White Sox

Not exactly a Matt Davidson moment, but Jose Rondon becomes latest position player to pitch for White Sox

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USA TODAY

Not exactly a Matt Davidson moment, but Jose Rondon becomes latest position player to pitch for White Sox

It's safe to say Jose Rondon probably doesn't have ambitions of becoming baseball's next two-way sensation.

Matt Davidson made headlines last season when he made three trips to the pitcher's mound. But instead of just being a bullpen-saving novelty — though he was that, too — Davidson raised eyebrows by repeatedly saying that he'd like to add relief pitching to his game, which to that point had consisted almost exclusively of bringing a power bat to the White Sox lineup.

Davidson's a Texas Ranger now, but Rick Renteria isn't done using position players to pitch in times when his bullpen needs saving.

Friday night, in the same game where Chris Sale shut down his former team, Renteria turned to Rondon, who, to put it mildly, looked a lot different than Davidson did during the latter's tryout of sorts in 2018. While Davidson leaned on the pitching experience of his high school days to rack up three scoreless innings over the course of the year — highlighted by a strikeout of home-run machine Giancarlo Stanton in a game against the New York Yankees — Rondon was lobbing balls to the plate, sometimes not even fast enough to register on the in-stadium radar gun at Guaranteed Rate Field.

"That's my first time," Rondon said after the White Sox loss to the visiting Boston Red Sox.

Regardless of how it looked, though, Rondon did the job while throwing what he laughingly confirmed was a screwball. He faced five batters, allowing a pair of singles but getting the other three out in a scoreless inning.

"They just were laughing," Rondon said, through team interpreter Billy Russo, of the on-field reaction to his work, "and stared at me like, 'You're really doing this?'"

Renteria made it seem like the White Sox had this planned out a bit, if the situation presented itself, admitting that the team had Rondon throw some practice pitches before Friday's game. Renteria said if the game was within a swing, he wouldn't have used a position player in the ninth inning. But with the White Sox down five, the opportunity arose, and Rondon became the latest bullpen saver.

"Listen, you never want to resort to that, but I think that under the circumstances, for us, it was just a necessary thing we needed to do," Renteria said. "Fortunately, it didn't get out of hand, it didn't get ugly. You're always concerned about things like that. But it didn't, and we were able to save a few arms today."

Certainly the White Sox bullpen has been used frequently during the season's first month-plus. Short outings from starting pitchers early in the season led to Renteria leaning on his relief corps more heavily than he would've liked. The pitching staff, in general, has been a sore spot, and as of this writing, only two teams in baseball had staff ERAs higher than the White Sox mark of 5.30.

Though Dylan Covey has been elevated to the rotation in the wake of Carlos Rodon's significant arm injury, Renteria described Sunday's plan as "almost like a bullpen day," presenting an even greater need to keep the bullpen arms fresh. As of now, Sunday's starter is to be announced.

"We have been using these guys, we've been trying to search for ways to kind of refresh them a little bit," he said. "We've been pushing them out of necessity, pretty much. Hopefully today puts us in a little better position. Obviously, it's almost like a bullpen day on Sunday, so we need as many guys available as possible. That's just where we're at."

And so, Rondon.

Will he be this year's Davidson? Or is this the last we've seen of him? Will he go out with a spotless 0.00 ERA?

"It felt good. It was fun," he said. "Definitely something I'd be willing to do again."

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What's the deal with Yasmani Grandal's calf injury?

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USA TODAY

What's the deal with Yasmani Grandal's calf injury?

GLENDALE, Ariz. — This is not the start to spring training new White Sox catcher Yasmani Grandal had in mind.

A calf injury that he suffered in early February while doing a running drill is still an issue and has prevented him from appearing in Cactus League games.

The good news is he’s making progress. He’s able to catch live batting practice. Thursday, he fielded bunts. He’s running. He’s also hitting from both sides of the plate.

But the big question mark for Grandal is how the injury will respond once he plays in his first Cactus League game.

“You don’t want to get out on the field and do something you haven’t done (since the injury). So we’re trying to cover every variable to us that we think we need to make sure we’re safe,” Grandal said Friday. “I think what we’re worried about is that quick movement off of it that could potentially do something to it. That’s some of the variables we’re trying to cover.”

The injury itself is also somewhat of a mystery to Grandal. He had never suffered a calf injury before, and the way he describes it, the recovery phase has been like trying to solve a puzzle.

“It was really weird. Something I’ve never really felt before,” Grandal said about the injury after it happened. “It almost felt like when you tie a knot and you untie it. That’s kind of how it felt like. That’s the best explanation I can give.”

When does he feel it?

“I don’t. That’s the problem,” he said. ”We want to get it sore and we can’t. So we’ve been hammering it out trying to see if it gets tight or it gets sore so we can work it out.”

Fortunately, it’s only spring training. So the White Sox have been able to take a cautious and conservative approach to his rehab.

As for when Grandal will play in his first spring game, manager Rick Renteria speculated early this week that his new catcher would miss seven to 10 games. And Grandal said there is a plan in place for him to see Cactus League action.

