Showing posts with label James Shields. Show all posts
Showing posts with label James Shields. Show all posts

Thursday, July 27, 2017

James Shields is pitching? I'd rather watch 'Alf'

Wednesday night's White Sox game provoked a text conversation among my friends and I where we asked the question, "Could Alf hit a home run if he had a chance to face James Shields"?

Or better yet, could the 1980s TV sitcom character pitch well enough to earn a spot in the Sox bullpen?

Why Alf, you ask?

Well, reruns of that program air in syndication on MeTV at 8:30 p.m. weeknights in the Chicago area. And 8:30 p.m. is about the time when the average Sox game goes to hell, and fans start reaching for the remote control to find something else to watch.

So, flipping channels, you might find yourself watching "Alf." Did you know that when Alf gets the hiccups, the only two cures for him are cat juice and spinach?

Ah, that crazy Alf! You never know what he's going to do next.

Would Shields pitch better if we provided him with some cat juice and spinach before his next start?

The erstwhile right-hander got pummeled again Wednesday in an 8-3 loss to the Cubs. He made it through three innings unscathed, but he gave up a run in the fourth and four more runs in the fifth without recording an out. Shields, an alleged "innings eater," once again lasted only four innings and left a depleted Sox bullpen with five innings to cover. Alf eats more cats than Shields eats innings. It's a miracle the Sox only lost by five.

In his past four starts, Shields is 0-2 with an ERA of 9.00. This is not a new trend. Since he was acquired by the Sox in the middle of the 2016 season, he has gone 6-15 with 6.49 ERA in 32 starts.

How much longer do we need to put up with this? Shields profiles as a relief pitcher at this stage of his career. He can only get through a batting order one time before he implodes. Why do we think he's getting knocked out in the fourth or fifth inning every time he goes to the mound?

Thank goodness the "Alf" reruns come on about the time the fourth inning starts.

In all seriousness, it's time to remove Shields from the rotation and replace him with Reynaldo Lopez, who has nothing left to prove at the Triple-A level.

Lopez fanned 10 more hitters in his latest start Wednesday with the Charlotte Knights. He has compiled a 1.96 ERA with 49 strikeouts in 36.2 innings over his past six starts.

It's time to make a change. The Sox have a prospect who is forcing the issue. If Lopez is on the mound, I won't be switching over to watch "Alf," I promise.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Surprisingly, Miguel Gonzalez baffles Cubs in crosstown opener

I apologize for previously including Miguel Gonzalez on my list of washed-up White Sox veterans.

Unlike starting rotation mates James Shields, Mike Pelfrey and Derek Holland, Gonzalez occasionally comes up with a well-pitched ballgame against a good team.

The right-hander came off the disabled list July 18 and fired six innings of one-run ball in a 1-0 loss to Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers, and he backed that up with another strong outing Monday -- pitching 7.1 innings of one-run ball in a 3-1 victory over the Cubs in the first game of the 2017 Crosstown Classic at Wrigley Field.

With the win, the Sox (39-57) broke a nine-game losing streak and collected their first victory since the All-Star break. Gonzalez (5-9) also became the first Sox pitcher in 30 games to have an outing of seven innings or more.

It wasn't easy.

The key moment came in the bottom of the seventh inning with the Sox leading 2-1. The Cubs loaded the bases with two outs for Anthony Rizzo, and with the Sox bullpen depleted because of trades, manager Rick Renteria had little choice but to stick with Gonzalez.

With the wind blowing in at Wrigley, Rizzo flew out to the warning track in center field to end the threat.

The conditions did not stop the Sox from hitting a pair of home runs. Rookie center fielder Adam Engel's drive in the top of the sixth inning off Cubs reliever Justin Grimm (1-1) got into the left-center field bleachers to give the Sox the lead for good at 2-1.

Matt Davidson added a 476-foot solo shot off Koji Uehara in the top of the eighth inning to complete the scoring. That one was going to be a home run on any day, at any park, in any conditions.

Sox reliever Anthony Swarzak picked up his first save in 226 career relief appearances. He retired the first two hitters in the bottom of the ninth before Kris Bryant reached on an infield single and Rizzo walked. Willson Contreras came to the plate representing the winning run, but Swarzak overmatched him with two blazing fastballs right on the black of the outside corner, the second of which was strike three called.

Contreras didn't think they were strikes, arguing with home plate umpire Angel Hernandez and breaking his bat in frustration after the out was recorded. Alas, they were strikes. Those pitches looked good to me, and good to K zone on the Comcast SportsNet Chicago broadcast, too.

Hey Willson, now it's your turn to cry.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

White Sox trade Jose Quintana to Cubs for four prospects

Jose Quintana
Shock and disbelief are reverberating throughout Chicago, after the White Sox traded left-handed pitcher Jose Quintana to the crosstown Cubs on Thursday.

I'm probably not as stunned as some people are. If you watched any of the Sox-Rockies series over the weekend, you might have heard Ken Harrelson and Steve Stone talking about how it would be "crazy" for the Sox not to entertain trade offers from the Cubs.

Harrelson, for better or for worse, has long been regarded as a mouthpiece for Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. Listen carefully to the oracle, and you might be able to read the tea leaves. If Harrelson is talking about a potential Sox-Cubs deal, then you shouldn't be shocked when one occurs.

Let's take a look at the four guys the Sox acquired:

  • Eloy Jimenez, OF -- The best prospect in the Cubs' system, the 20-year-old outfielder is ranked as the No. 5 prospect in the game, according to Baseball America. Jimenez, who was on the World roster for the Futures Game, was hitting 271/.351/.490 with eight home runs and 32 RBI in 42 games with Class-A Myrtle Beach this season. 
  • Dylan Cease, RHP -- The sixth-round pick of the Cubs in 2014, Cease was regarded as the best pitching prospect in the North Siders' system. He is ranked as the No. 83 prospect in the game, according to Baseball America. In 13 starts with Class-A South Bend, Cease had a 2.79 ERA and 1.258 WHIP with 74 strikeouts.
  • Matt Rose, 1B-3B -- The 22-year-old was an 11th-round pick in 2015. Rose had a .227/.281/.481 slash line with 14 home runs and 38 RBIs in 65 games at Myrtle Beach this season.
  • Bryant Flete, IF-OF -- The 24-year-old has played both infield and outfield positions. He was slashing .305/.355/.425 with six home runs and 37 RBIs in 70 games at Myrtle Beach.
People who know me will probably not be surprised that I'm less than enthusiastic about this trade. I'm not going to say that Sox general manager Rick Hahn did not acquire good prospects in this deal -- he did. He said he was looking to get the top two prospects out of an organization in a Quintana trade, and the Cubs clearly met his asking price.

