Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Yes, Bryce Harper needs to change his game

Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper had surgery Tuesday to reconnect a torn ulnar ligament in his left thumb. The 21-year-old is expected to be out of the lineup until July, which is unfortunate news for the Nationals and unfortunate news for baseball as a whole.

Harper, a two-time All-Star at a very young age, is a five-tool talent and one of the most exciting players in the game. He's one of those guys who gets your attention when he comes to the plate. You aren't going to take a bathroom break when it's Harper's turn to hit.

But now fans won't see Harper for two months, and it's because of his own recklessness. He was hurt sliding headfirst into third base, stretching a double into a triple with his team already ahead 5-0. Were those extra 90 feet worth two months on the disabled list? I don't think so, and I think the Nationals would agree.

Last year, Harper injured himself crashing into a wall at Dodger Stadium, trying to make a catch while his team was leading 6-0. On Opening Day this season, Harper had to undergo tests for a concussion after an over-aggressive takeout slide at second base. This is a young man who needs to tone his game down a notch.

Some will say they love Harper's aggressive style, and that they don't want him to change. I like the way the guy plays, too, but you know what else I also like? Players who stay on the field.

I know "games played" isn't an advanced metric or even an interesting statistic to most, but I think it's a very important one. If I'm a GM or a manager, I like guys who I can count on for 140 or 150 games every single season. In particular, I want my star player on the field. In Washington's case, Harper is their best player.

Last season, injuries limited Harper to 118 games. Now, he's limited by an injury this year as well. That's not what you want. Someone needs to sit Harper down and tell him sometimes it just isn't worth it to crash into a wall, or to gamble to try to grab that extra 90 feet on the bases.

Sometimes, it pays to pull up at second base with a double. Sometimes, it pays to play the carom off the wall and concede a hit to the opposition. It's a long season, and a player is useless to his team if he's spending a lot of time on the DL.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Rounding up Jose Abreu's record-breaking April

White Sox rookie first baseman Jose Abreu went 2-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs on Sunday to lead the South Siders to a 9-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.

Abreu became the first player in Major League Baseball history to record four games with four RBIs or more during the first 26 games of his career. Abreu has a modest .262 batting average, but as Ken "Hawk" Harrelson might say, "It's a hard .262." Abreu leads the league with 10 home runs and 31 RBIs. Even with three games to go in the month, those figures are for the record books.

The 10 home runs and 31 RBIs in one month are both MLB rookie records. The 10 home runs are the most by a White Sox rookie in any month. The 31 RBIs are a new record for the opening month of the season by any Sox player -- the previous record was 28, set by Paul Konerko in 2002. The 31 RBIs are also the most by any Sox player in the first 26 games of a career. The 10 home runs tie the team record for the most by a Sox player in the first 26 games of a career -- Zeke Bonura accomplished the same feat in 1934.

This indeed has been an historic month for Abreu. He has homered off two former Cy Young Award winners in Justin Verlander and David Price, which shows that he isn't just pounding on mediocre pitchers. He's won a few battles with elite pitchers, too. The cynic would say, "Let's see what happens when the league adjusts to Abreu." And the cynic isn't completely wrong. Opposing pitchers will change their pattern to try to slow Abreu down, and he will have to adjust.

But, let's also remember that Abreu is putting up these monster numbers in the miserable, cold April conditions at U.S. Cellular Field. The ballpark plays smaller and becomes more hitter-friendly when the weather warms up in the summer. Abreu isn't going put up 10 homers and 30-plus RBIs every month. That's just not realistic, but I'd wager he has a pretty fair chance of continuing to produce runs when the ball starts flying in June and July.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Monday, April 21, 2014

White Sox injuries continue to mount: Chris Sale to the DL

I cringed Thursday night when the White Sox allowed ace left-hander Chris Sale to throw 127 pitches on a cold night in a start against the Boston Red Sox. Now, I'm cringing even more because, four days later, Sale has been placed on the disabled list with a strained flexor muscle in his pitching arm.

I used to rip on former Cubs manager Dusty Baker for his overuse of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior back in the day, so I'm staying consistent with my argument. Allowing top-of-the-rotation pitchers to throw damn near 130 pitches is stupid. I know that's how it was done back in the old days, but the old days are over now. Pitchers aren't used to being stretched out like that in today's game, so don't ask them to do something they aren't used doing.

In the case of Baker, Prior and Wood, at least they were pushing to try to win the 2003 National League pennant. White Sox manager Robin Ventura was apparently pushing to try to win an April game against Boston, which he lost anyway even with Sale's effort.

