White Sox

Yasmani Grandal hard at work molding pitching staff that drew him to White Sox

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AP

Yasmani Grandal hard at work molding pitching staff that drew him to White Sox

It should come as no surprise that Yasmani Grandal is already making a big impact, even in the early weeks of spring training.

After all, his impact was being felt before anyone even showed up to Camelback Ranch.

But the team’s new No. 1 catcher — perhaps its most important acquisition during a busy offseason — has expectedly gotten to work with a White Sox pitching staff that helped draw him to the South Side.

“I don't care where I'm going as long as I see a future in the pitching staff,” he said back in November, after he signed his team-record contract. “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.’”

Certainly there’s a ton of promise with these young pitchers. Lucas Giolito already morphed himself from the pitcher with the worst statistics in baseball to an All Star last season. Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease and Reynaldo Lopez all have front-of-the-rotation potential, as well.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t question marks. Giolito has to show his transformation was a permanent one. Kopech is finally returning from Tommy John surgery, and though he’s still ranked as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, he’s got just four big league starts under his belt. Cease and Lopez could be the White Sox biggest mysteries heading into the 2020 campaign after they put up some ugly numbers in 2019.

Grandal should be able to help move all those guys in positive directions, and he’s started on that work early this spring. After catching bullpen sessions from Kopech and Lopez, he stuck around for lengthy chats to discuss what he saw. The same was true after Cease threw live batting practice last week, sitting in the dugout for an extended talk.

This might not be incredibly unusual behavior, especially for a catcher who hasn’t caught any of these guys before, getting to know his pitching staff ahead of the regular season. But Grandal’s desire to help develop these pitchers into the type of hurlers the White Sox believe they can be has been evident.

For him, that’s business as usual.

“We’re as strong as our weakest link, right?” he said in the early days of White Sox camp. “I feel like we need to make everybody better, it doesn’t matter if you’re a reliever or a position player. I’m going to do my homework on everybody and make sure everybody is on the same page and then we’ll go from there. We’ll make adjustments as the year goes on.

“The quicker we can do it, the better.”

Grandal figures to help these White Sox in a lot of different ways, hence why they handed him a four-year deal that, until options are exercised on some of the other contracts the team gave out this winter, is the richest in club history. He’s fresh off a career year at the dish that could land him right in the thick of Rick Renteria’s lineup. After ranking in the top five in baseball with 109 walks in 2019, he’s hoping some of his on-base skills might catch on with his new teammates. There’s the pitch-framing, a skill which is still valuable as we await baseball’s robot revolution. Grandal’s one of the best in the game at it. And his work ethic and love of baseball-related homework leaps out at anyone who talks with him.

It all adds up to a guy who can’t help but make his presence felt right away.

“I could tell right off the bat that it was going to be great for us,” Giolito said. “Obviously, he’s proving that to be true, even in these early days of spring training. Very in-depth conversations with each pitcher that he’s working with. … He’s kind of introducing us to some things that he’s learned along the way, which is exactly what we need for an organization trying to turn that page. He’s coming from winning organizations. He knows what it takes, and he’s implementing that whole-heartedly.”

“The conversations he has with the coaches, the conversations he has with some of the young starters, in terms of preparation, in terms of adjustments, in terms of game-planning, he’s just a pleasure to have around and an outstanding baseball guy who’s going to help this team not just with what he does offensively or even from the defensive-metrics standpoint, but just from an all-around culture and environment standpoint, as well,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “And that’s come through early.”

As Giolito mentioned, Grandal’s winning experience could prove one of his bigger contributions as the White Sox look to snap a playoff drought that’s lasted more than a decade. A talented roster has legitimate postseason expectations in 2020, and considering Grandal’s played in the last five postseasons, that’s a valuable asset to have in the fold.

Making a team-wide jump from rebuilding mode to contenting mode happens on a day-by-day basis, sometimes an inning-by-inning or pitch-by-pitch basis. That’s the kind of work Grandal can help the White Sox do and do well.

“He’s been around the block,” Renteria said. “He’s got a lot of high-impact, high-leverage type experiences in his major league career, and that helps, in many instances, slow things down a lot. So right now, when we’re focusing on trying to clean up and do things that will help our pitchers and any other aspect of the game get better, he’s able to step in and do certain things that allow us to do that.”