That said, while Jimenez and Cease are high-quality prospects, neither is close to MLB-ready. Both still need significant development time in the minor leagues, and the Sox are going to have to coach these guys up in order for them to reach their potential.

Based upon what you've seen over the past 10 or 15 years, what have the Sox done to earn our faith as fans that they can develop this talent? Very little in my estimation, and that's why I'm less than excited about this haul, just as I wasn't overly enthused about the haul the Sox get in the Chris Sale and Adam Eaton trades.

It's nice to have a highly regarded farm system, but that doesn't amount to a hill of beans if the Sox do not handle these prospects correctly. I will continue to be skeptical until I see results at the major league level, and I think we all understand that it will be a few years before we can make any firm judgments on that.

As I've said before, it's not the rebuild itself that offends me. It's the actors in charge of the rebuild who concern me. The fan base seems to be in favor of this trade, and frankly, I've surprised by the lack of skepticism among Sox fans these days.

In the past, we as a fan base have always been willing to ask tough questions, to not just take things on faith or face value. In this rebuild, we are putting a lot of faith in the same people who brought us Jeff Keppinger, Adam LaRoche, James Shields and assorted other bums.

We can only hope their judgment of young talent, and their development of that young talent, is much better than their judgment on which veteran players to pursue in trades and in free agency. 

Monday, July 3, 2017

2017 White Sox reach season's halfway point

Jose Quintana
The White Sox took two out of three games from the Texas Rangers at Guaranteed Rate Field over the weekend, which puts their record at 36-45 at the halfway point of the season.

Projected out over the full 162 games, they would finish 72-90. That sounds about right given the preseason expectations.

I've always said the 2013 Sox are the worst team I've cheered for in my lifetime -- and that club had the 63-99 record to prove it. This year's team only needs to go 28-53 the second half to top that, and that seems doable, even though some productive veterans are likely to be traded before July is over.

That said, this season has a more painful feel to it than that 2013 campaign, and I think I've finally put my finger on why: The losses this season are as ugly as they come. Perhaps they aren't frequent as they were in 2013, but the brand of baseball is a little bit worse -- especially when it comes to pitching.

You go back and look at the numbers from 2013, and the Sox had three starting pitchers with ERAs below 4 -- Chris Sale (3.07), Jose Quintana (3.51) and Hector Santiago (3.56). The Sox also had Jake Peavy on the team for half the season before he was dealt to the Boston Red Sox, and his ERA (4.28 ERA) was no worse than league average.

So, for most of the year, the 2013 Sox had four men in their rotation who could give you a competitive outing. Now, that team couldn't hit worth a damn; they lost 99 games for a reason. But when you went to the park to watch the 2013 Sox, they would typically lose 4-1 and you'd be outta there in two and a half hours.

This year is a different scene, because starting pitching is the biggest weakness for this club. James Shields, of all people, is the only pitcher with an ERA below 4 (3.98), and he's made only six starts this season. Quintana is having a down year (4.45 ERA), and you've got retread veterans Derek Holland (4.52), Mike Pelfrey (4.13) and Miguel Gonzalez (5.15 ERA) hanging around the rotation.

A typical Sox loss this season is characterized by a short outing from a post-peak veteran starter, followed by a parade of middle relievers who struggle to throw strikes, and are lucky to be in the major leagues. By the end of the day, Sox pitchers have thrown about 200 pitches to get through nine innings, and three and a half hours later, you're walking out of the ballpark with a 10-2 loss or a 10-4 loss.

Linked are the box scores to the past two games I've personally attended. Frankly, I'd rather see some decent pitching and have the Sox get beat in a hurry than watch some of these long, drawn-out messes where five or six relievers are used.

I'm one of those fans who stays to the end no matter what, no matter how painful, so I guess the one positive to blowout losses is I can get out of the parking lot much faster when the game is over. (Most people scram early.) But, I can't say that I'm enjoying the baseball I've been seeing this year.

Friday, June 30, 2017

White Sox likely to have more representation in Futures Game than All-Star Game

Yoan Moncada
White Sox fans will have a reason to watch this year's Futures Game. The rosters were announced Thursday for the annual midsummer showcase, and three Sox prospects made the list: second baseman Yoan Moncada, pitcher Michael Kopech and catcher Zack Collins.

It appears likely the Sox will have more representation in the Futures Game than they will in the All-Star Game itself, with right fielder Avisail Garcia and first baseman Jose Abreu the only two legitimate All-Star candidates on the big-league roster.

Moncada will play for the World team, and will try to defend the MVP honor he won in the Futures Game last season when he still was a member of the Boston Red Sox organization.

This season, Moncada has hit .281/.381/.454 with 10 home runs, 29 RBIs and 15 stolen bases for Triple-A Charlotte. He spent some time on the disabled list with a thumb injury about a month ago, and struggled when he first returned, but he's had a solid season overall and has lived up to the billing as the Sox's No. 1-ranked prospect.

Kopech, the fireballing right-hander who was acquired along with Moncada in the Chris Sale trade, is 4-5 with a 3.72 ERA in 15 starts at Double-A Birmingham. Kopech has demonstrated that he has the raw ability to be an elite pitcher -- he's fanned 97 hitters and allowed only 51 hits in 75 innings for the Barons. However, his control remains a work in progress. He's walked 49, and that's what has prevented him from earning a promotion to Charlotte, despite being selected to the Double-A All-Star Game, and now, Team USA in the Futures Game.

