Showing posts with label Nate Jones. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nate Jones. Show all posts

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.

Monday, May 1, 2017

White Sox settle for two out of three in weekend series in Detroit

Jose Abreu -- 12 for 22 in his past six games
The White Sox's six-game winning streak came to an end Sunday in Detroit, but I doubt anyone is complaining too loudly about a series in which the South Siders took two out of three games.

Sure, the Tigers were without offensive stars Miguel Cabrera and J.D. Martinez, but you have to remember the Sox were 1-8 last season at Comerica Park. So, in other words, the Sox (13-10) won more games in Detroit this weekend than they did during the entire 2016 campaign.

We'll take it, right? Here's a look back at the weekend series:

Friday, April 28
White Sox 7, Tigers 3: This is a game Detroit third baseman Nicholas Castellanos would like to forget. He made three errors, including two in a decisive top of the eighth inning.

The miscues came on back-to-back plays with the score tied at 3. The Sox loaded the bases and eventually took the lead on a two-out, two-run single by Geovany Soto. The South Siders tacked on two more in the ninth on a two-run homer by Tim Anderson. A game that could have gone either way turned on poor defense and poor bullpen work by the Tigers.

Meanwhile, the Sox's bullpen was stellar. Starter Mike Pelfrey turned in a predictably mediocre outing. He went 4.2 innings, allowing three earned runs on six hits. He also walked four, which was not an encouraging sign. The good news is the relief corps cleaned up the mess. Dan Jennings, Anthony Swarzak (2-0), Nate Jones and Tommy Kahnle combined for 4.1 innings of scoreless, one-hit relief.

The Tigers did not have a single base runner in any of the last three innings.

Saturday, April 29
White Sox 6, Tigers 4 (10 inn.): First baseman Jose Abreu has had two hits in each of his past six games, going 12 for 22 in that span to raise his average to .280.

Both of Abreu's hits in Saturday's game were home runs, his first two of the season. The Sox's best hitter was due to break out, and his second home run of this game in the eighth inning staked the South Siders to a 4-2 lead.

That should have been enough to make a winner out of Sox starter Derek Holland, who once again pitched well: 6.1 innings, two runs on five hits with four strikeouts and two walks. The veteran's ERA now sits at 2.17.

Alas, David Robertson's run of perfection came to an end, as the Sox closer failed to close, coughing up the two-run lead in the bottom of the ninth.

Fortunately, the Sox grabbed the lead back in the top of the 10th on Melky Cabrera's first home run of the season and an RBI triple by Avisail Garcia.

Given a second chance to close out a victory, Robertson (1-0) put up a zero in the bottom of the 10th inning to extend the Sox's winning streak to six.

Sunday, April 30
Tigers 7, White Sox 3: Miguel Gonzalez had won each of his first three decisions this season, and coming into Sunday's start, he had allowed only six hits over 16.1 innings in his previous two outings.

Let's just say regression (and the Tigers) hit Gonzalez (3-1) hard in this one. He gave up 14 hits over six innings, and was fortunate to allow "only" seven runs (six earned) in a struggling outing.

The Sox got an RBI triple from Abreu, an RBI single from Cabrera and a solo home run from Todd Frazier, but it was not nearly enough to overcome a rough day for the Sox's starting pitcher.

The good news is Gonzalez saved the bullpen. He managed to scratch through six innings. The only reliever used was Chris Beck, who labored through two scoreless innings (He walked three. Blech.).

Why does that matter? Well, the Sox are on a 10-game road trip, and they don't have another off-day until May 8. If you're going to lose a ballgame, at least don't run through the whole bullpen. Gonzalez did enough to prevent that from happening, and all relievers except for Beck should be available for Monday's series opener against Kansas City.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

One thing White Sox manager Rick Renteria did Tuesday that I liked

The White Sox pounded the Kansas City Royals for the second straight night Tuesday, totaling 14 hits in a 10-5 victory.

There were a number of good offensive performances:
  • Todd Frazier had two doubles, a sacrifice fly, three runs scored and three RBIs.
  • Leury Garcia went 3 for 4 with two RBIs and a run scored.
  • Avisail Garcia had three hits, including a double, with two runs scored and an RBI.
  • Omar Narvaez reached base four times with two singles and two walks, plus two RBIs and a run scored.
The Sox finally solved Kansas City ace Danny Duffy (2-1), scoring six runs on nine hits off the left-hander in 4.2 innings.

