll be re-evaluated Tuesday), Detwiler could be the logical choice to take over as the team’s fifth starter if needed. And while there’s some understandable skepticism about using him in that role (he had a 6.59 ERA in 2019 with 12 starts), there’s reason to believe Detwiler's recent success is for real.

And that reason is simple: he’s healthy now.

“It’s been a huge thing for me. I had surgery in October on my landing hip,” Detwiler said. “Even (pitching coach Don Cooper) said I didn’t have a sinker last year and that’s been a huge pitch for me in the past.”

He has it now and it’s making a big difference. Whether Detwiler is needed to start games or continue his role in the bullpen, it’s becoming clear the 34-year-old is going to be a big piece of the puzzle in 2020.

He did what?

It’s not too often you walk the bases loaded to get to Christian Yelich, but Renteria did exactly that in the fifth inning. With Jace Fry pitching, Renteria opted to intentionally walk Keston Hiura to get to Yelich. The White Sox were hoping for a double play ball, but Fry struck out Yelich instead.

The move paid off, albeit briefly. Steve Cishek entered the game to face Avi García, who managed to squeeze a groundball through the left side of the infield for a two-RBI single, giving the Brewers a 4-2 lead.

Moncada OK?

Considering Yoán Moncada finished the game and even hit a solo home run in the ninth inning, there probably shouldn’t be too much concern about his health. Still, it seemed noticeable that he walked gingerly to the dugout after scoring on a sacrifice fly in the first inning and was later seen shaking out his leg at third base in the third inning.

One might even argue Moncada’s range appeared limited on García’s go-ahead single in the fifth. Cishek certainly reacted like he thought he got out of the inning.

Perhaps it’s nothing. Perhaps it’s something to watch.

Abreu Burnes the Brewers

It was pretty surprising to see Brewers manager Craig Counsell allow Corbin Burnes to pitch to Jose Abreu in the seventh inning with Milwaukee holding onto a 4-2 lead. Burnes and Abreu battled through an intense 11-pitch at-bat in the fifth inning that eventually ended in a strikeout. But Abreu saw every pitch Burnes throws and by the seventh, the right-hander’s velocity was down a tick. It was clear Burnes was tiring.

“Even though I struck out, I think that was the most important at-bat of the night for me,” Abreu said.

That’s because it gave him a huge advantage the next time around, especially after getting a 3-0 count. The next pitch was a 95.3 mile per hour fastball that Abreu deposited over the center field wall to tie the game 4-4. By comparison, in the fifth, Burnes’ fastball touched 98 against Abreu.

Living on base

When Leury García grounded out in the ninth inning, it ended a streak of reaching base 10 times in a row. He finished the game with three hits, already his third three-hit game of the season. Not bad for a super utility man who has already played shortstop, second base and right field this season.

But García’s biggest play of the night was beating out a double play in the eighth inning. That allowed him to score the go ahead run later in the inning on a wild pitch, giving the White Sox a 5-4 lead they would not relinquish.

On Deck

If you thought Monday’s game was good (and it felt like a playoff game at times), Tuesday’s matchup in Milwaukee features two outstanding pitchers as Lucas Giolito (0-1, 6.52 ERA) faces Brandon Woodruff (1-1, 1.59 ERA). Both pitchers are coming off an extra day of rest. The White Sox will look to win their sixth straight game, a streak that started when Giolito pitched a gem in Cleveland to jumpstart the then 1-4 White Sox.

 

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