Collins also is on the Team USA roster, and his selection is a little more of a surprise. He's a had a rough season at Class-A Winston-Salem, although he has 10 home runs and leads the league with 56 walks. But his.206/.362/.399 slash line qualifies as a disappointment, and so do the 82 strikeouts in 233 at-bats. However, they say catching is the fastest path to the big leagues, and perhaps there aren't many good catching prospects out there. This is Collins' first full year in pro ball, so there's plenty of time for him to get his career on right track.

Sox salvage split with Yankees

Thanks to the rainy conditions here in Chicago, Thursday night's game didn't end until after 1 a.m. local time, but it ended happily, with the Sox picking up a 4-3 victory over the New York Yankees.

I've been critical of James Shields (2-1), so let's give credit to him for a respectable outing. He fired 6.1 innings of three-run ball and left the mound with the 4-3 lead intact. The big hit of the game came from Willy Garcia, whose two-out, two-run double in the fourth inning put the Sox ahead for good at 4-2.

The Sox bullpen combined to throw 2.2 innings of shutout ball. Closer David Robertson earned his 12th save, striking out New York slugger Aaron Judge with a man on base for the final out.

It's been a tough homestand so far, even with Thursday's win. The Sox are 2-5 with three games to come this weekend against the Texas Rangers.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Carlos Rodon extremely wild in return, but there were positives

Carlos Rodon
I'm not going to say White Sox left-hander Carlos Rodon pitched well in his first start of the 2017 season. He did not.

He walked six guys in five innings, struck out only two, and threw only 41 of his 94 pitches for strikes. The Sox lost, 12-3, to the New York Yankees on Wednesday in a game that was every bit as ugly as the final score indicates.

That said, we can take some positives out of this Rodon performance -- his first in the big leagues since last September -- in the sense that he looked like a healthy pitcher. Rodon missed the first three months of the season with bursitis in his throwing shoulder. Steve Stone always says velocity comes from the shoulder, so you can conclude that a pitcher with an injured shoulder will lack velocity on his pitches.

Rodon did not lack velocity on his fastball Wednesday night. In fact, he uncorked a couple all the way back to the screen in the first inning, which was an indication that perhaps he felt too strong in this outing. His four-seam fastball averaged 94.9 mph according to BrooksBaseball.Net and touched 97 mph. His two-seamer averaged 94.4 mph and touched 95. That's about where Rodon should be.

The problem was, he couldn't command anything. I can't recall a single time where he got a called strike on his slider in the five innings he was out there. He was essentially a one-pitch pitcher, and he had no control of that one pitch -- his fastball.

As fans, we'll have to show a little patience here. Rodon is still basically in spring training mode, and for a pitcher who has missed significant time, the feel for the breaking ball is usually the last thing that returns. Once Rodon regains the feel for his slider, and can grab a strike with it, he can win some games for the Sox -- as long as he's healthy and throwing 94 to 97 on the fastball. He's never been a precise command guy, but he doesn't have to be with the velocity and movement he has on his pitches. He does, however, need to throw more strikes.

Really, given that ball-to-strike ratio, it's borderline miraculous that Rodon made it through five innings allowing only three unearned runs. When he left the game, the Sox were trailing, 3-2. He took the loss, but he wasn't the one responsible for allowing the score to get out of hand. Reliever Jake Petricka coughed up five runs in the sixth inning. Michael Ynoa gave up four more in the ninth while only recording one out.

Poor pitching by middle relievers made the score ugly, more than anything Rodon did. The main thing I'm looking for with Rodon right now? Does he come out of this healthy, make his next start five days from now and look sharper than he did Wednesday? If so, I'm happy.

The Sox could use another starting pitcher they can rely on, with Miguel Gonzalez on the DL, James Shields looking washed-up and Mike Pelfrey being Mike Pelfrey.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Mark Buehrle's jersey retirement a highlight of 2017 season

Former Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle, with his wife and children
White Sox great Mark Buehrle's jersey retirement ceremony Saturday moved at a quick pace -- much like the games Buehrle used to pitch on the South Side of Chicago. The ceremony was over in less than a half-hour, but it was a fitting tribute for a man who was deserving of the honor.

Buehrle warned us that his speech would be short and sweet, and it was. He opened by telling the nearly 40,000 fans who had gathered, "I should be on the mound, not standing here in front of this mic talking to you guys." That drew a loud round of applause from the crowd -- Buehrle looked as if he was in better shape than he was in the final days of his career in Toronto, and it's not far-fetched to believe he would fare better on the mound right now than James Shields does these days.

Buehrle didn't mention many people by name in his speech, probably because he didn't want to leave anybody out. He acknowledged each of the groups in attendance -- his family, including his wife, children and parents; coaches, staff and former teammates; extended family and friends; and finally, the fans of Chicago.

Other speakers included pitching coach Don Cooper, Hall of Famer Frank Thomas and White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. Other former teammates in attendance included Joe Crede, Jon Garland, Scott Podsednik, Cliff Politte, Jim Thome, John Danks and Ross Gload. Ex-managers Jerry Manuel and Ozzie Guillen also were on hand.

Thomas' speech was a highlight, and he concluded with perhaps the best line of the afternoon when he turned to Buehrle and said, "Congratulations. Stop being modest. You’re one of the greatest pitchers that ever toed this rubber in Comiskey Park, ever.”

Indeed, the Big Hurt is correct.

Who is the pitcher with the most wins in the history of the ballpark? It's Buehrle with 90. Who is the only pitcher to throw multiple no-hitters in the history of the ballpark? It's Buehrle. Who is the only pitcher to throw a perfect game in that ballpark? It's Buehrle. Add in the 2005 World Series championship, the three Gold Glove awards and the four All-Star appearances, and the victory in the 2005 All-Star Game, and that's why No. 56 is up on the stadium wall.

The Sox, of course, had a video montage paying tribute to Buehrle's career. The left-field scoreboard today is a mishmash of social media and other assorted crap, but for a brief moment during the tribute, they made the scoreboard look like it did the day of Buehrle's perfect game, July 23, 2009, when he was one out away with Tampa Bay's Jason Bartlett at the plate.