I realize Ventura's bullpen has been a bit taxed lately, but here's the thing: If I'm gonna protect anyone on this White Sox pitching staff, it's Sale. If you're gonna push a pitcher who has a tired arm, push one of the mediocre or less-than-mediocre veterans in the bullpen. Don't screw around with Sale. He's the present and the future of the franchise. No April game is worth his prized left arm.

Even though the White Sox won a game against the Detroit Tigers tonight, I'm extremely disappointed as a fan right now. Avisail Garcia is already out for the season, and now Sale is on the DL, too. The mounting injuries cast a pall over what has actually been a pretty respectable 10-10 start to the season.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

White Sox add Zach Putnam to roster, designate Donnie Veal for assignment

The White Sox blew out their entire bullpen and were forced to use utility infielder Leury Garcia to pitch the 14th inning in Wednesday's 6-4 loss to the Boston Red Sox.

Moreover, White Sox relief pitchers walked 11 and hit one batter in the loss, handing the Red Sox 12 extra baserunners over the final eight innings of the game. Given such incompetence, it is remarkable it took Boston 14 innings to finish off Chicago.

You had to figure a roster move was coming Thursday after a Little League-quality performance from the bullpen, and sure enough, the Sox have designated left-hander Donnie Veal for assignment.

Veal has faced 32 batters in six innings pitched this season, and 13 of those hitters reached base -- seven on walks. That's not good enough, and that's why Veal has lost his roster spot.

The Sox have purchased the contract of right-hander Zach Putnam from Triple-A Charlotte. Putnam was unscored upon in six innings for the Knights this season. He has struck out 11 batters and walked just one in that span.

Putnam has previous major league experience. He has appeared in 15 games for the Cleveland Indians, Colorado Rockies and Cubs over the past three seasons, posting an ugly 8.53 ERA. We're not going to pretend Putnam is any sort of answer. He's a journeyman pitcher, but hey, he has only walked one batter in 12.2 career innings at the major league level.

If he comes in and throws the ball over the plate, that's a step up from what some of the other Sox relief pitchers have been doing lately.

Masahiro Tanaka: Some first impressions

I finally got a chance to watch New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka on TV for the first time on Wednesday afternoon. The highly regarded Japanese import started the first game of a day-night doubleheader against the Cubs at Yankee Stadium, and I have to say I was impressed.

Tanaka fired eight shutout innings in New York's 3-0 victory. He struck out 10 and walked just one, while surrendering only two hits. And, oh, both those hits were bunts. That was the extent of the Cubs' offense on this day. Tanaka threw first-pitch strikes to 20 of the 27 batters he faced, and had only two 3-ball counts the entire afternoon. He was simply overpowering.

Some scouts have said Tanaka has the best split-finger fastball they've ever seen. I'm in no position to argue. He had Cubs hitters swinging and missing at that pitch all afternoon. They couldn't hit it, nor could they lay off it. For the most part, Tanaka was starting his splitter at the bottom of the strike zone, enticing the Cubs hitters to swing at it, but it would fall out of sight before it reached home plate.

I also was impressed by Tanaka's ability to change the hitter's eye level. He wasn't afraid to pitch up in the zone with his fastball. A few of the Cubs hitters took belt-high fastballs that were right over the plate. They were probably looking for the splitter and got out-guessed. Tanaka also showed he could grab a first-pitch strike by using his slider. He got ahead in the count against almost everybody, and that made for a long afternoon for the Chicago hitters.

Tanaka reminded me a bit of the late 2005 version of Jose Contreras, when his split-finger was overpowering opposing hitters. Tanaka doesn't have as much heat on his fastball as Contreras did, but his slider is probably better. And the two pitchers are similar in the sense that you could tell a hitter the splitter is coming, and they still wouldn't be able to do anything about it.

Through the first 22 innings of his major league career, Tanaka has struck out 28 and walked just two. He's allowed six runs (five earned) through his first three starts, and all of those runs were scored in either the first inning or the second inning. From the third inning on, he has allowed nothing in each of his three outings.

When it comes to ace pitchers, they always say you better get them early in the count, and you better get them early in the game, otherwise you aren't going to get them. Tanaka has been an example of that thus far. 

All that said, it is worth noting that the Cubs' offense stinks. The North Siders were blanked 2-0 by Michael Pineda and three New York relievers in Wednesday's nightcap. The Cubs, who fell to 4-10 on the season, are not swinging the bats well right now and are hardly the toughest test Tanaka will face.