But all that offense aside, I really liked how Sox manager Rick Renteria kept shaky starting pitcher Dylan Covey on a short leash.

In the ideal world, Covey would be continuing his development in the minor leagues right now. But as a Rule 5 draft pick, he needs to remain on the big league roster or be offered back to the Oakland A's. So, he's serving as the Sox's No. 5 starter for now, and predictably and understandably, he's struggling.

He needed 86 pitches to get through four innings Tuesday night. There was a lot of traffic on the bases while he was in the game: He allowed three hits, walked three and hit a batter. In that context, he's fortunate to only give up two runs in those four innings.

The Sox (10-9) were leading, 4-2, after four innings, and it had to be tempting for Renteria to send Covey back to the mound to try to complete the fifth inning and become eligible for his first major league win.

Wisely, Renteria resisted the temptation. Covey was laboring, so the Sox went to their bullpen. Dan Jennings (2-0), Anthony Swarzak and Nate Jones combined to keep the Royals (7-12) off the scoreboard for the next four innings. Meanwhile, the Sox lead swelled to 10-2 going to the ninth.

Chris Beck, who was recalled Tuesday after Zach Putnam went on the disabled list with elbow inflammation, gave up three runs in the ninth to make the score look more respectable for the Royals.

But, one of the keys to victory was Renteria understanding that sticking with Covey any longer would have led to problems. The bullpen was rested after Miguel Gonzalez provided the Sox with eight quality innings Monday night, and using the relievers to secure that win was the correct move. 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Derek Holland continues mastery of Cleveland in 2-1 White Sox win

Derek Holland
White Sox left-hander Derek Holland is now 4-0 with a 1.02 ERA over five career starts at Cleveland's Progressive Field, after he tossed six shutout innings Wednesday in Chicago's 2-1 victory over the Indians.

Holland (1-1) limited the Tribe to only one hit -- a leadoff double by Francisco Lindor in the bottom of the sixth -- while striking out four and walking four.

The 30-year-old veteran has a 1.50 ERA through 12 innings and two starts, and if you look at some of the pitch charts, it's clear that he's changed his approach after struggling with injuries and ineffectiveness the past three seasons.

Based on my own observations, it has seemed as if Holland is throwing his curveball a lot more this season than he did during his time with the Texas Rangers, and this research conducted by our friends at SouthSideSox confirms my suspicion.

Holland is throwing his curve on 21.1 percent of pitches this season, as compared with 7.5 percent in 2016. He's also using more four-seamers and fewer sinkers. His sinker use has dipped from 58.9 percent of pitches to 13.9 percent, while he's using the four-seamer 29.4 percent of the time, as compared with only 1.4 percent last year. The use of the changeup and the slider has remained status quo.

Give credit to Holland for realizing he needs to make adjustments. His fastball is sitting at 92 mph, as opposed to his pre-injury 94 or 95. That two or three miles per hour can make a big difference, and sometimes a veteran pitcher needs to make some concessions to Father Time.

Is Holland's early success sustainable as the weather warms and the conditions become more hitter friendly? I don't know. We'll have to watch and learn.

As for Wednesday's game, the Sox offense was limited again, but Holland and three relievers made two early runs stand up. Matt Davidson's two-run single in the second inning accounted for the only Sox offense, and it was enough for a rare win in Cleveland.

Something to watch for in Thursday's game: Both closer David Robertson and setup man Nate Jones have worked in three consecutive games. If it's a close game late, will new manager Rick Renteria have the restraint to not overwork Robertson and Jones, who could be valuable trading pieces for the Sox later in the year?

Renteria shouldn't be afraid to allow Zach Putnam, Dan Jennings and Anthony Swarzak to pitch. Even if the Sox were expected to contend, it's too early in the season to be going to the whip with the best bullpen guys on the club. Robin Ventura made that mistake last year, and despite early success, the relief corps crumbled with injury and ineffectiveness in May and June.

Soto to DL; Smith recalled

The Sox have placed catcher Geovany Soto on the 10-day disabled list with right elbow inflammation. Kevan Smith has been recalled from Triple-A Charlotte.