As we remember, Buehrle finished the job by retiring Bartlett on a routine grounder to short. I still find it eerie that the Sox had five runs on six hits on No. 56's perfect day. That coincidence never gets old for me.

It was also cool that the Sox found the kid who had the ball from Buehrle's famous between-the-legs-flip play from Opening Day 2010. Buehrle was presented with that ball as part of the ceremony. The play is still the greatest defensive play I've ever seen a pitcher make. If you haven't seen it, or don't remember it, click the link. It's incredible.

And, of course, no Sox ceremony would be complete without Reinsdorf taking a subtle dig at the fans. During his speech, he pointed out to Buehrle that there normally are not 40,000 people in the ballpark, as there were on Saturday.

Yeah, no kidding, Jerry, your current team stinks.

We were reminded of that quickly when the ceremony ended and the game started. Two batters in, Shields and the Sox trailed 2-0, and fans were chanting for Buehrle to come on the mound and pitch.

Predictably, the 2017 Sox squandered the festive atmosphere, losing 10-2 to fellow last-place team Oakland. In case you were wondering, the Sox are 9-17 in the past 26 games in which they have drawn more than 30,000 fans.

The game took three hours, 22 minutes to play. It was an anti-Buehrle kind of game on Buehrle's day, which is unfortunate, but it served as a good reminder that we need to cherish the good times of the past while we suffer through the present-day problems with the organization.

One of the great things about Saturday: Seeing Buehrle and all those former players took me back to a different and better time and place, when Sox baseball was fun, and you could count on the team being serious about winning.

Hopefully, those days will return with a next generation of players -- sometime before we die.

Monday, June 19, 2017

James Shields returns from DL; Miguel Gonzalez goes on DL

The White Sox had an overall good week -- they went 5-2 against two teams from the AL East, taking three of four at home against the Baltimore Orioles and winning two of three on the road against the Toronto Blue Jays.

However, the Sox (31-37) can't seem to shake their season-long problem of pitching injuries. Right-hander James Shields came off the disabled list to make his first start since April 16 on Sunday, but he was merely taking the spot of Miguel Gonzalez, who went on the 10-day disabled list with shoulder inflammation.

Now we know the reason Gonzalez has been so terrible lately. The right-hander has a 10.34 ERA in three June starts, and longer term, he's 1-8 with a 7.32 ERA over his past nine games. His season ERA is 5.49, well above his career norm of 3.97.

As for Shields, he was mediocre in receiving a no-decision in Sunday's 7-3 loss to the Blue Jays. And, honestly, mediocrity is all we expect from the 35-year-old declining veteran. He went 5.2 innings, allowing three earned runs on seven hits with three strikeouts and one walk.

Shields was one out away from getting through six innings with a 3-1 lead, but he couldn't close the deal. He easily retired the first two batters of the inning, but Troy Tulowitzki reached on a scratch infield single that hit the third-base bag. Shields then hung a slider to Russell Martin, who hit a game-tying two-run homer that hit the top of the wall and bounced over in right-center field.

That was Shields' final pitch of the day, and the Sox bullpen -- which has been solid most of the year -- was not solid on this day. Anthony Swarzak (3-2) gave up a single and a triple that allowed the Jays to take a 4-3 lead into the seventh inning.

Swarzak, Dan Jennings and Michael Ynoa combined to give up three runs in the bottom of the seventh as the Jays broke it open and salvaged the finale of the series.

Jennings was brought in to force switch-hitter Kendrys Morales to turn around and hit from the right side, and boy, did that move fail. Morales hit a two-run blast that hasn't landed yet. I've said it before this year, and I'll make the point again: Jennings is overused, having appeared in 32 of the Sox's 68 games. As we go along, his performance gets worse and worse.

The problem is that Jennings is the only left-hander in the bullpen, so he gets summoned to pitch to left-handed hitters on a frequent basis. Injuries have forced David Holmberg into the starting rotation, even though he is more suited to be the second lefty reliever.

Perhaps Holmberg could have kept Morales in the yard Sunday, but alas, he needs to stay in the rotation for now, with Gonzalez headed to the disabled list.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Pitching reinforcements could be coming for struggling White Sox

Jake Petricka
Up until their current road trip, the White Sox have been mostly competitive -- rarely getting blown out despite an overall losing record.

But the wear and tear of having seven pitchers on the disabled list has started to show of late. Starting pitchers have struggled to make it through more than five innings, the bullpen is taxed, and the Sox have given up 61 runs over their past eight games on their way to a 1-7 record.

At long last, the Sox are finally getting somebody back off the DL for this weekend's three-game series in Cleveland. Reliever Jake Petricka (strained lat), who hasn't pitched since the first game of the season, has been activated after pitching in three games for Triple-A Charlotte on a rehab assignment.

To make room for Petricka on the roster, right-hander Brad Goldberg was optioned back to Charlotte. Goldberg had one disastrous relief outing with the Sox and heads back to the minors with a 108.00 ERA. He was pretty much unusable, so it's much preferable to see Petricka -- who has a 3.29 ERA in 155 career big-league relief appearances -- back to work in middle relief.

While it's hard to get real excited about a post-peak James Shields (strained lat) nearing his return from the disabled list, I think we can pretty much agree that he's a reasonable bet to provide the Sox with more innings as a starting pitcher than David Holmberg.

Shields made his second rehab start for Triple-A Charlotte on Thursday, allowing two runs on four hits with five strikeouts over five innings. He got his pitch count up to 72, which means he should be no more than one start away from returning to the big leagues. Then, Holmberg can go back to being the second left-hander in the bullpen, which is a more reasonable role for his skill set.

Left-hander Carlos Rodon (biceps bursitis) also is pitching on a rehab assignment. He made his first start this year at any level Tuesday with Class-A Winston-Salem. In that outing, he allowed five runs in 3.1 innings with six strikeouts. Don't worry about the results -- his fastball touched 98 mph and he seemed to emerge healthy. He gave up a bunch of runs the second time through the batting order, which is indicative of a pitcher who has been sidelined all season and doesn't have much endurance.