There are some good hitters in the AL East. Boston and Baltimore, in particular, have strong lineups when all their players are healthy. The more you face an opposing pitcher, the more you know, and it will be interesting to see how the AL East hitters adjust the second, third or fourth time they see Tanaka as the season moves along. That will be the true test to see just how good this guy is.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Remember when the Indians traded CC Sabathia?

Whenever an established veteran is traded for a package of prospects, experts routinely say we won't know how good of a deal a trade is until four, five, six years down the road.

For the most part, I think that's a fair way of looking at things, but we don't always take the time to re-evaulate deals of the past once that future finally arrives.

But with the Cleveland Indians in town to play the White Sox for a four-game series over the weekend, I got to thinking about the trade the Tribe made on July 7, 2008, in which they sent their ace pitcher, CC Sabathia, to the Milwaukee Brewers as part of a blockbuster deal.

Now that nearly six years have passed, I think it's fair to take a look back at this trade. For Sabathia, the Indians acquired outfielder Matt LaPorta, pitchers Zach Jackson and Rob Bryson and a player to be named later.

How did the Brewers come out in this deal? Well, Sabathia made 17 starts for them the rest of 2008 and went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA. He pitched like an ace down the stretch of that season and helped Milwaukee secure the wild card spot in the National League. Unfortunately for the Brewers, Sabathia got shelled in his lone postseason start, and Milwaukee lost in the first round of the playoffs to the eventual world champion Philadelphia Phillies.

That offseason, Sabathia left Milwaukee for much greener pastures, signing an 8-year mega-deal with the New York Yankees, for whom he still pitches today.

I doubt the Brewers regretted making the deal. It didn't net them a World Series, but it did help get them in the playoffs, and they probably knew Sabathia was going to walk at season's end at the time they made the trade.

Time has shown the players Milwaukee parted with on that July day didn't amount to much. Bryson was not much of a prospect and never pitched above Triple-A. Jackson appeared in 12 games over two seasons with the Indians, going 2-3 with a 6.11 ERA. He hasn't pitched in the majors since 2009. Left-handed pitchers tend to live forever, so the now-30-year-old Jackson is still kicking it around in the Washington Nationals organization, but he never helped the Tribe.

That brings us to LaPorta, who was considered "the big piece" of the deal. He was the 23rd-best prospect in baseball going into the 2008 season, as ranked by Baseball America. He was holding pretty steady at No. 27 on that list going into 2009, the spring after he had been dealt to the Indians.

Some experts were surprised the Brewers would part with LaPorta in exchange for a half-season of Sabathia, believing LaPorta was destined to be a prolific right-handed power bat. As it turns out, that didn't happen.

LaPorta made it to the majors with Cleveland, but he made little impact. He posted a .238/.301/.393 slash line with 31 home runs in 120 RBIs over 291 games from 2009 to 2012. He never hit more than 12 home runs in any season. The 29-year-old is now playing for Campeche of the Mexican League, where he is a teammate of former Cubs pitcher Sean Gallagher.

So, from all this we can safely conclude the Brewers fleeced the Indians back in 2008, right? Not so fast.

Remember, the trade included a player to be named later. That October, the Brewers completed the deal by sending outfielder Michael Brantley to the Indians. The 27-year-old is now in his fourth full year as a fixture in the Cleveland outfield. While Brantley is not an All-Star, he's a legitimate everyday player, having posted a .284/.332/.396 slash line in 2013, to go along with a career-high 10 home runs and 73 RBIs.

When a team acquires four prospects in exchange for an established veteran, it's a successful trade if even one of those prospects turns into something decent. After all, most prospects are complete busts. In this particular trade, the highly regarded prospect was a bust, while the player to be named later has become a major league starting outfielder.

Funny how it works out sometimes.

White Sox sign relief pitcher Frank Francisco

The White Sox on Monday signed free agent right-hander Frank Francisco to a minor-league deal. The team has assigned the 34-year-old relief pitcher to Triple-A Charlotte.

Francisco has appeared in 387 major league games with three different teams since 2004, going 20-22 with a 3.93 ERA with 73 career saves. He saved 23 games in 48 appearances with the New York Mets in 2012, although his ERA was a less-than-impressive 5.53. An elbow injury limited Francisco to just eight appearances with the Mets last season.

Is Francisco healthy? That's the main question, but you can hardly blame the Sox for seeking out potential bullpen options right now.