“You’ve got to cover a lot of ground in order to get out to a game. And on top of that, it’s just getting comfortable pushing off of it, not really thinking about it because once you start thinking then you’re done,” Grandal said. ”We’re close, but we’re going to take it as slow as we can.

“We're going to get in games. We have it planned out. We gave it some room to make sure I'm playing back to back days, to make sure I'm playing three days in a row. We gave some room for error. Now it just comes down to getting over every single goal, and so far we’ve gotten through them. We’re just now getting to, let’s load it up even more on a daily basis and see how it responds.”

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Chicago White Sox know we haven't seen the best of Eloy Jimenez

Chicago White Sox know we haven't seen the best of Eloy Jimenez

Eloy Jimenez is always smiling and joking, and laughing, and waving, and saying hi to his mom on TV. You'd never know that not everything went his way during his rookie season.

Despite the 31 home runs and his white-hot month of September, the rookie year-struggles were there and definitely had an effect on the happy-go-lucky Jimenez.

 “At the beginning [of the season] I tried to do too much,” Jimenez said. “And the injuries didn’t help me a lot.

“At the end, I felt like everything was slowed down and was easy because I just tried to play the game and enjoy the game. At the beginning, I had too much pressure because I tried to do too much.”

Of course, Jimenez doesn’t go long without a joke.

“This year is going to be better because now that we’ve got Luis Robert, the attention is not going to be on me,” he said. “It’s going to be better.”

Whether or not it’s because there’s a new uber-prospect to soak up the attention, improvement in 2020 seems to be a consistent opinion when it comes to Jimenez, who was the prospect everyone was drooling over at this time last year. As he mentioned, out-of-the-gate adjustments to the big leagues and two trips to the injured list prevented his rookie season from being a runaway success.

Still, we saw more than a few glimpses of what got everyone so revved up in the first place. The night of his first major league home run, he hit two. At Yankee Stadium. Twice, he disturbed the foliage of the center-field batter’s eye, something that was overlooked thanks to the ball he sent all the way to the staircase on the left side of the fan deck.

And who could forget the game-winning, broken-bat homer to beat the team that traded him on that June night at Wrigley Field? It’s arguably the biggest on-field moment of the rebuild to date,  

And like everyone is saying, that’s just scratching the surface of what this guy can do.

“He's good already,” White Sox designated hitter and longtime friend, Edwin Encarnacion, said. “He's going to get better but he's good already. It's very impressive what he's done in his first year playing in the big leagues. I remember my first year. I wasn't even close to the way he is right now. It's going to be fun watching him play.”

Sorry, Eloy. Even though Robert is everyone’s new favorite youngster, the Jimenez hype train is ready to pull out of the station once more. In his first interview this spring, he was asked if he think he can hit 50 home runs in a season someday. He didn’t disappoint.

“Why not?” he replied. “Yeah, it’s a big number but my goal is every year to have better numbers than the past year. So I think, one day, I can hit 50 plus. But let’s see.”

RELATED: Is a Moncada extension coming?

Of course, hitting home runs is the thing we know Jimenez can do and do well. What the White Sox want to see from him in his sophomore season is improvement in other areas, particularly ones away from the plate. Jimenez has impressed with his bat but he did much the opposite with his glove, at least to those who winced when they saw him racing down fly balls in left field.

Defensive plays also led to both of his stays on the injured list. The first came when he attempted to rob an un-robbable home run and sprained his ankle planting his leg into the outfield wall. Later that summer, he crashed into Charlie Tilson in left-center in Kansas City and suffered an ulnar nerve contusion.

In general, he made many fans uneasy with other misadventures in the outfield.

“We really need him to step it up and continue to improve on his defensive end in left field. We’ve talked about that,” manager Rick Renteria said early on in spring training. “He started having some growth out there last year, in my opinion.

“I asked him, ‘do you want me to take you out in the seventh, eighth or ninth?’ He goes, ‘no.’ I asked him that today. You can ask him. He wants to stay in there.

“I want him to be the best left fielder that the Chicago White Sox can put out there. I don’t want to be timid about using him out there in the late innings in a ballgame.”

Jimenez agrees.

“I don’t want to come out in the ninth inning,” he said. “I want to be able to play nine innings. So that’s why this year, I’m putting more effort into the defense so I can play the whole game.”

That’s the more politically correct way of putting it. At SoxFest, he was asked if he would be better suited as a designated hitter. He responded: “F**k that.”

But whether we’re talking about his eye-popping skills at the plate or his work-in-progress style in left field, there’s a common theme: We have not seen the best of Eloy Jimenez. And how could we have? The guy is just 23 years old with only 122 big league games under his belt.

Encarnacion, for one, sees high-level greatness in Jimenez’s future, telling Chuck Garfien on a recent White Sox Talk Podcast that “he has the talent to hit over 500 homers in the major leagues. I know he can do it.”

Fifty homers? Five hundred homers? Does anyone want to bring some more conservative projections to this conversation?

“With the talent that they have,” Jose Abreu said, through team interpreter Billy Russo, of the White Sox crop of young hitters, “they can do whatever they want to do.”

All right, then. Fifty and 500 it is.

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