Rodon is scheduled to make his second rehab start Sunday for Triple-A Charlotte. We might see him in Chicago by the end of the month, if he avoids setbacks. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Injury updates: When will Carlos Rodon pitch for the White Sox again?

Carlos Rodon
Forget about the White Sox's 5-1 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday night. Nothing to see there, nothing much to talk about, an inconsequential loss in a season that is expected to be full of them.

The most important news of the day was on the injury front, where left-hander Carlos Rodon met the media for the first time in a long time after throwing 60 pitches in a simulated game against minor leaguers Monday at Chase Field.

Relief pitchers Jake Petricka and Nate Jones also worked during the simulated game, but the big story is Rodon, whose recovery from left bicep bursitis has taken much longer than expected.

For Rodon, this was his fourth simulated game, and he says he considers himself to be on an every-fifth-day schedule at this point. Still, there's no timetable for his return, and general manager Rick Hahn used the phrase "in the coming weeks" when asked when Rodon might return to game action.

“He’s been out there now three or four times throwing to hitters,” Hahn told Sox beat reporters. “Each time has been a little more crisp from what I understand from the previous ones to today. Hopefully here in the coming weeks we are able to announce he’s starting a rehab assignment and we’ll have a better sense of his time frame at that point.”

Let me take an educated guess: Rodon might be back around the All-Star break. Say it's three more weeks until he heads out on a rehab assignment. Realistically, he'll probably need three or four starts in the minors before he's got enough strength and endurance to start in a big league game.

So, maybe we'll see him in July.

Why does this matter so much? For two reasons. One, the 24-year-old is seen as a cornerstone pitcher in the Sox's rebuilding plan. If he cannot get healthy and pitch effectively at some point this season, his status as a building block for the future would have to be called into question.

Secondly, his status affects the Sox's strategy at the trade deadline. With Rodon and James Shields both on the disabled list, the team's organizational pitching depth has been stretched thin. Retread veteran Mike Pelfrey and Rule 5 pick Dylan Covey don't belong in a major league rotation, but they are there because of the injuries, and because the Sox don't want to rush prized pitching prospects such as Reynaldo Lopez and Carson Fulmer into the starting rotation.

A healthy Rodon -- and a healthy Shields, for that matter -- makes it a little easier for Hahn to deal ace Jose Quintana for a package of prospects when July comes around.

If Rodon is not healthy for the second half of the season, and the Sox choose to deal Quintana, they might be faced with having to force-fit a prospect into the big league rotation before they really want to. That's a situation everyone would like to avoid, and it can be avoided if Rodon can take the ball 14 or 15 times before the 2017 season is over.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

White Sox must stop overusing Dan Jennings

Dan Jennings
The Pollyannas in the White Sox fan base tell me I should be rejoicing because the team "finally has a plan" to return to legitimate pennant contention.

From where I'm sitting, it appears part of the plan is to kill left-handed reliever Dan Jennings before Memorial Day.

Tuesday night's game, a 7-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins, got out of hand under Jennings' watch. With the Sox trailing 3-2 in the fifth, Jennings relieved and cleaned up a mess left by starter Mike Pelfrey. But the wheels came off when the lefty went back out for the sixth inning. Jennings allowed singles to three of the first four hitters he faced, and that set the table for a four-run Minnesota rally that put the game out of reach.

I can't blame Jennings because he has been overused in the early going this season. He has appeared in 15 of the 31 Sox games, and that seems excessive. The wear and tear is starting to take its toll, as Jennings was pitching well until this past week.

First 12 appearances: 2-0, 0.93 ERA, 7 Ks, 2 BBs, 10 H in 9.2 IP
Past 3 appearances: 0-0, 32.40 ERA, 0 Ks, 1 BB, 8 H in 1.2 IP

Yes, it's going wrong for Jennings now, and the overuse is a twofold problem: First, he's been the only left-hander in the bullpen for most of the year, which means he is being summoned frequently as a situational pitcher. The Sox recently added left-hander David Holmberg to the 25-man roster when Nate Jones went on the disabled list, but Holmberg is roster filler. He's not the type of pitcher who is going to be trusted in medium-leverage situations, let alone high-leverage roles.

Secondly, Jennings has been used as the "first man out" when a starter pitcher falters in the fifth or sixth inning. That was the case in Tuesday's game against the Twins, and it's been the case more than once in games started by Pelfrey and Dylan Covey.

Pelfrey has averaged 4.2 innings in his four starts, while Covey has averaged an even 5 innings in his five starts. Forty percent of the Sox rotation cannot make it through the sixth inning, ever, and that's going to cause somebody in the bullpen to either get hurt or lose effectiveness.

Jennings appears to be the first victim.

So, what are the Sox to do? They are boxed into a corner to some extent. Two guys who were supposed to be in the rotation -- Carlos Rodon and James Shields -- are on the disabled list, and return dates are unknown. In the meantime, somebody has to pitch. The Sox have been consistent in their message that they don't intend to rush their prospects, even though Triple-A results suggest Carson Fulmer and Reynaldo Lopez could probably pitch more effectively than Pelfrey and Covey.

But since the Sox don't want to take that step, Pelfrey and Covey are going to keep getting starts. My suggestion? Make them wear it if they don't pitch well. Pelfrey is supposed to be a veteran "innings eater." Well, let's see him eat some innings for once, even if the innings he is providing are not of good quality. That's better than running a left-handed bullpen asset such as Jennings into the ground. Covey is a Rule 5 pick and a developmental guy. Well, it's time to learn the hard way, kid.

When these guys go to the mound, tell them six innings are expected, come hell or high water. Will it result in losses? Of course, but the Sox are already losing the majority of games on the days Pelfrey and Covey pitch. (They are a combined 3-6 in those nine games.)

