Monday, March 14, 2016

White Sox have back-of-the-rotation questions

The White Sox had two spring training games that were hard to watch and/or listen to over the weekend -- they were beaten by the Cubs, 9-2, on Saturday and lost 11-4 to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday.

Poor performances by back-of-the rotation candidates were a common theme in both losses, with Erik Johnson looking more like the 2014 version of himself than the 2015 International League Pitcher of the Year.

Johnson gave up five runs on seven hits over three innings against a split-squad Cubs lineup that featured only three regulars (Dexter Fowler, Jason Heyward, Anthony Rizzo). His fastball was clocked between 85 and 89 mph and had little life. Once such fastball was hit over the fence by Fowler in the second inning. Johnson was hanging his breaking ball and consistently behind in counts.

We'll forgive the hanging breaking balls, because the dry Arizona air can make it hard to snap off a good curve. But reduced velocity and poor command doomed Johnson two years ago, and those issues seem to have resurfaced early on in 2016. He's given up a combined nine runs in his first two Arizona starts, and the stuff he's featuring now isn't going to be good enough for him to make the club.

Speaking of poor stuff, John Danks got cuffed around in his third spring start on Sunday, allowing eight runs on six hits over 4.1 innings in the loss to the Diamondbacks. Danks gave up two homers to some guy named Peter O'Brien, a 25-year-old who has made 12 plate appearances in the majors in his career.

After the game, Danks said he understands his critics, but pointed out that he's trying to simplify his mechanics before the season starts. OK, I can buy that, but the problem is I feel like I've been hearing about Danks trying to make mechanical adjustments for the past four years. The bottom line is he's never been a pitcher with precise command, and now that he doesn't have the velocity he had before his shoulder surgery, it's going to be extremely difficult for him to be consistent over 30-plus starts. That's why he should be pitching for a job this spring, regardless of his contract status.

The Sox's other rotation candidate, Mat Latos, has yet to pitch in a game that counts in the spring training standings. He pitched in a "B" game Saturday, allowing three runs (all in the first inning) over four innings of work.

An American League scout told CSNChicago's JJ Stankevitz that Latos' performance was "pretty underwhelming." Sox manager Robin Ventura described it as "alright."

That's not exactly a ringing endorsement on either count, so the Sox are looking for at least two of these three guys -- Johnson, Danks and Latos -- to step up before the spring is over.

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