The Sox' bullpen ranks last in the American League with a 6.93 ERA. Opponents are batting a league-high .295 against Sox relievers, who have issued a league-high 26 walks. The Sox (7-6) have managed a winning record through the first two weeks of the season in spite of their struggling bullpen.

I don't know if Francisco is any kind of answer, but there's no harm is stashing him in Triple-A for the time being to find out if he's a candidate to help the major league bullpen at some point this season.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Alexei Ramirez is off to the best start of his career

Alexei Ramirez went 2 for 4 with three RBIs on Thursday to help lead the White Sox to a 7-3 win over the Cleveland Indians. Included was Ramirez's second home run of the season, a solo shot in the third inning off Cleveland right-hander Danny Salazar.

We note this only because it took Ramirez until Aug. 9 to hit his second home run last year. We are only 10 games into the season, and there's still plenty of time for Ramirez to fall back into his seemingly annual April slump, but right now the veteran shortstop is easily off to the best start of his career.

Ramirez, a lifetime .279 hitter, on average hits 33 points below that in April. It is far and away his worst month. Here are the April numbers for his career:

2008: .121/.147/.182, 0 HRs, 2 RBIs
2009: .214/.273/.286, 1 HR, 9 RBIs
2010: .221/.231/.312, 1 HR, 8 RBIs
2011: .265/.318/.382, 3 HRs, 10 RBIs
2012: .207/.233/.264, 1 HR, 6 RBIs
2013: .281/.316/.382, 1 HR, 4 RBIs
2014: .421/.463/.684, 2 HR, 9 RBIs
Career: .246/.284/.347, 9 HR, 48 RBIs

Obviously, there is no chance Ramirez will continue to hit over .400 for the remainder of April. But with three weeks worth of games to go in the month, he only needs one more home run and one more RBI to equal the most productive April of his career. I like his odds of bettering that this year.

A good start from Ramirez has been one of the pleasant surprises so far for the Sox.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

White Sox outfielder Avisail Garcia out for the season

White Sox outfielder Avisail Garcia has a torn labrum in his left shoulder that will require season-ending surgery.

We're not going to sugarcoat it: This is a bad day for the 22-year-old outfielder, the White Sox organization and its fans. I was looking forward to seeing what Garcia could do in a full season as the everyday right fielder, and now that will have to wait until next year.

Garcia hurt the shoulder attempting to make a diving catch during Wednesday's 10-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies.

The Sox have recalled outfielder Jordan Danks from Triple-A Charlotte to take Garcia's place on the 25-man roster.

I won't speculate too much on what this means for Garcia's future, but if there is any blessing, it is that the injury is to his non-throwing shoulder.

We have talked throughout the spring about the possibility of the Sox trading one of either Alejandro De Aza or Dayan Viciedo. It turns out it's a good thing the team held on to both those players. The Sox need them. The duo won't be platooning in left field anymore. I would imagine Viciedo will take over as the full-time right fielder for the remainder of the season, while De Aza will get the majority of starts in left field.

Now is the time for Viciedo to step up. This is his third full season in the big leagues, and if he's going to solidify himself as part of the Sox' future, it's now or never.

This also is an opportunity for Danks, who hit five home runs during spring training and probably deserved to make the team. He's been riding the shuttle between Triple-A and the majors for over two years. Now is his chance to prove he can fill a role on a big-league team.

We already knew the Sox were going to struggle this season, even with a healthy Garcia. News of this injury isn't going to rob the team of a chance to contend or anything like that. However, it is a major setback for Garcia, who is going to miss out on the 500 at-bats against major league pitching he would have received this season. That's the most disappointing part.

Myth-busting: Single-team career stars are *not* becoming more rare

You know who played 3,308 career games all with the Boston Red Sox?


Indeed, Ken "Hawk" Harrelson's oft-mentioned former teammate, Carl Yastrzemski, tops a list of 36 players in major league history who have played at least 2,000 career games all with the same team.

If you've watched ESPN or MLB Network at any point during the last two months, you are no doubt aware that longtime New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter is retiring at the end of the season. Jeter is among those 36 players, having played each of his 2,610 career games (entering Thursday) in a Yankee uniform.

On a recent MLB Network broadcast, I heard one of the commentators note that Jeter has spent his entire career in New York. They added that in this era of free agency, "you just don't see that too often anymore." That's conventional wisdom. Heck, I think I've probably said things like that myself.

But every now and then I like to research the facts behind the conventional wisdom, just to see if they are accurate. In this case, they are not.