Another option: Designate Cody Asche for assignment and add a 13th pitcher to the roster. Asche has zero defensively utility, and he's hitting .107/.180/.179 for the season. He easily could be replaced with placeholder pitcher such as Juan Minaya, who is right-handed, but he could soak up some of the burden for the front end of the Sox bullpen. 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

White Sox as contenders? I don't think so

Nate Jones
With the White Sox off to a respectable start, there have been some questions about what general manager Rick Hahn might do at the trading deadline if the team stays on the fringes of contention through the first half of the season.

Would he stay the course of a long-term rebuild? Or would he look to add to the roster for a second-half push in 2017?

I have wasted no effort pondering these questions, because I don't see any scenario in which the Sox hang in the race. Yes, the 14-12 start has been surprisingly watchable. However, I don't think this stretch of competitive ball is sustainable, especially knowing the Sox now have five pitchers on the disabled list.

Five pitchers on the DL! And it's only May 4.

Nate Jones is latest Sox pitcher to go on the shelf. He was placed on the 10-day disabled list Thursday (retroactive to Monday) with right elbow neuritis.

Left-hander David Holmberg's contract was purchased from Triple-A Charlotte. To make room for Holmberg on the 40-man roster, Carlos Rodon (left biceps bursitis) was transferred to the 60-day disabled list.

Never mind the holes the Sox have in center field or at designated hitter, their biggest problem is Rodon, James Shields, Jones, Jake Petricka and Zach Putnam all being on the disabled list.

The Sox have no fewer than two relief pitchers -- and arguably three -- who have no business being in the major leagues. With Rodon and Shields both sidelined, the Sox have significant holes in the No. 4 and No. 5 spots in the rotation.

As we've said before, Dylan Covey is on the roster only because he's a Rule 5 draft pick, and the Sox would like to hold onto him and see if they can develop him. As for Mike Pelfrey, I guess we can give him credit for keeping Wednesday's game scoreless through five innings.

But the wheels came off the third time he went through the Kansas City batting order in the sixth inning. A scoreless game turned into a 3-0 Royals lead in the span of four batters, and the Sox ended up losing, 6-1.

Pelfrey, at this stage of his career, is a five-inning pitcher, at best. And there isn't a single contending team in the league that he could pitch for.

The possibility of the Sox hanging in the race, honestly, it's not worth much discussion. I can't see a situation where that happens given the volume of injuries the team is dealing with this early in the season. Regression will hit at some point here.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

White Sox begin nine-game trip with typical Cleveland loss

Michael Brantley
The White Sox are 12-25 in their past 37 games in Cleveland, so we shouldn't be surprised that their first road game against the Indians this year ended with an archetypal punch to the groin.

Sox reliever Tommy Kahnle (0-1) retired the first two batters in the bottom of the 10th inning, but then he walked Francisco Lindor and gave up a game-winning double to Michael Brantley as the Indians came away with a 2-1 victory.

It's too bad, because the Sox wasted a serviceable start by the erstwhile James Shields. The veteran right-hander gave up a solo home run to Lindor in the bottom of the first inning, but nothing more over 5.1 innings. He allowed only two hits, walked two and retired 12 consecutive Cleveland hitters at one point.

Given the garbage we saw from Shields last year, how can we complain about that performance against one of the better lineups in the American League? We can't.

And, the Sox bullpen covered 13 more outs before Kahnle finally cracked in the bottom of the 10th.

Have we mentioned the fact that the Sox can't hit? Yeah, it's becoming a theme. Other than Todd Frazier's solo home run in the fifth inning, the offense generated little. The Sox were 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position and four of the nine starters finished the game 0 for 4.

The best scoring chance came in the top of the eighth inning against Cleveland bullpen ace Andrew Miller, of all people. Geovany Soto walked and advanced to third on a double by pinch-hitter Matt Davidson with one out.

With runners on second and third, Tyler Saladino hit a Miller slider right on the screws, but his line drive landed in the glove of diving Cleveland third baseman Yandy Diaz. Good defense by Diaz, bad luck for Saladino. If that one gets through, the Sox (2-4) take a 3-1 lead. Alas, it did not, and Tim Anderson swung over the top of two Miller sliders and basically struck himself out to end the threat.

The Indians also missed an opportunity in the eighth inning, thanks to some curious managing by Terry Francona. Sox reliever Nate Jones was laboring; he walked the first two hitters. But Francona for some reason ordered the red-hot Lindor to sacrifice bunt, which he did.

Sure, that gave Cleveland (4-3) runners on second and third with one out, but it opened the door for Sox manager Rick Renteria to walk Brantley intentionally and set up the double play. That's precisely what Renteria did. Jones got a righty-on-righty matchup that was favorable for him against Cleveland's Edwin Encarnacion, and he induced a 5-4-3 double play to keep the game tied. Good managing by Renteria, not so good by Francona, who is normally the game's best.

Unfortunately, given a second life, the Sox's offense was too inept to scratch across a run and steal a winnable game.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Surprise, surprise, James Shields secures first White Sox win of 2017

James Shields gave up 40 home runs last year, including 31 in the 22 starts he made after the White Sox acquired him in a midseason deal with the San Diego Padres.

So, I wasn't expecting good results Thursday when Shields took the mound at Guaranteed Rate Field on a day where the winds were gusting out to right field at 25 to 30 mph. I figured the Detroit Tigers would hit at least three home runs off the veteran right-hander.

Matt Davidson
Well, surprise, surprise. Shields hung in there for 5.1 innings and earned the win in an 11-2 White Sox victory. It wasn't the best pitching performance I've ever seen -- Shields walked five and struck out five -- but he allowed only one run on two hits. He gave up one home run -- a solo shot by Tyler Collins in the second inning -- and it was the Sox hitters who best took advantage of the windy conditions.

The South Siders hit three home runs. The biggest one came from catcher Geovany Soto, whose 3-run shot in the bottom of the third inning gave the Sox a 5-1 lead and knocked Detroit starter Matt Boyd out of the game.

Matt Davidson added a long 3-run homer (estimated at 428 feet) in the bottom of the fourth inning -- his first in a Sox uniform -- off Detroit reliever Anibal Sanchez to make the score 9-1.

