White Sox

White Sox pitchers lured Yasmani Grandal, now he's luring pitchers like Dallas Keuchel

White Sox pitchers lured Yasmani Grandal, now he's luring pitchers like Dallas Keuchel

Yasmani Grandal came to the South Side, in part, because of pitching. And now pitching is coming to the South Side because of Grandal.

The new White Sox catcher, the first of what’s turned out to be multiple splashes for Rick Hahn’s front office this winter, offered little more than hope that fellow free agents would follow his lead in buying into what the White Sox have cooking. Talking after he signed in November, he suggested that free agents should be attracted to a team with a bright future powered by a group of young players who broke out during the 2019 season.

But as a catcher, he honed in on the pitching.

Perhaps still the area with the most question marks on the White Sox roster, Grandal was not deterred by queries of whether Lucas Giolito’s transformation will be a permanent one, whether Reynaldo Lopez can find some consistency, whether Dylan Cease’s struggles in 2019 were merely first-taste-of-the-bigs growing pains, whether Michael Kopech will be the same pitcher who was promised before his Tommy John surgery and whether there will be enough depth to prevent a repeat of the Ervin Santana-Manny Banuelos-Odrisamer Despaigne-Dylan Covey parade that blew up the rotation’s numbers last season.

Instead, Grandal saw all that young pitching talent — and saw its upside at the same time.

“Their pitching staff excites me a lot just because there are a lot of good, young arms that can be great,” he said after he signed. “Hopefully, I can help them out to be the best that they can be. Hopefully, by the end of the four years we made a deep run in the postseason and, god willing, we were able to win a championship.”

All those aforementioned questions are valid ones and ones that will be answered in due time. Simultaneously true is that this collection of pitchers has the potential to be a formidable one. Giolito predicted it could be one of the most dominant rotations in the game, and while a lot has to happen for that to come true, it’s hardly impossible.

That’s what Grandal saw a chance to be a part of.

“I don't care where I'm going as long as I see a future in the pitching staff,” he said. “If I see that I can help that pitching staff, for me, that's pretty much No. 1. So their sales pitch was that: ‘Look at the young arms we have, look at the guys we have coming up. We have an opportunity here to win, and we think you can help them out.’

“To tell you the truth with the White Sox, I hadn't really checked their pitching staff out too much. I heard of Giolito and Lopez, so once I started getting into it, it was pretty much an easy decision for me.”

And now it’s even better.

Yes, as excited as Grandal was back in November, he’s likely more excited now after the signing of veteran free-agent Dallas Keuchel. The freshly 32-year-old left-hander is bringing stability, reliability, mentorship and plenty of quality pitching to the White Sox rotation. He was a big get.

How’d the White Sox get him? Well, Grandal, for one.

“What really brought me in was when Yaz signs,” Keuchel said Monday, “and the backstops are just rock solid. Me, as a pitcher, I’m going to be drawn to the backstop situation first because you win and lose with the catchers. And I think that's really going to be a strength for us this year and hopefully for years to come.”

Grandal’s obviously not the White Sox only catcher, and James McCann probably had at least a little influence on what Keuchel, who played college ball with McCann at the University of Arkansas, thought of that “backstop situation.” Both Grandal and McCann earn rave reviews from their pitchers for what they do to make them better. McCann’s game-planning was discussed early and often during his All-Star season in 2019. Grandal brings a ton, including the defensive stats that McCann does not, especially when it comes to pitch-framing, which obviously sounds like a plus if you’re the guy trying to get strikes called.

Grandal didn’t sound like he was planning on doing much in the way of recruiting, saying last month at the Winter Meetings: “I just let the front office do their job. That’s why they are there. If they have questions that they want to ask me, I’m happy to look at numbers and help out as much as I can. But no, the front office has an idea of what they want, has an idea of what they need to help the team. And yeah, that’s why I’m here. I’m going to be helping the team more on the field than off the field.”

But Grandal might have had more of an impact in that area than he intended. Keuchel said he reached out to a few of his new teammates right away, including Gio Gonzalez and Jose Abreu, but Grandal was the first he listed. Who knows, maybe Grandal did do some behind-the-scenes work. Regardless, Grandal’s mere presence on the roster was a draw for Keuchel. Surely the chance to make $74 million ($1 million more than Grandal, should the White Sox pick up a club option) over four years had plenty to do with it, too.

Grandal liked what he saw on the White Sox pitching staff, and he chose to be a part of its rise. He’s expected to play a big part in that by helping all these young arms blossom into the kind of rotation Giolito envisions.

