White Sox

'Pitch better': Rough weekend against Mariners' bats amplified White Sox pitching woes

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USA TODAY

'Pitch better': Rough weekend against Mariners' bats amplified White Sox pitching woes

Bright spots haven't been difficult to locate through the first week-plus of White Sox baseball in 2019. Yoan Moncada looks like a changed hitter. Tim Anderson is on absolute fire. Eloy Jimenez is here.

But the truth is that these White Sox are just 3-5 in their first eight games of the campaign. And though two crowds bigger than 30,000 packed into Guaranteed Rate Field this weekend and got some things to cheer about, South Side pitching was obliterated by the visiting Seattle Mariners, who scored 29 runs and smashed 10 home runs in three games.

The M's moved to 9-2 with Sunday's 12-5 win. That's the best record in baseball. The White Sox shouldn't exactly be embarrassed that they were bested twice in three games by a team that's swinging really hot bats: The Mariners have hit a major league leading 27 home runs.

But there were pitching questions entering the 2019 season, and the White Sox staff has done little to answer them in the first handful of games.

"I was telling one of the guys that we have to keep pumping each other up. Don’t let this be something that deters them from the direction that we’re all trying to get to," manager Rick Renteria said Sunday. "The reality is that it is a long season. We would have rather had a much better outcome over the last couple of days, but we haven’t. That does not deter myself or us as a club to where we believe we’re going to be moving. ... We’ll continue to make the adjustments or work on the things that we need to in order to continue to improve."

The bullpen looked to be much improved thanks to the additions of Alex Colome and Kelvin Herrera, two All-Star relief pitchers who could not only lock down the back end of the South Side 'pen but strengthen it by pushing back other late-inning guys and easing the high-leverage burden on young arms. Unfortunately for Renteria, he's been unable to get a grasp on his relief corps to this point because most of the pitchers not named Colome and Herrera have struggled.

Small sample sizes are to blame for gigantic ERAs in the bullpen — like the 40.50 mark owned by Jose Ruiz after he gave up two runs and recorded just one out Sunday — but the bottom line is that everyone besides Colome, Herrera and Manny Banuelos has an ERA north of 7.00. Banuelos is at a not-much-better 6.75, and Colome gave up his first run of the season in the ninth inning Sunday.

As a quick aside — but also a good example of how unreliable this relief corps has been to this point — the reason Renteria gave for using both Herrera and Colome in the final innings of a lopsided game was "necessity." And though it seemed like a head-scratcher in the moment, it's understandable. Renteria had already used four relievers after starter Ivan Nova lasted just 2.1 innings. Banuelos was fresh off a three-inning outing in Saturday's game. And Renteria essentially revealed Sunday that while the White Sox want to use Nate Jones on back-to-back days, doing so isn't really in the cards at the moment.

Renteria would've liked to stay away from his late-inning guys at the end of a blowout loss. But the pitchers who would have prevented that didn't record enough outs.

"It was a necessity," Renteria explained regarding his usage of Herrera and Colome. "We got to the point where we tried to stretch everybody out as much as we could. We were pressed into using them, obviously, in the eighth and the ninth. Both of them, unfortunately for me, don’t like working as much in the 'pen. They would rather pitch in games when they are not used. So, it kind of fit both purposes today. But I’d rather not do it. You risk the outing getting too long. But fortunately for us it was relatively under control."

The bullpen has perhaps been more glaring, but the starting rotation has had its own share of ups and downs. Carlos Rodon has had two fine outings, one of them excellent. Lucas Giolito's first start was terrific, followed by a 4.1-inning effort Saturday. Reynaldo Lopez struggled in each of his first two outings of the season, giving up three home runs to Mariners hitters in Friday's home opener. Nova pitched well in his first outing and couldn't get out of the third after giving up seven runs Sunday.

What to do? For Nova, the answer is easy.

"Pitch better," he said.

It was a response that sparked a few chuckles, but fans might agree. The White Sox team ERA after Sunday's game was an ugly 6.52. Only one team in baseball, the 2-7 Cubs, had a worse mark as of this writing.

The pitching staff will see at least one addition in the coming days. The White Sox optioned outfielder Ryan Cordell to Triple-A Charlotte after Sunday's game, freeing up a roster spot that will get filled prior to Monday's series-opener against the Tampa Bay Rays. Ervin Santana is soon to join the starting rotation, the team needing him to fill Tuesday's "TBA" on the list of probable pitchers. But that could have kept Cordell in town another day. Instead, with a taxed bullpen, the White Sox might replace Cordell with another relief arm. So perhaps there's another alteration to the bullpen coming Monday. That remains to be seen, of course.

But something's going to have to turn around for the guys who aren't going anywhere.

Yes, it's still early. And yes, not every lineup the White Sox go up against from here on out will belong to baseball's best team. But crooked numbers against the South Side staff and Renteria's strolls to the mound have been all too common in recent seasons. If the team wants to turn the corner in the rebuilding process, as it so often has talked about, there will need to be progression from more than just a few position players.

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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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White Sox Talk Podcast: The Yermin Mercedes Appreciation Podcast!

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: The Yermin Mercedes Appreciation Podcast!

The man the fans are clamoring for, Yermin Mercedes sits down with host Chuck Garfien to discuss why Sox fans love him, and his goals as a player. Chuck also gets some inside information on Yermin from teammates Carson Fulmer and Danny Mendick, and White Sox director of player development Chris Getz. You wanted Yermin, we got you Yermin.

(2:05) - Who the heck is Yermin Mercedes?

(6:41) - Interview with Yermin Mercedes

(16:07) - How did the Sox acquire Yermin with Chris Getz

(19:09) - Carson Fulmer on Yermin Mercedes's improvement as a baseball player

(22:03) - Danny Mendick on the uniqueness of Yermin Mercedes

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