For good measure, Soto added a solo shot in the seventh inning for his first two-homer game since 2011.

The most eye-opening thing about Thursday's game was the performance of Davidson, who also tripled, walked and scored three runs as part of a 2-for-3 day as designated hitter.

I'm on record as a Davidson nonbeliever. He's 26 years old, and he still strikes out too much -- despite his prodigious power. That said, I've been wrong about people before, and Davidson should be getting at-bats ahead of Cody Asche, lefty-righty matchups be damned.

This is Asche's fifth year in the big leagues. He already has 1,291 plate appearances under his belt. His career slash line is .240/.298/.384. At this point, I think it is safe to say those numbers reflect who he is. Perhaps he'll stick around for a while because he bats left-handed, but he's a fringe player.

It's possible, maybe even likely, that Davidson is a fringe player as well. However, Davidson has made only 93 plate appearances at the big-league level across parts of four seasons. He's struck out 26 times, which is way too much, and has a slash line of .259/.355/.506.

That's not enough sample size to make any firm judgments. I'd be in favor of letting Davidson play. The Sox aren't going anywhere this year. It's as good a time as any to find out what they have in him, if they have anything at all.

The Sox (1-1) will next host the Minnesota Twins (3-0) for a three-game weekend series at Guaranteed Rate Field. Here are the pitching matchups:

Friday: Derek Holland vs. Phil Hughes
Saturday: Miguel Gonzalez vs. Adalberto Mejia
Sunday: Jose Quintana (0-1) vs. Ervin Santana (1-0)

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Wednesday's White Sox-Tigers game postponed; James Shields starts Thursday

Wednesday afternoon's game between the White Sox and Detroit Tigers was postponed because of rain.

The game will be made up at 4:10 p.m. Friday, May 26, as part of a straight doubleheader.

James Shields, who was scheduled to pitch Wednesday for the Sox, will take his regular turn in Thursday's 1 p.m. series finale against the Tigers, weather permitting. (The forecast still sucks.)

The Tigers are making an adjustment in their rotation. Left-hander Matt Boyd, who was originally supposed to pitch Saturday against the Boston Red Sox, has been moved up to start Thursday's game.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Jose Quintana: Still with the White Sox, but hasn't been named Opening Day starter

Jose Quintana
CSN Chicago's Dan Hayes tweeted Wednesday that the White Sox still have not made a decision on their Opening Day starting pitcher. Manager Rick Renteria wants folks to "give him a few more days."

This is unusual, because if you take a look at the Sox's roster, there is no debate about who should be starting the home opener. Jose Quintana is a proven All-Star left-hander, easily one of the top 20 pitchers in the game, and probably top 15. Then, the Sox have four other guys in the rotation. There is substantial drop-off from Quintana to Carlos Rodon and Miguel Gonzalez, and then another drop-off to James Shields and Derek Holland.

So what's the delay in naming Quintana the starter for the first game? There must be something blowing in the wind on the trade market. The only reason for Renteria to start any other pitcher besides Quintana on April 3 would be because Quintana is no longer on the team.

Jeff Passan, Yahoo's MLB columnist, weighed in on Quintana's situation Wednesday, but there's nothing more to his report than the same things we've been reading from the Sox beat reporters all spring: "White Sox scouts are everywhere. They are willing to deal Quintana, but only for the right price, etc., etc. etc."

The teams mentioned as possible suitors are ones that we've been hearing all along -- the Atlanta Braves, the Houston Astros, the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Passan correctly notes the market for front-end pitching is bleak beyond Quintana. He says sources tell him that Milwaukee's Junior Guerra, who enjoyed a breakout season as a 31-year-old rookie (!) in 2016, is the next-best starting pitcher who might be available after Quintana.

And, the market might not be much stronger when we get to the middle of the season. Perhaps Oakland's Sonny Gray gets healthy and rebuilds his value. Perhaps not. Perhaps the Tampa Bay Rays fall out of the race and become more willing to deal Chris Archer. Perhaps not. Even if the Toronto Blue Jays falter, Quintana still would be a more attractive options for a contender than Marco Estrada and Francisco Liriano.

The Sox are biding their time, hoping to get the deal they want, and gambling a little bit that Quintana will remain both healthy and effective until they make a move. The club's inability to commit to Quintana as the Opening Day starter makes it clear to me that there's something going on, but somewhat amazingly in this day and age, whatever is going on has been kept under the radar -- even from well-connected national baseball reporters such as Passan.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

How might the White Sox pitching staff look when the season starts?

Jose Quintana -- still here
White Sox pitchers and catchers will have their first full workouts Feb. 14 in Glendale, Arizona. It's closer than we think, so let's take a look at how the pitching staff might shake out given the current roster construction.

We'll assume there are no trades between now and Opening Day -- a big assumption, because general manager Rick Hahn made it clear at SoxFest that he's still open to making moves before the season starts.

For a rebuilding club, the Sox look surprisingly set on the pitching side of things. The five projected starting pitchers right now are pretty obvious:

1. Jose Quintana
2. Carlos Rodon
3. Miguel Gonzalez
4. James Shields
5. Derek Holland

In anyone gets injured or traded, Rule 5 draft pick Dylan Covey might get the first shot at taking a spot. The other roster contenders would be two of the three players acquired in the Adam Eaton trade -- Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez. However, Hahn indicated a preference to have all the recently acquired prospects start the season in the minor leagues, so we probably will not see Giolito or Lopez in Chicago until later in the 2017 season.

I look for prospects Carson Fulmer and Tyler Danish to potentially get some starts during spring training, but both players are ticketed for the Triple-A rotation in Charlotte when the season starts.

Let's assume the Sox will carry 12 pitchers -- most teams do -- so that means there are seven spots in the bullpen. There isn't a lot of mystery with five out of the seven:
David Robertson -- also still here

1. David Robertson
2. Nate Jones
3. Dan Jennings
4. Jake Petricka
5. Zach Putnam
6. ????
7. ????

Contenders for the last two spots include a quartet of right-handers we saw in Chicago in 2016: Tommy Kahnle, Michael Ynoa, Juan Minaya and Chris Beck.