“Stuff at game speed goes a little bit quicker,” Kopech said. “It can kind of get away from you if you don’t take control of it. And I think that’s what he’s going to be able to help us with, at game speed, because he’s been there at game speed for a long time. He’s going to help be able to slow the game down for us and stuff like that.”

Considering Grandal is under contract for the next four seasons and that he is set for a prominent role both at and behind the plate, his signing could be the biggest deal among a ton of big deals during the just completed White Sox offseason. His part in the big league portion of development for these young pitchers — and remember, there’s more of them on the way, like Dane Dunning, Jimmy Lambert and Jonathan Stiever — will be just as crucial.

Grandal will touch much of the final stage of this rebuilding project. And if the results are as positive as his first impression has been at Camelback Ranch, then the White Sox will probably consider that team-record contract well worth it.

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Trust in White Sox closer Shingo Takatsu dwindled early in 2005 season

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USA Today

Trust in White Sox closer Shingo Takatsu dwindled early in 2005 season

Early in the 2005 season, there was one White Sox player that fans thought was on thin ice and another who actually was on thin ice.

Despite playing great defense at third base, Joe Crede hadn’t exactly won over the fan base yet. He hit just .239 in 2004 with a .717 OPS in his second full major league season. He was already 27 and the White Sox had used their first round draft pick in 2004 to select hot shot third baseman Josh Fields, who was already considered an MLB Top 100 prospect.

So when Crede got off to a 3-for-21 start in the team’s first six games in ’05, there were already calls for his benching.

It wasn't going to happen. Kenny Williams and Ozzie Guillen were prepared to be patient with Crede. They seemed more concerned with closer Shingo Takatsu.

Takatsu had taken the South Side by storm in 2004, entering games in the ninth inning to standing ovations and the sound of a gong playing over the speakers at U.S. Cellular Field. After taking over the closing duties in June, Takatsu converted 19-of-20 save opportunities in his first year with the White Sox.

Still, there were concerns that his unique frisbee style of pitching wouldn't last once teams saw Takatsu more than once. Those concerns were heightened when the Indians tagged him for three solo home runs on April 7, 2005, leading to the White Sox’s first loss of the season. Takatsu’s only blown save in 2004 also came to the Indians and Guillen was already voicing his concerns.

“I might not use him against (the Indians),” Guillen told the Chicago Tribune. “They have a good left-handed lineup. Right now, he’s going to be there no matter what. We’re going to see the next couple days.”

It wasn’t exactly a vote of confidence, especially considering the White Sox had already played three straight close games against the Indians, including two one-run victories.

But that was the situation as the White Sox went to Cleveland with a 4-2 record for the Indians’ home opener. Freddy Garcia took the mound for his second start of the season, while Kevin Millwood countered for the 3-3 Indians.

Here was Guillen’s lineup:

LF Scott Podsednik
2B Tadahito Iguchi
DH Carl Everett
1B Paul Konerko
RF Jermaine Dye
CF Aaron Rowand
SS Pablo Ozuna
C Chris Widger
3B Joe Crede

The White Sox-Indians game from Apr. 11, 2005 will air Saturday at 4 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago. For the full White Sox Rewind schedule from the 2005 season, click here.

Remember That Guy: White Sox infielder Geoff Blum

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USA TODAY

Remember That Guy: White Sox infielder Geoff Blum

Say “Game 3” to any White Sox fan and there’s one name that will immediately come to mind.

Geoff Blum.

Blum was born April 26, 1973 in Redwood City, Calif. He was a star shortstop for Chino High School in Chino, Calif and attended UC Berkeley, where he was All-Pac 10 in 1994. The Montreal Expos selected him in the seventh round of the 1994 MLB Draft. After the 1995 minor league season at high-A West Palm Beach, he spent his winter playing for the Hunter Eagles of the Australian League. In 1996, Blum played at Harrisburg (AA) of the Eastern League, then moved up to Triple-A Ottawa for 1997.

He had his best minor league season in 1998 when he hit .277 with six home runs across four levels, though he missed some time with an elbow injury. Blum started 1999 in Ottawa and finally, on Aug. 9, made his MLB debut for Les Expos de Montréal, going 2-for-4 with a run, double and two RBIs in an 8-0 win over the Padres at Stade Olympique.

Blum is the only player in Expos history (1969-2004) to collect multiple hits AND multiple RBIs in a major league debut. On Aug. 13 in Game 1 of a doubleheader at Coors Field, Blum hit his first big league home run off Mike DeJean. As it turns out, all eight of his home runs in 1999 came on the road, including one off Randy Johnson on Aug. 31 in Arizona.