Turns out that before even taking the field, Grandal’s already helped make that rotation a lot better.

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White Sox 2005 Rewind: A.J. Pierzynski's most powerful month on the South Side

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AP

White Sox 2005 Rewind: A.J. Pierzynski's most powerful month on the South Side

May 2005 was A.J. Pierzynski’s most powerful month in his eight years in a White Sox uniform.

Like plenty of other hitters dealing with the suboptimal hitting conditions of April — including teammates Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye — Pierzynski had a slowish start in the first month with his new team. A .269 average and a .329 on-base percentage hardly counts as an awful stretch, but Pierzynski had just one home run and only two RBIs in his first 19 games of the season.

That turned around in a hurry, and it started May 4 against the Kansas City Royals.

Pierzynski launched a two-run homer as part of a two-out rally in the fourth inning, the blast proving to be the difference in a 4-2 White Sox win.

Math aficionados will know that was just his second homer and third and fourth RBIs. But by the end of May, Pierzynski had eight home runs and 19 RBIs.

What changed? He unleashed the thunder in his bat, hitting seven homers while posting a .557 slugging percentage and a .903 OPS. All those numbers rank among the best in a single month of Pierzynski’s White Sox career.

The seven homers are the most Pierzynski ever hit in a month with the White Sox. The .557 slugging percentage was topped just three more times and not again until August 2011. Same goes for the .903 OPS, which was bested just twice.


So it’s not to say that Pierzynski’s offensive success in May 2005 was a rarity, as he was a good hitting catcher throughout his South Side tenure. But the specific power numbers were rarely seen again, certainly not over the following five seasons. So in a way, this was power from an unexpected source, and it helped the White Sox play eight games above .500 during the month.

As #SoxRewind continues moving through that month of May, we’ll see more explosive hitting from Pierzynski. The home runs came in a concentrated bunch from there, with the catcher homering in four straight games from May 14 through May 18.

But this one from May 4 was the very first, a helpful launch for Pierzynski to bust out of his early season power slump and the beginning of the most powerful month of his White Sox career.

What else?

— It’s hard to imagine that in the year they won the World Series, Hawk Harrelson wasn’t behind the mic for every inning. But this one featured the broadcasting team of Darrin Jackson and Donn Pall while Harrelson was recovering from corrective eye surgery. The man they called “The Pope” had a pretty nice career pitching for his hometown team, posting a 3.45 ERA in 394.1 innings out of the bullpen.

— Jermaine Dye hit one of his two triples of 2005 in this one. He sent a deep fly ball to the warning track in right field, and while Matt Stairs made an admirable effort, the ball bounced off his glove and rolled away, allowing Dye to make it all the way to third. He had to wait four months for the next one, tripling off Jarrod Washburn, the pitcher the White Sox faced in Game 2 of the ALCS that postseason, in an early September game against the Los Angeles Angels.

— Mike Sweeney was a notorious “White Sox killer” during his lengthy and productive career with the Royals. He drove in both Kansas City runs in this game. His numbers in 2005 were downright ridiculous in his 15 games against the South Siders: .362/.426/.759 with five homers, eight doubles, eight walks, 10 runs scored and 15 RBIs.

— Cliff Politte did an excellent job putting out Freddy Garcia’s fire in the top of the seventh inning. Garcia pitched another strong game, but he departed after loading the bases on a pair of walks and a base hit in the seventh. Politte entered with the bases juiced and only one out against the aforementioned “Sox killer” Sweeney. He got Sweeney to fly out, driving in one run, but ended the inning four pitches later with a strikeout of Ken Harvey. That sacrifice fly was the last of the scoring, as Damaso Marte and Dustin Hermanson finished off the Royals in another great job by the White Sox bullpen.

— I wrote about Jon Garland’s remarkable start to the 2005 season Friday. But Garcia strung together some sterling efforts, as well, in these early weeks of the campaign. With 6.1 innings of two-run ball in this game, he turned in a third straight strong outing. In those three starts, he allowed just five earned runs in 20.1 innings (a 2.21 ERA). He had a few more stretches that stacked up to this one during the season, but not many that were better.

Since you been gone

While #SoxRewind is extensive, it doesn’t include all 162 regular-season contests, meaning we’re going to be skipping over some games. So what’d we miss since last time?