Of the 36 players on that list, 23 are players who have played in my lifetime. For the record, I was born in 1976.

So, that means between the years of 1901 and 1976, a span of 75 years, there were only 13 players who played 2,000 games or more all with the same team. In the 38 years since 1976, 23 players have played 2,000 or more games all with the same team

Contrary to conventional wisdom, it's actually more common nowadays for a player to have a long career with the same team.

I won't bore you by listing all the players on the list, but among the 36 are some star players I recall watching during my 1980s childhood: Tony Gwynn, George Brett, Robin Yount, Mike Schmidt, Cal Ripken.

Others, like Jeter, are names familiar to fans who have followed baseball over the last 10 or 15 years: Barry Larkin, Craig Biggio, Edgar Martinez, Chipper Jones, Jeff Bagwell, Todd Helton.

Don't get me wrong: Given the sheer volume of players who make it to the major leagues, it is still uncommon for a guy to spend a career that spans more than a decade in the same city. At some point, most guys get traded, or leave their original franchise via free agency. But the conventional wisdom that says single-team career stars like Jeter are becoming more and more rare is just plain wrong.

In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if this list continues to grow over the next decade. You can find examples of players who are candidates to join the list. Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia has played 1,025 career games (entering Thursday). He is under contract with the Red Sox until 2021, when he will be 38 years old. How about Evan Longoria? He's played 807 career games (entering Thursday) and is under contract with the Tampa Bay Rays through 2023. There's two possibilities right there. I'm sure there are others.

You see, this old-school lament that "players just don't stay in the same place anymore" is not quite right. They didn't stay in the same place all that often back in the old days either. If I ever try to tell you otherwise, remind me I'm wrong. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

If any pitcher deserves some run support, it's Jose Quintana

White Sox pitcher Jose Quintana leads the league in only one category: no-decisions. He had a league-high 17 of them in 2013. He's had 28 of them since the start of the 2012 season, more than any other pitcher in baseball. Heck, his first start of 2014 ended in a no-decision after the Sox bullpen spit out a three-run lead.

I've lost track of how many times Quintana has pitched well enough to win, only to walk away with nothing. Lack of run support? That would be an understatement. The Sox scored three runs or less in 16 of Quintana's 33 starts last year. Seven times, they were limited to one run or less. They were shutout on three occasions.

So if there's any pitcher who deserved to be the beneficiary of a 15-run outburst, it's Quintana. The left-hander turned in another solid, consistent outing on Tuesday night, firing seven innings of two-run ball in the Sox' 15-3 win over the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field.

The environment is hitter-friendly in Denver, and this game saw the Sox pound out six home runs and 19 hits. First baseman Jose Abreu hit the first two home runs of his major league career. Avisail Garcia also went deep twice, and Alexei Ramirez and Tyler Flowers hit home runs as well.

Abreu's first home run was perhaps the big blow of the game. On the 12th pitch of his at-bat in the seventh inning against Colorado reliever Chad Bettis, the Cuban slugger hit a three-run homer to extend a tenuous 4-2 Sox lead to 7-2. From there, the rout was on. Abreu homered in the eighth inning, as well, and is now tied with Minnesota's Chris Colabello for the American League lead in RBIs with 11.

Speaking of leading the league, Flowers leads all American League hitters with a .478 batting average entering Wednesday's action. That's funny to me. Should I pick him up in my fantasy league?

Cubs waste big night for Castro

Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro missed a good chunk of spring training due to injury, and not surprisingly, he got off to a slow start the first few games of the season. It looks like he's back on track, though, after going 3-for-4 with two home runs and four RBIs on Tuesday night.

But Castro's effort went for naught, as the Cubs lost 7-6 to the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field. I bring up his performance, though, to note he is still clearly the best shortstop in the Cubs' organization.

While I agree with Cubs fans that Castro is a frustrating player to watch at times, I disagree with those who want him traded immediately to make room for uber-prospect Javier Baez.

In case you were wondering, Baez is 1-for-18 with eight strikeouts and three errors at shortstop in six games at Triple-A Iowa so far this year. The 21-year-old also was ejected from a game for an angry outburst over the weekend. There's a good probability we'll see Baez in Chicago before the year is over, but his slow start is a reminder that he is still very much a work in progress. He needs to refine his game, especially defensively, before he's worthy of being a big-league shortstop.

