White Sox

Welington Castillo on board with the reasoning behind his Monday benching and the identity Rick Renteria is trying to establish

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AP

Welington Castillo on board with the reasoning behind his Monday benching and the identity Rick Renteria is trying to establish

And that’s why you always run hard to first base.

Rick Renteria didn’t use a one-armed man to teach his team a lesson Monday night, but he used a relatively extreme measure, benching one of his few veteran players to send a message that lack of hustle won’t be tolerated on this rebuilding White Sox team.

In fact, it won’t be tolerated anywhere in this rebuilding White Sox organization.

That’s the hope, at least.

Welington Castillo stood at home plate while his popup fell into the first baseman’s glove during the sixth inning of Monday night’s loss to the visiting Baltimore Orioles, and because of it he didn’t go back out with his teammates for the seventh inning. It was the latest in-game benching by Renteria for a similar offense. Avisail Garcia was sat down during spring training, and Leury Garcia at the end of the team’s previous homestand.

This kind of reoccurring strategy might seem a tad strange, a manager enforcing hustle regulations to pro players during a season in which his team entered play Tuesday with baseball’s worst record. But part of rebuilding and development is establishing a cultural identity, and Castillo seemed on board with Renteria’s strategy, as well as the end goal of these punishments.

“That’s something that he always says, that’s something that he’s not going to let pass,” Castillo said Tuesday. “He always says you’ve got to run the bases hard no matter what. And for some reason, I was just frustrated, I wanted to get the job done. I saw the ball was going to be fair, and for some reason I did not run. I think that the decision that he made was the right decision. That’s not me, and I’m not going to do it again.”

Castillo was brought in this past offseason to provide some veteran experience to what is otherwise a very young squad of South Siders. Coming off career years both offensively and defensively, Castillo seemed to be an addition that would benefit this club in the short and long term. He could be here all the way through the 2020 season, when the White Sox could see their talented minor leaguers arrive and open the organization’s contention window.

And therein lies the importance of what Renteria did Monday. Castillo would figure to be veteran enough to be past such punishments. But if he buys in to Renteria’s style and passes it along to the young guys when they come up, then Renteria will have achieved what he wanted: for this to be the standard of the present and the future.

“The same rule that is for the young guys is for the veteran guys, too,” Castillo said. “We are a team, we are a family. One thing is for me, and the same thing has to be for everybody because we are a family, we are a team. Sometimes that’s good that that happens, and we’ve just got to learn from that.”

“We’re trying to eliminate habits if they’re there. Accidents you understand, but we’re trying to continue to create the identity of the White Sox organization as to how we’re going to go about doing things,” Renteria said. “They accept it, they understand it, and when we take an action I think for the most part they are accountable to what goes on.”

James Shields wraps impressive 2018 campaign, but is it last he'll pitch in White Sox uniform?

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USA TODAY

James Shields wraps impressive 2018 campaign, but is it last he'll pitch in White Sox uniform?

James Shields is unlikely to go down as one of White Sox fans’ most beloved pitchers.

It was always going to be hard to erase the memories of his first two seasons on the South Side, which saw him post a 5.99 ERA and give up 58 home runs.

But Shields, a 36-year-old veteran who doesn’t figures to have much of a place in this rebuilding franchise’s long-term plans, made a heck of an impact and did a heck of a job during this losing season, one that could end up being felt when the team does transition to contention mode.

Shields capped his 2018 season with another six innings Tuesday night. It didn’t end up his 20th quality start of the season, with him giving up four runs, but he reached the 200-inning mark for the 10th time in his 13-year major league career, as good an example as any of how reliable and how steady a veteran presence he’s been this season.

As of this writing, baseball’s 200-inning club in 2018 looked like this: Max Scherzer, Corey Kluber, Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, Aaron Nola, Zack Greinke, Dallas Keuchel and Shields.

“Going into this season, I was really taking pride in being able to get to that 200 mark again,” Shields said. “It’s my 10th time I’ve done it in my career, so that was kind of looming over my head a little bit, and to be able to get that, it’s just all the hard work I’ve put in this year and I’m really really proud of that.”

The other numbers might not scream “overwhelming success” of a season, even if it was by far his best year in a White Sox uniform. Shields finished with a 4.54 ERA and 154 strikeouts. The 34 home runs he gave up are the second most in baseball. His 78 walks put him in the top five in the game in that category.

But Shields’ impact has been as much about what he’s done off the mound as what he’s done on it. He’s served as a mentor to this team of young players, one that keeps getting younger with every highly touted prospect that gets his call to the big leagues. He’s been a particularly strong influence on Lucas Giolito, with the two set up next to each other in the clubhouse all season — that is until Michael Kopech arrived and Shields requested Kopech slide in between him and Giolito, again for mentoring purposes.