It's too bad for Soto, who was off to a good start with three home runs. (The Sox only have six as a team). It's also too bad for the Sox, as their already shaky defense behind the plate just got a little bit worse.

I saw Smith catch a few games during spring ball, and while he hit well in Cactus League play, let's just say he did not impress me with his receiving skills.

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.

Monday, April 10, 2017

White Sox lose two out of three to Minnesota Twins

Avisail Garcia
The Minnesota Twins lost a league-worst 103 games last season, but they've surprised the American League with a 5-1 start this year. Minnesota starting pitchers have racked up quality starts in five of the team's first six games, and not surprisingly, all five of those games resulted in wins.

The Twins took two out of three from the White Sox over the weekend at Guaranteed Rate Field. Here are some observations from the series:

Friday, April 8
Twins 3, White Sox 1: If we're being honest with ourselves, we know the Sox are going to struggle offensively. They don't have much power, and they were limited to seven hits (six singles, one double) by Minnesota starter Phil Hughes (1-0) and two relievers in this loss.

Poor defense cost Sox starter Derek Holland (0-1) a gift run in the fourth inning. He tried to pick Robbie Grossman off second base and tossed the ball into center field, allowing Grossman to advance to third. The Minnesota runner later scored when Sox right fielder Avisail Garcia dropped a shallow fly ball that was not nearly deep enough to be a sacrifice fly.

Grossman also scored the go-ahead run in the sixth on a double by Miguel Sano. In the seventh, a leadoff walk to Eduardo Escobar bit Holland, as a double by Chris Gimenez off Sox reliever Nate Jones scored Minnesota's third run.

This game featured Rick Renteria's first glaring managerial mistake of the season. With the Sox trailing 3-1 after eight innings, he put Jacob May in center field in place of Leury Garcia -- presumably for defensive purposes. Naturally, May ended up at the plate after Avisail Garcia and Geovany Soto drew two-out walks with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.

The rookie, who is hitless through five games, was seemingly unaware that the previous two hitters had walked. He swung at the first pitch from Minnesota closer Brandon Kintzler and grounded out to second base to end the game. Fail.

Saturday, April 9
White Sox 6, Twins 2: The Sox executed pretty well offensively in the game, knocking Minnesota starter Adalberto Mejia out of the box early with a run in the first inning and two more in the second.

In both innings, the Sox placed a runner on second base with no outs. Both times, they brought the runner around to score. Tyler Saladino doubled to start the game, advanced to third on a grounder to the right side by Tim Anderson and scored when Melky Cabrera grounded out to short with the Minnesota infield back.

Todd Frazier walked and stole second base in the second inning. Avisail Garcia did the right thing -- he looked to hit the ball to the right side -- and he drove one off the right-field wall for an RBI triple. Garcia scored later in the inning when the Twins botched a rundown off a failed suicide squeeze attempt by Soto.

Sox starter Miguel Gonzalez (1-0) protected the lead through six innings. He gave up a two-run homer to Jason Castro in the sixth, but walked off the mound with a 3-2 lead. Garcia and Soto hit back-to-back homers in the bottom of the sixth to account for three more runs, providing the final margin of victory.

Garcia finished a double short of the cycle. He went 3 for 4 with two runs scored and three RBIs.

Saturday, April 10
Twins 4, White Sox 1: Again, the big hit was lacking for the Sox. They had 11 runners reach base and stranded 10 of them. The good news: They took five walks and had one man reach on an HBP. The bad news: They had only five hits, and all of them were singles.

The lineup had no punch against Minnesota's best pitcher, Ervin Santana (2-0). The right-hander went six innings, and he allowed only two hits.

Sox ace Jose Quintana (0-2) pitched much better than he did in the home opener. He had his typical quality start, allowing two runs on five hits over 6.1 innings. Alas, he left with the Sox trailing 2-0, and had nothing to show for a respectable effort.

Minnesota increased its lead to 4-0 in the eighth when Sano got a not-high-enough fastball from Jones and knocked it over the center field wall for a two-run homer.