The Cubs need not be in any hurry to trade Castro, who for all his faults remains the most accomplished hitter in the North Siders' lineup. The Cubs need to be adding good hitters to their roster, not subtracting the scant few they have.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

It makes sense for a rebuilding team to take a flier on Tommy Hanson

The White Sox on Monday signed veteran right-handed pitcher Tommy Hanson to a minor league deal. The 27-year-old is expected to report to Triple-A Charlotte after a stint at extended spring training in Arizona.  

Earlier this spring, Hanson was released by the Texas Rangers after posting a 6.43 ERA over 14 innings in the Cactus League. 

Hanson, who was once a prized prospect in the Atlanta organization, finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year balloting in 2009, when he went 11-4 with a 2.89 ERA in 21 starts for the Braves. Unfortunately for him, that was his finest hour. He has seen a gradual decline in every year since, and has been plagued by shoulder problems since the 2011 season.  

He spent last year with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, finishing 4-3 with a 5.42 ERA in 15 games (13 starts).  

It always amazes me how some people become outraged about minor signings such as this one. You look around the Internet, and you can find Sox fans complaining about this move, making comments such as, "This organization is such a wreck. Why would they sign a bum like this?"  

I'll tell you why: There's no risk, and it costs next to nothing. If Hanson continues to struggle, he will be released. If he gets his act together, perhaps he can give the Sox some decent innings while they go through a transitional season.  

When a team is rebuilding like the Sox are, it's inevitable that there are some gaping holes in the roster. If there weren't gaping holes, well, then a rebuilding process wouldn't be necessary, would it?  

The Sox organization is trying to fill those holes with talented young players as quickly as possible, but high-end talent is hard to acquire and it doesn't happen overnight. In the meantime, you need some veteran guys to fill in the gaps until you can either trade for or develop somebody better.  

General manager Rick Hahn knows there isn't a lot of pitching depth in the Sox' minor leagues, so he has added several low-cost, no-risk arms in free agency or off the waiver wire. Felipe Paulino and Maikel Cleto are two such pickups currently pitching in the big leagues. Hanson will eventually join Mitchell Boggs, Eric Surkamp and Javy Guerra in Charlotte. Don't be surprised if we see one or more of those four in Chicago sometime this summer.  

No, guys like Paulino, Cleto, Hanson, Boggs, Surkamp and Guerra are not going to lead the White Sox to October glory -- not this year or any other year. But as fans, we need to understand that's not what they are here to do. If you sign five or six reclamation projects, chances are two or three will end up giving you some halfway decent innings and keep you somewhat competitive at the big-league level while the team goes through the sometimes painful rebuilding process.  

Eventually, these stopgap veterans will be replaced by younger players with more upside, but until those guys are acquired, somebody has to pitch.  

No one is fool enough to believe a guy like Hanson is a long-term solution for anything. Chances are he'll be a faint memory the next time the Sox field a contending team. But, if he comes up and starts the second end of a doubleheader, or even if he gives the team 30 innings out of the bullpen later in the year, then this signing is worthwhile.

It's all part of a process. It's all a means to an end. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

If you're hurt and can't pitch, well, then don't pitch

The White Sox bullpen had a bad day on Thursday. The South Siders had an 8-5 lead after six innings and couldn't hold it. They took a 9-8 lead into the ninth inning and had the Minnesota Twins down to their final strike, but Matt Lindstrom couldn't close. The Twins rallied for a 10-9 victory at chilly U.S. Cellular Field.

I imagine most Sox fans are angry at Lindstrom. I am not. Stuff happens, and Lindstrom is hardly the only guy around baseball to blow a ninth-inning lead during this opening week.

No, the Sox reliever on my bad side right now is Nate Jones, and it has nothing to do with the outcome of Thursday's game. I'd still be pissed at Jones even if the Sox had won. When it comes to pitchers, there are two things I have little tolerance for: 1) Relief pitchers who refuse to throw strikes and 2) Guys who try to be heroes and pitch through injury. Jones committed both those sins on Thursday.

Jones entered the game in the top of the seventh inning with the Sox up three runs and promptly walked the only two Minnesota hitters he saw -- Brian Dozier and Joe Mauer. At one point, Jones threw seven consecutive pitches out of the zone. His final pitch of the day almost hit Mauer and went all the way back to the screen. It wasn't even close. Those back-to-back leadoff walks eventually came around to score, and the Twins got back in the game.

Afterward, Jones said the glute strain that affected him during spring training had resurfaced. It bothered him in the bullpen while he was warming up and continued to bother him after he entered the game.