May 3, 2005: The Royals broke a 2-all tie with a pair of solo homers off Mark Buehrle in the top of the sixth. The White Sox clawed back, with an Aaron Rowand homer halving the deficit and a two-run double by Carl Everett in the eighth delivering the tying and winning runs. White Sox win, 5-4, improve to 19-7.

Next up

#SoxRewind rolls on Sunday, when you can catch the May 5, 2005, game against the Royals, starting at 4 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago. Buckle up, this is a wacky one.

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White Sox vs. Red Sox simulation on MLB The Show 20 (Game 8)

White Sox vs. Red Sox simulation on MLB The Show 20 (Game 8)

NBC Sports Chicago is simulating the 2020 White Sox season via MLB The Show during the postponement of play. The White Sox, stocked with young talent and veteran offseason acquisitions, were expected to take a big step forward in their rebuild this season. In our simulation, the Southsiders started 3-3, dropping a series vs. the Royals and winning a series vs. the Indians. Follow along as we play out the first few months of the season.

After an unusual Friday off day, the White Sox bats continued to stay on fire against the Red Sox on a sun soaked day at Fenway Park.

Jose Abreu gave the South Siders an early lead with a solo shot off Brian Johnson in the first and was followed by an Eloy Jimenez RBI double in the fourth to give the White Sox an early 2-0 lead. After the Red Sox grabbed a run off Gio Gonzalez, the White Sox responded with a two-run homer from Yoan Moncada, his fifth in eight games this season.

In the eighth, with the South Siders up 6-1, Yasmani Grandal followed the long ball barrage with a solo homer off Heath Hembree. Grandal matched his new teammate Moncada with five home runs in the first eight games.

For the second straight game, Rick Renteria went to the Sox 'pen and they in return failed to maintain a big lead. Jimmy Cordero and Jace Fry gave up five runs in the eighth to shrink the Chicago lead to 7-6 lead before Steve Cishek stopped the bleeding. In the ninth, Sox closer Aaron Bummer had a high stress outing with two aboard with only one out before striking out Rafael Devers and forcing Kevin Pillar to ground out to Tim Anderson. He picked up his American League-leading fourth save of the season as the White Sox held on to beat the Red Sox, 7-6.

Result: White Sox def. Red Sox 7-6

Record: 5-3, second in AL Central (0.5 GB of Indians)

W: Gio Gonzalez (1-0)

L: Brian Johnson (0-2)

SV: Aaron Bummer (4)

White Sox lineup

Tim Anderson: 2-5, 2 2B (.353 BA)

Yoan Moncada: 1-4, HR, 2 RBI (.371 BA)

Jose Abreu: 2-4, HR, RBI (.250 BA)

Edwin Encarnacion: 0-3, BB (.214 BA)

Yasmani Grandal: 2-4, HR, RBI (.344 BA)

Eloy Jimenez: 1-4, RBI (.276 BA)

Luis Robert: 1-3, RBI, SB (.286 BA)

Nomar Mazara: 0-2, RBI (.207 BA)

Leury Garcia: 1-4 (.250 BA)

Scoring summary

Top 1st:

Jose Abreu homered to left field. 1-0 CHW.

Top 4th:

Eloy Jimenez doubled to right. Edwin Encarnacion scored. 2-0 CHW.

Luis Robert sacrifice fly. Yasmani Grandal scored. 3-0 CHW.

Nomar Mazar sacrifice fly. Eloy Jimenez scored. 4-0 CHW.

Bottom 4th:

Kevin Pillar doubled to right. Xander Bogaerts scored. 4-1 CHW.

Top 5th:

Yoan Moncada homered to left. Tim Anderson scored. 6-1 CHW.

Top 8th:

Yasmani Grandal homered to center. 7-1 CHW.

Bottom 8th:

Rafael Devers singled to right. J.D. Martinez scored. 7-2 CHW.

Kevin Pillar singled to center. Xander Bogaerts scored. 7-3 CHW

Michael Chavis singled to right. Rafael Devers scored. Kevin Pillar scored. 7-5 CHW.

Mitch Moreland singled to left. Christian Vazquez scored. 7-6 CHW

Notable performance: Gio Gonzalez was sharp in his first White Sox start taking a no-hitter into the fourth inning. Gonzalez gave up three hits while holding the Boston bats to only one run in six innings of work. Between mixing speeds and inducing groundballs, Gonzalez showed he can be a viable rotation piece for the South Siders.

Next Game: Sunday, April 5 - Gm. 9: White Sox at Red Sox (Reynaldo Lopez vs. Ryan Weber)