2000 was Blum’s first full MLB season and he hit a respectable .283/.335/.449 with 11 home runs. He played all four infield positions, something he’d end up doing every year from 2000-08. Add in Blum’s ability to switch hit and that’s a pretty valuable guy to have on a team. Blum’s teammates with the 1999-2000 Expos included future 2005 White Sox teammates Dustin Hermanson and Chris Widger.

In 2001, Blum took a step back, hitting .236/.313/.351, though on July 5, he became the fifth player in Expos history to homer from both sides of the plate in a game. The Expos dealt him to the Astros in March 2002 for third baseman Chris Truby.

Blum responded with his finest season, hitting .283/.367/.440 with 10 home runs and 52 RBIs. He logged his lone career five-hit game on April 19, 2003, a 14-inning loss in Milwaukee. It seems as if there was something about 14-inning games that brought out the best in Blum, as would be illustrated again later. Another 2003 highlight was Blum’s career-long 16-game hitting streak from June 25 to July 17.

In 2004, Blum repeated his 10 home runs and 52 RBI from the previous season. After his rate stats took a dip and at the end of the season, the Astros dealt him to Tampa Bay for pitcher Brandon Backe.

Blum had a down year for Lou Piniella’s 70-91 Rays, posting a career-low .215 batting average with 8 home runs in 112 games. Two of those home runs were on May 4 –– one from each side of the plate –– and Blum became the first player in Rays history to pull that off. He signed with the Padres for 2005, playing all over the infield with a respectable .241/.321/.375 slash line in 78 games. San Diego dealt him at the trade deadline.

At the time, the White Sox were reportedly interested in A.J. Burnett of the Marlins, Jason Schmidt of the Giants and Billy Wagner of the Phillies. Instead, they brought in insurance for Joe Crede and his ailing back, acquiring  Blum for pitcher Ryan Meaux. To make room for Blum on the roster, as well as pitcher Jon Adkins (who was recalled from the minors at the time) both Ross Gload and Willie Harris were optioned to Charlotte.

Blum ended up playing 31 games down the stretch, hitting .200 with a home run – Aug. 29 at Texas. But the move paid dividends. Blum popped out in a pinch hit appearance for Paul Konerko in Game 1 of the ALDS and wouldn’t appear in another game until Game 3 of the World Series. He entered in the 13th inning when he came out to play second base, replacing Bobby Jenks in the fifth spot of the batting order.

After a Jermaine Dye single and a Paul Konerko double play, it seemed as if Astros reliever Ezequiel Astacio was going to escape the top of the 14th inning with the score tied at five. Not so fast.

Blum poked a 2-0 pitch down the right field line and into the stands to give the White Sox a 6-5 lead. The Sox tacked on another run to make it 7-5, which held, and then won Game 4 to sweep the series.

Blum is one of four players in MLB history to homer in their lone career World Series at-bat, along with Jim Mason in 1976, Bobby Kielty in 2007 and Michael A. Taylor in 2019. Blum is also one of only two players in World Series history to hit a go-ahead/game winning home run in his only World Series at-bat, joining Kirk Gibson in 1988.

It was Blum’s last appearance in a White Sox uniform. He signed a one-year deal with the Padres in 2006 and performed admirably, hitting 12-for-31 (.387) as a pinch hitter and starting at shortstop in the NLDS against the Cardinals. He signed for another year in 2007 before spending 2008-10 with the Astros.

Blum hit a career-high 14 home runs in 2008, and in 2009 he recorded three walk-off hits – the only three of his career - including consecutive games against the Cubs on June 10-11. In 2010, Blum suffered one of the more unusual injuries in baseball history when he hurt his elbow while putting on a shirt.

Blum appeared in 40 games for the Diamondbacks over 2011-12 and called it a career. He debuted as Astros TV color commentator in 2013 and has been in that role ever since.

On March 3, Chino High School retired Blum’s No. 11. He is the first athlete in the school’s 123-year history to have a number retired. He also wore No. 11 for the Expos as well as with the Rays. He wore that number in honor of former All-Star third baseman Doug DeCinces.

Blum’s MLB career included 1,389 games, a .250 batting average, 990 hits and 99 home runs, with five career multi-HR games. Oh yeah, and one huge World Series home run.

Geoff Blum. We remember that guy!

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