“I felt a little discomfort out there today,” Jones told Dan Hayes of CSN Chicago. “It's kinda just in the back of your head. When you're thinking about something else besides hitting the mitt, then you see what happens. It's not good for the team.”

No, it's not good for the team. That's the one thing Jones got right today. Here's a tip, Nate: If you're hurt and don't think you can pitch effectively, tell the bullpen coach. Tell somebody, anybody. That way, the team can get somebody else warming up.

If a player says, "Hey, I'm hurt and I can't go," I can deal with that. What I don't care for is a pitcher throwing up all over the mound, costing the team, then saying "I'm hurt" after the fact. 

If you can't pitch, then don't pitch. Simple as that.

New York talking heads out of line, as usual

New York Mets infielder Daniel Murphy missed the first two games of the season because his wife had a baby. Murphy went on paternity leave for three days, which is his right under major league rules.

You would think nobody would have a problem with that, but a couple of blabbermouths on sports talk radio in New York City took Murphy to task.

''One day I understand. And in the old days they didn't do that,'' WFAN broadcaster Mike Francesa said. ''But one day, go see the baby be born and come back. You're a Major League Baseball player. You can hire a nurse to take care of the baby if your wife needs help.''

Former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason also chimed in on WFAN.

''Quite frankly, I would have said C-section before the season starts. I need to be at opening day, I'm sorry,'' he said. ''This is what makes our money. This is how we're going to live our life. This is going to give my child every opportunity to be a success in life. I'll be able to afford any college I want to send my kid to because I'm a baseball player.''

Two points about this: First, if this had happened in July would anyone have noticed? I don't believe so. This whole tempest in a teapot is a prime example of how Opening Day games and games during the first week of the season in general are overanalyzed. The Mets didn't play well in their first series of the year. They got swept by the Washington Nationals, and in the small minds of some, dammit, someone must be blamed. Murphy is a convenient and easy target, but I really doubt his absence during those two games will have any impact on the outcome of the Mets' season. There's 159 games to go, you know?

And, second, as for Mr. Esiason, "quite frankly" he should stick to NFL talk. I firmly believe Murphy will be able to send his newborn child to college, despite missing the first two games of the season. I'm sure Murphy appreciates Esiason's concern. I know every game and every snap in the arrogant, self-important, bloated, overanalyzed NFL is treated as a matter of life and death, but that's not the way it should be.

No matter what your line of work, family should always come first. That shouldn't be a hard concept to grasp, unless you're an NFL meathead.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Bunting with two strikes ... sometimes that works

I was watching a White Sox-Reds spring training game last week when I saw Sox center fielder Adam Eaton bunt for a base hit on an 0-2 pitch. The Cincinnati third baseman was so stunned that he threw the ball away on the play. Even with an accurate throw, Eaton would have been safe.  

I thought to myself, "I haven't seen a Sox player try something like that in quite a few years."  

Fast-forward to Wednesday afternoon: With the score tied 6-6 in the bottom of the 11th inning, Sox infielder Leury Garcia lays down a perfect bunt on an 0-2 pitch. He beats the play out without a throw.  Later in the inning, he scores the game-winning run on a wild pitch as the Sox defeat the Minnesota Twins, 7-6.  

It would be a refreshing change if the Sox can find a way to score some runs this season without the benefit of the long ball. On Wednesday, only one of their seven tallies came on a home run -- a solo shot by Adam Dunn in the eighth inning.  

The Sox scored three runs in the second inning on three singles, a double and two sacrifice hits. They rallied to tie the game with two runs in the ninth on three singles and a fielder's choice. It was encouraging to see some manufactured runs with the game on the line.

Speaking of that ninth-inning rally, Paul Konerko got off to a good start in his new bench role. He led off the inning with a pinch-hit single off Minnesota closer Glen Perkins, who is left-handed. Konerko, for all his struggles in 2013, hit .313 against left-handed pitchers a year ago. He can still be effective for the Sox if he is spotted in matchups that are favorable for him.

'Don't want to get picked off here in this situation'

Good news for the Cubs: Their new leadoff man, Emilio Bonifacio, is swinging the bat exceptionally well out of the gate. He's 9 for 12 through the first two games of the season.  

Bad news for the Cubs: Bonifacio has been picked off base two of the nine times he's reached, and he would have been picked off a third time if the Pittsburgh first baseman had not dropped the ball.