I'm guessing one of the four makes the club, with Kahnle having the inside track. Unlike the rest of that crew, he had a strong finish to 2016 -- a 0.87 ERA over his final 11 appearances with 11 strikeouts in 10.1 IP.

Why would only one of the four make the team? Well, I'm thinking the Sox want a second left-hander in the bullpen. Jennings is the only left-handed roster lock as a relief pitcher. The door is open for waiver claim Giovanni Soto, who last pitched in the majors with Cleveland in 2015. The 25-year-old's left-handedness is an advantage for him as he battles Ynoa, Minaya and Beck for a roster spot.

But what of the non-roster invitees, you ask? Are there any pitchers that could surprise and make the roster out of spring training?

I'd say keep an eye on the non-rostered lefties, a list that includes Matt Purke, Aaron Bummer, Brian Clark, Jace Fry, David Holmberg and Cory Luebke.

Purke is a familiar name to Sox fans, although his 12 big league outings last season were pretty bad. I'll be interested to see what Bummer has after amateur scouting director Nick Hostetler spoke highly of him at SoxFest. Bummer is hard thrower who missed the 2015 season with Tommy John surgery, and he has fewer than 40 professional innings under his belt. It seems unlikely he'll compete for a roster spot given his inexperience, but he might be the most intriguing name in this group.

Clark is more advanced, having thrown 56 innings across 37 games between Birmingham and Charlotte last year. Fry missed the 2016 season with Tommy John surgery, and has thrown only 61 professional innings. Holmberg has worked mostly as a starter in his career. He made 28 starts between Birmingham and Charlotte last year, and has 167 career starts in the minors. Luebke is a 31-year-old former San Diego Padres prospect who underwent two Tommy John surgeries and missed three seasons from 2013-15.

From that list of six, we'll see if any emerge as a worthy challenger. Personally, I wouldn't count on it. Of course, when do you ever count on non-roster invitees?

Non-rostered right-handed pitchers in camp include Blake Smith, who made five September appearances with the Sox last year; 31-year-old veteran Anthony Swarzak, who had 26 relief appearances with the New York Yankees last year; and 20-year-old prospect Spencer Adams, who split time between Winston-Salem and Birmingham in 2016.

And, oh yeah, Michael Kopech and Zack Burdi are going to be in camp as non-roster players. Heard anything about them lately? How's that for burying the lead?

In all seriousness, Kopech is probably ticketed for High-A Winston-Salem when the season starts, while Burdi will be headed to the Charlotte bullpen, in hopes of one day becoming the White Sox closer.

Neither of these two hyped prospects are going to make the club, but they will generate headlines each and every time they take the mound this spring.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Rick Renteria impresses with answers to fan questions at SoxFest

Rick Renteria (center)
I went to SoxFest this past weekend without much enthusiasm toward the rebuilding project that is just beginning on the South Side of Chicago.

Guess what? I'm still not excited, but after listening to new White Sox manager Rick Renteria talk this weekend, I feel a little better knowing he will be the man leading the team through a 2017 season that is almost certainly going to be trying and ugly at times.

Renteria has been talking all week about doing things the "White Sox Way," so I stood up in the seminar room Friday night and asked him to elaborate on what the "White Sox Way" is, and to provide me with some examples of the things he wants to do differently than what we've seen in the past.

First, Renteria praised me for asking a good question, then he gave a detailed, specific and thoughtful response. He talked about the need for players to play with maximum effort  -- back up bases, run hard out of the batter's box, etc. He talked about how it was his responsibility to hold players accountable for actions they take or don't take on the field. He talked about the importance of improving in several small but key areas, a better two-strike approach at the plate, better base running, understanding situations in the field, hitting the ball the other way when the situation calls for it -- all things that seemed to be lacking during the Robin Ventura Era.

The paragraph above is just a Cliff Notes version. Renteria spoke for about five minutes after I asked my question, and he gave similarly detailed responses to other questions posed by fans. It was a welcome change from previous SoxFests.

Some other highlights from the seminar room:

1. General manager Rick Hahn said repeatedly that all the prospects acquired in the Chris Sale and Adam Eaton trades are expected to start the season in the minor leagues. He added that the Sox still are actively looking to make more moves before the season begins, with the goal of stockpiling as much young talent as possible. Hahn noted that a deal fell apart for him on Christmas Eve, so yeah, all that Jose Quintana-to-the-Yankees stuff around the holidays probably had some validity to it. It just didn't happen.

2. A fan astutely asked Hahn whether he would try to include the declining and overpriced James Shields in a deal with one of his assets. How would that work? Say Hahn wants to trade Quintana. He could go to a team and say, "You guys want Quintana? Well, you gotta take Shields and his high salary as well." Under such a scenario, the Sox would get less return in prospects for Quintana, but they would be off the hook for Shields' bad contract. Hahn said he would not do that under any circumstance, because his goal is to acquire top young talent, and throwing a liability such as Shields into a trade would defeat that purpose. I was happy to hear Hahn say that. We won't have a repeat of the Mark Teahen situation with Shields.

3. Both Friday night and Saturday morning, fans asked Hahn and Renteria about the role sabermetrics play in decision-making. Renteria said there was no shortage of information for he and his coaches to digest, but I was most impressed when he noted that numbers represent outcomes, and while they can be instructive, it's important to stay ahead of the curve by looking at more than just the past. Renteria noted that he has to trust his eyes and his gut, as well, beyond just absorbing the numbers, and there needs to be an understanding of what individual players can and cannot do in certain situations. Good answer.

In summary, Renteria's words, of course, are merely that. He has to produce results on the field, as well, but he gave the die-hard fans at SoxFest reason to believe he might be the right man for the job.

That's no small statement coming from me, because I was skeptical when Renteria was hired, and critical of Sox management for not conducting a more thorough search.

And, hell, I'm still skeptical, but I'm at least a little more open to the direction they are going based upon what I heard from the new manager over the weekend.