That’s a valuable thing on a team that figures to stay young as this rebuilding process moves along toward planned contention.

“I think more than anything, when you see how he’s continued to pitch and work through all of the things he’s done over the course of his career, I think he’s been a big factor by example,” manager Rick Renteria said prior to Tuesday’s game. “He goes out there and shows you how to get through innings, grind through some rough outings and continue to eat up outs. I think these guys are seeing it. He’s been someone that’s shown them why he’s been around for so many years.

“I think these guys have taken on some of his personality, some of his traits. Hopefully it’s something they can cling to and continue to help each other with. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have someone that’s something like that. He’s done everything he could to help with both between the lines and being in the clubhouse.”

“I’ve done it my whole career,” Shields said of that leadership, mentorship role. “Ever since I was in Tampa, I’ve prided myself in being a leader in this clubhouse and just helping the guys out and being a good teammate. Hopefully these guys take all of the advice and the experience that I’ve had over the years and take it to heart.”

Shields’ 2018 season is over, but is his time on the South Side?

He is expected to hit the free-agent market this winter, though given how impressive he was as a reliable arm and as a team leader in 2018, perhaps the White Sox opt to bring him back. Not only do they have a recent track record of making similar additions — see Hector Santiago and Miguel Gonzalez this past offseason — but they have a need in the starting rotation, two holes to fill in Shields’ spot and that of Kopech, who will miss the 2019 season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.

It’s an option, if it’s something Shields and the White Sox both want to do. Certainly he’s given them reason to consider it with what he did this season.

“We’ll see where life takes me after this season’s over,” Shields said. “I’ve loved my time here, the guys are great, the coaching staff’s a great coaching staff, and the training staff, I can’t say enough about what they’ve done for me over the last three years. And just the organization itself has been an amazing organization to be a part of. So we’ll see where it goes this offseason.”

Keep it simple: How Daniel Palka has emerged as the clutch king of Chicago

Keep it simple: How Daniel Palka has emerged as the clutch king of Chicago

Daniel Palka’s been asked a lot about his approach in clutch situations, mostly because he keeps coming through in them.

Palka flexed his walk-off muscles again Tuesday night, driving in the tying and winning runs with a base hit off Cleveland Indians strikeout machine Carlos Carrasco in the bottom of the ninth and giving the White Sox an exciting win in their penultimate home game of the 2018 season.

It was just the latest in an increasingly unbelievable series of clutch hits from the guy White Sox fans have fallen in love with during this rebuilding season. He now has 10 hits, two doubles, six homers and 13 RBIs in the ninth inning this season. Heck, it wasn’t even the first time he’s walked off these Indians this season.

You might think that explaining how to come through with a game-winning hit against a major league pitcher is easier than actually doing it. But that’s the thing: Palka’s making it look easy specifically because he’s trying to keep it easy.

“I just try to keep it as simple as possible,” Palka said, a reasonable follow up to what he said after a big home run earlier this season. “What were you trying to do in that situation?” was the question lobbed his way. He hit the answer to that one out of the park, too: “I was trying to hit a home run.”

Palka’s big moments continue to fuel the conversation surrounding his place in the long-term plans of an organization with its eyes squarely set on the future. He long ago took the title of Surprise of the Year, considering he wasn’t on the Opening Day roster and yet will almost certainly finish as the team leader in home runs. He’s five ahead of his closest competition, the injured Jose Abreu, with a team-best 27 dingers and five games to play. Tim Anderson and Matt Davidson would need seven apiece over the next five contests to catch Palka.

Whether Palka’s place on those planned contenders of the future is as an everyday designated hitter or an everyday outfielder or a platoon guy or simply a left-handed power bat off the bench, he’s looking more and more like the totally unexpected success story of this rebuilding effort. Of course, there’s still a long time to go — and plenty of prospects still to develop and reach the major leagues — before any final assessments on lineups of the future can be made.

Still, it figures Rick Hahn’s front office could find a spot for a guy with such a flair for the dramatic and a knack for big hits in big moments.

And for someone who makes all that so easy.

“I think the outcome is just based on him keeping it simple,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He really doesn’t complicate it. He really does focus on the baseball and tries to get something he can handle and tries to hit it hard. It’s kind of that simple. You can’t control what happens once the ball leaves your bat, but you can control how simple you approach the at-bat. And he does that.”

White Sox fans know how they feel about Palka’s heroics. How does Palka feel about them?

“Yeah, it’s cool.”

See? Simple.

“I don’t really know what else to say about it besides I like that moment and I’m happy to be in that moment. That’s it.”