The Sox had their chance in the bottom of the eighth inning. They loaded the bases with one out against Minnesota reliever Matt Belisle. But, Matt Davidson basically struck himself out by swinging at a Belisle fastball that was up and out of the zone. It was a rally-killing at-bat, to say the least.

Kintzler entered the game and plunked Avisail Garcia with a pitch to the give the Sox their lone run, but then he struck out Yolmer Sanchez, who flailed helplessly at a pitch in the dirt for strike three.

One area the Sox must improve: They need to cut down on their strikeouts. They are letting pitchers off the hook by swinging at pitches out of the zone in RBI situations. It's a long-standing problem, and part of the problem is they need to get better players. Davidson and Sanchez likely will never be good hitters at the big-league level. But in the meantime, Renteria and his staff need to preach more patience at the plate.

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.

Friday, January 13, 2017

White Sox avoid arbitration with Todd Frazier, Dan Jennings, Jake Petricka

Todd Frazier
The White Sox on Friday avoided arbitration with three players, agreeing to one-year contracts with third baseman Todd Frazier and relief pitchers Dan Jennings and Jake Petricka.

Frazier's deal is worth $12 million. He is coming off a season where he led the team in home runs (40) and stolen bases (15) despite a disappointing .225/.302/.464 slash line. He also ranked second on the Sox with 98 RBIs.

Coming into the offseason, Frazier, 30, was a good bet to be traded before Opening Day -- and maybe he still will be. However, there have been few rumors involving Frazier, and there still are several right-handed power-hitting free agents who remain unsigned (Mike Napoli, Mark Trumbo, Jose Bautista). Until those guys come off the market, there might not be much interest in Frazier -- especially since he is coming off a down season in terms of batting average.

He could eventually be traded for prospects as part of the rebuilding plan. Or maybe he won't be. Essentially, he's the Sox's third baseman until he's not. (How's that for insight?)

Jennings, 29, is coming off one of his better seasons -- a career-high 64 appearances with a 4-3 record and 2.08 ERA. His contract will pay him $1.4 million.

Petricka, 28, appeared in only nine games in 2016 before undergoing season-ending hip surgery. His deal is worth $825,000.

Although the Sox are rebuilding, they might enter the 2017 season with a bullpen that looks very similar to the one from last year. Closer David Robertson, set-up man Nate Jones, Jennings, Petricka and Zach Putnam all remain on the roster.

The only two guys gone from last season are Matt Albers, who was too ineffective to be retained, and Zach Duke, who was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in July.

Right now, the projected bullpen includes the five guys listed above, plus Tommy Kahnle. After that, the Sox still need a second left-hander to go along with Jennings. As it stands, the next-best left-handed option in the organization is 25-year-old Giovanni Soto, a waiver pickup who last pitched in the big leagues with the Cleveland Indians in 2015.

Given that Robertson, Petricka and Putnam are all coming off surgery, we might not see too many changes in the bullpen this offseason -- just because the Sox need to hold onto as much veteran depth as possible to get through 2017. One thing a rebuilding team does not want is for prospects to be forced into big-league duty prematurely because of injuries to veteran stopgaps.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Some numbers behind Robin Ventura's pitching mismanagement

Robin Ventura
The gripes are all too familiar. We made them routinely for all the years Robin Ventura was managing the White Sox.

He left his starting pitchers in too long, and once he did go to the bullpen, he misused his relievers. He'd use the same reliever three, four days in a row, sometimes even five days out of six. (Remember Addison Reed in August 2013?) He'd used five relievers to get three outs in the seventh or eighth inning, and he was a slave to "handedness"  -- always needing to bring in a left-handed pitcher every time the opponent sent a left-handed batter to the plate.

With that in mind, an article that appeared on South Side Sox this morning interested me, because it pulled out some notes on the Sox from the 2017 Bill James Handbook. These numbers were cited in the article, and they confirmed what we suspected about Ventura all along:

  • The White Sox were one of three teams to use three different relievers 20 times on consecutive days. Those three relievers, not surprisingly, were David Robertson, Nate Jones and Dan Jennings. I complained about the overuse of Robertson and Jones at different points during the season. The Sox would have been the only team with four such relievers had they not traded Zach Duke midseason. The left-hander had 17 appearances on zero days' rest with the Sox, plus nine more such appearances once he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. Is it any surprise Duke had Tommy John surgery and miss the 2017 season? 
  • Ventura led the American League by using relievers on consecutive days 128 times, and no other manager was even close. James also noted that Ventura led the league in "slow hooks" for the fourth consecutive year and "long outings" for a second.
Indeed, it's not an accident that Ventura presided over four straight losing seasons. We all know the front office shares in the blame, but the manager exacerbated the problems by not properly handling the pitching staff. Should we be stunned the Sox bullpen had injury problems this year? Of course not. Should we be stunned that some pitchers, most notably Robertson and Matt Albers, got worse the second half of the year? Of course not.