I don't know if I've ever seen a guy get picked off three times the first two days of the season. Would that be some kind of record? It's hard to come down too hard on Bonifacio, though, because he's one of the few Cub hitters off to a good start. The North Siders are 0-2, having lost a pair of extra-inning contests in Pittsburgh. They've scored only three runs in 26 innings against the Pirates pitching staff.

On Wednesday, the Cubs rallied from a 2-0 deficit with a run in the eighth and another run in the ninth. They even took a short-lived 3-2 lead on Anthony Rizzo's solo home run in the top of the 12th. But new closer Jose Veras failed in his first save situation. He gave up the lead and was fortunate to escape a bases-loaded jam and with only one run allowed in the bottom of the 12th. Veras was taking forever in between pitches and seemed to have no confidence in his stuff. It's only one outing, but that performance cannot be encouraging for the Cubs, who went on to lose 4-3 in 16 innings.  

Buerhle turns back clock in first start of season  

Former White Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle had an up-and down year in his first season in Toronto in 2013, but on Wednesday, he looked like the pitcher he was five or six years ago.

Buehrle allowed only four hits over 8.2 innings and picked up the win as the Blue Jays defeated Tampa Bay, 3-0. The southpaw struck out 11 and walked just one.

It was just the second double-digit strikeout game of Buehrle's career. The other came during the Sox' World Series year. He fanned a career-high 12 in a 2-1 win over Seattle on April 16, 2005.

I still root for Buehrle, as long as he isn't pitching against the Sox.  

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Opening Day 2014 at U.S. Cellular Field

White Sox left fielder Alejandro De Aza is on pace for 324 home runs and 486 RBIs this season.

OK, so that isn't going to happen, but credit De Aza for coming up with a big performance on Opening Day -- two home runs and three RBIs in the Sox' 5-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins.

It was De Aza's first multihomer game of his career. He became just the fourth Sox player to hit two home runs in a game on Opening Day. The others are Minnie Minoso, Sammy Sosa and Jim Thome.

As you can see from the picture, the weather cooperated on Monday. It was windy day on the South Side, but the temperatures were in the 60s. In fact, it was the warmest day in the Chicago area since last November. After the winter we've had, I had no complaints.

Here are a few other first impressions from yesterday's game:

1. The Sox played errorless defense. I don't know if that's going to last, but it was nice to see. I'll bet the Sox coughed up 15 to 20 games on poor defense alone in 2013. They were sloppy at times during spring training as well, so defense ranks as my No. 1 concern coming into the season. On Monday, all the routine plays were handled behind ace left-hander Chris Sale. If the Sox could just be adequate defensively, they might add five to 10 games to their win total on that alone.

2. Jose Abreu hits the ball hard. Really hard. He crushed the first pitch he saw in the big leagues for a double to right field. Minnesota outfielder Oswaldo Arcia didn't have time to react before the ball was over his head. Abreu went 2-for-4 with an RBI in his first game, and he hit the ball right on the screws three times. We'll see how Abreu reacts as pitchers adjust to him, but it was a good start for the Cuban slugger.

3. I think Adam Eaton is going to become a fan favorite on the South Side. He went 2-for-4 with a run scored in his first game, but perhaps his most impressive at-bat was one in which he made an out. He saw 11 pitches from Minnesota reliever Anthony Swarzak in the seventh inning. He fouled off several good pitches before grounding out to first base. Eaton looks like he's going to be a tough out, and just in general, he seems like he's going to be a pain to opposing teams. Sox fans like guys like that.

4. There are two types of pitchers who start on Opening Day. There are aces, and then there are guys who pitch on Opening Day because somebody has to. Sale is an ace. Minnesota's Ricky Nolasco started because, well, somebody had to start for the Twins. The difference in quality between those two guys is pretty obvious to anyone who watched this game. No surprise that Sale got the win and Nolasco the loss.

5. Sox manager Robin Ventura has selected veteran Matt Lindstrom to be his closer. Lindstrom picked up the save Monday, retiring three of the four batters he faced with one strikeout. I'm probably in the minority on this one, but I like Lindstrom over Nate Jones in the ninth inning. Will Lindstrom be a dominant closer? Hell no. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Daniel Webb takes his job before the year is over. But for me, Jones walks too many batters to be a closer. His command was spotty at best during the spring. Lindstrom will get beat at times, but I think he's less likely to give games away with walks than Jones. I'm fine with giving Lindstrom a shot.

161 games to go, but for one day, the Sox and their fans can feel good about this performance. The Sox have won each of their last seven home openers, and Monday's effort was a solid one from top to bottom.