The question is whether anything will change in 2017, with bench coach Rick Renteria now elevated to manager, and Don Cooper still entrenched as the Sox pitching coach. These are the same guys who were Ventura's top lieutenants in 2016. Are they smart enough to see that this was a problem?

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Random White Sox thought for Wednesday afternoon

Found this tidbit in an article over at southsidesox.com:

The White Sox have Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Adam Eaton, Carlos Rodon, Jose Abreu, Todd Frazier, Miguel Gonzalez, Tim Anderson and Nate Jones set to make just $50 million combined for the 2017 season.

Given the production of those nine players, that's an amazing value, is it not? That's what is so aggravating about the Sox's continuing struggles: There is clearly a core of quality players already in place, yet the losing carries on unabated.

The article also notes the $10 million owed to James Shields is the only significant contract liability.

If the Sox opt to try to contend next year -- and I have no reason to believe they won't try -- shouldn't they have plenty of money to spend to supplement this core?

I would think so. Of course, I thought that last year, yet the most significant free agent contract handed out by the Sox was the one-year, $5 million deal signed by mediocre outfielder Austin Jackson.

If the Sox aren't going to rebuild, it's time to stop the excuses and open the wallet already. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Maybe the White Sox should give Nate Jones a break

Nate Jones
White Sox relief pitcher Nate Jones is tied for the American League lead with 62 appearances.

The team is asking a lot from him, especially since this is his first full season back after he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2014. Whether the Sox want to admit it or not, they are out of the pennant race, and they would be well-advised not to overuse Jones over the final 32 games of the season, which are relatively meaningless.

Jones has been the Sox's best reliever this season, and it's not close. It's important to get him through this season healthy, because he could be a valuable member of the Sox's 2017 bullpen, or he could be traded for something of value as part of a rebuilding plan this offseason.

Unfortunately, Sox brass doesn't seem to be giving any consideration to that strategy. They still are selling out to try to win games, and they are being reckless in the process. Jones was on the mound for the third straight game Monday night in Detroit, and he failed to protect a 3-2 lead in the eighth inning. Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit a two-run homer off him that lifted the Tigers to a 4-3 win.

You can see where the problem is here. The Sox have eight relief pitchers on their roster, and only three of them belong in the major leagues: Jones, David Robertson and Dan Jennings. The Sox play a lot of close games, and Robin Ventura -- who is on an expiring contract and is managing for his job -- keeps calling for the only relievers he trusts. Even on days where Jones doesn't get in the game, it seems like he's warming up at some point.

The seeds for Monday's loss were sown in Saturday night's game. The Sox took a 9-2 lead into the ninth inning. Jacob Turner, one of the five Sox relievers that does not belong in the major leagues, could not close it out. Seattle scored a run and had the bases loaded with only one out. Jones relieved and got a double play to extricate the team from that mess, but the point is he never should have appeared in that game. Somebody else should have been able to get two outs with a six-run lead. It's just not that hard.

Jones was rightfully used in the eighth inning with a 2-1 lead Sunday, and he got the job done as part of a 4-1 Sox win. It's one thing to use a guy back-to-back days, but three in a row during garbage time is unnecessary, especially for a pitcher with an extensive injury history. I would have been OK with Jones being out there Monday if he had not been used Saturday, but he was foolishly and needlessly used in a lopsided win against the Mariners.

Who knows? If Jones gets the night off Saturday, maybe he's a little fresher and able to protect the lead Monday.

It's too bad, because the Sox got a rare quality start from James Shields on Monday. He went six innings and allowed only two runs. It would have been nice to finish that one off, but the Sox have way too many holes in their pitching staff to have visions of a September run.

The smart play here is to back the workload down for the pitchers who have value -- Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Robertson and Jones. If that causes the team to lose more games down the stretch, so be it. We can't trust Ventura to do that, sadly, because he's trying to win enough games to convince team brass to let him return in 2017.

For most Sox fans, including me, there's nothing that will convince us that Ventura should be allowed to manage next year's club. He's had his chances. He's overmatched. It's time to move on.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Chris Sale, Jose Quintana lift White Sox to series win vs. A's

Chris Sale
Perhaps a three-game set between two fourth-place teams in late August doesn't stir the emotions, but the White Sox finally won a series against an American League opponent over the weekend, taking two out of three from the Oakland Athletics.

The series went about as expected, with Sox pitchers Chris Sale and Jose Quintana winning their respective starts, while James Shields turned in yet another clunker.

Let's review the weekend that was at U.S. Cellular Field:

Friday, Aug. 19
Athletics 9, White Sox 0: The Sox rank last in the American League with 493 runs scored. Oakland is not much better offensively -- the A's are tied with the Royals for 13th in the league with 495 runs. Nevertheless, Oakland hitters had no problems with Shields (5-15).

The Sox right-hander got knocked out in the fifth inning, after allowing seven runs (six earned) on eight hits. He struck out three, walked three and allowed three more home runs.

Shields has now allowed 20 home runs in 69.2 IP since joining the Sox. In fact, he leads the team in home runs allowed, despite spending the first two months of the season in San Diego. Shields is 3-8 with a 7.62 ERA in 14 starts with Chicago.

He has moved into the Jaime Navarro and Todd Ritchie Kingdom of Bad. If you're holding tickets for a game Shields is scheduled to start, I pity you.

The Sox did nothing offensively in this game. Oakland's Kendall Graveman (9-8) needed only 98 pitches to fire a two-hit shutout. He faced 28 batters, one more than the minimum.

It's hard to say whether Graveman was really that good, or if the Sox hitters just gave up after Shields put them in another insurmountable hole.

Saturday, Aug. 20
White Sox 6, Athletics 2: Sale hadn't won a game since July 2. He's had a couple bad outings since then, but he's mostly been the victim of bad relief pitching and lack of run support.

But the ace lefty had few problems in this game, as he fired eight innings of shutout ball to earn his 15th win against six losses. He allowed only three hits -- all singles -- while striking out eight and walking three. Sale allowed two singles in the first inning, but escaped trouble with a double play. He was never threatened again, as Oakland managed just one hit over the next seven innings.

The Sox offense was helpful for a change, touching up Oakland left-hander Ross Detwiler (1-2) for six runs on 10 hits over the first four innings. Jose Abreu's 15th home run of the season got the scoring started in the first inning, and the Sox tacked on with two in the second, two in the third and one in the fourth.

Naturally, the Sox couldn't make it easy in the ninth inning. Nate Jones was summoned to protect a six-run lead, but he struggled. He faced five batters with the following results: home run, popout, single, E-6, single. Suddenly, it was 6-2 with two on and only one out.

With the tying run in the on-deck circle, closer David Robertson was summoned. He collected his 31st save by recording a strikeout and a long flyout to center field.

Sunday, Aug. 21
White Sox 4, Athletics 2: The Sox followed a similar formula to the one they used Saturday night. They handed an early lead to one of their best pitchers, and stayed in front the rest of the afternoon.

The South Siders plated three runs in the bottom of the first inning off Oakland starter Zach Neal (2-3). Justin Morneau had an RBI double, and Todd Frazier added a two-run single as part of his three-hit day.

Abreu added his 16th home run of the season in the fourth inning.

That was enough for Quintana (10-9), who collected his career-high 10th victory. He went seven innings, allowing only a two-run homer to Khris Davis. He allowed eight hits, struck out six and walked one.

The lone walk was to Jake Smolinski leading off the eighth, and that was Quintana's last batter of the afternoon. This time, Jones entered and got the job done. He struck out Oakland's two most dangerous hitters -- Marcus Semien and Davis -- and preserved a 4-2 lead through eight innings.

Robertson gave up a leadoff single in the ninth, but retired the next three hitters in succession -- including one strikeout -- to earn his 32nd save in 38 chances.