Fire sign Friedrich for 2013

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Fire sign Friedrich for 2013

The Fire hasnt finished work on its 2012 season yet, but the club already took its first big step towards preparing for 2013 on Wednesday with the signing of German defender Arne Friedrich.

Friedrich, 33, was the Fires Defender of the Year this season and made it clear in the waning days of the campaign that he wanted to play one more season in Bridgeview. He didnt have to do that. He undoubtedly would have had other options, but -- for whatever reason -- he didnt want to play across the pond again.

"This is what I told everybody in the past, before I came to America," Friedrich said after the Fire was eliminated from the Major League Soccer playoffs last week. "I would never again play in Europe.

He did plenty of that quite well in the past, as a member of Germanys third-place finishers in the 2006 and 2010 World Cup finals. He had 82 caps for Germany before playing his last match for Wolfsburg in his countrys Bundesliga.

Friedrich signed with the Fire on Mar. 7 and made 23 appearances in the 34 MLS regular season matches. His presence helped make Austin Berry, his central defender partner, a favorite for MLS Rookie of the Year. They were key players in helping the Fire limit opponents to 41 goals in 34 games. That tied the Fire for second-best defensively in the Eastern Conference.

Slowly but surely Javier Leon, the Fires president of soccer operations, will build a team for next season, but Friedrich is a good start. His signing might mean the departure of Cory Gibbs, who suffered a serious knee injury in the third game of the season and underwent surgery. He still isnt in full training, as his postseason workouts this week have been inside with a focus on fitness.

Leon, in a statement announcing Friedrichs re-signing, said "Building continuity at the center back position is a priority for 2013."

The quick re-signing of Friedrich was in sharp contrast to last season when another veteran, Mexican midfielder Pavel Pardo, didnt sign a new contract until January. Pardo, like Friedrich, was happy with his first season in MLS and made it clear he wanted to return for another season. The Fire wanted him, too. It just took longer for that to happen.

Friedrich sounds like hes planning to play just one more year, but thats always subject to change.

If this years back line of Friedrich, Berry, Jalil Anibaba and Gonzalo Segares remains intact, the Fire will be in good shape defensively for next season. The lineup in front of them might not resemble this years nearly as much, however.

The Fire needs an attacking, playmaking midfielder. The club did some winning after Sebastian Grazzini returned to Argentina after a midseason contract dispute but was never as good. Coach Frank Klopas did some lineup patching, but it didnt work in the last six matches when the Fire stumbled to a 1-4-1 finish (counting the season-ending 2-1 home loss to the Houston Dynamo in the Fires first postseason appearance since 2009).

Klopas will keep his players on hand for workouts through next Thursday, Nov. 15. Leon is also expected to make a visit from his offices in California as the offseason administrative work continues.

The Fire could lose a veteran or two in the MLS entry draft in early January and will add a player -- at least temporarily -- when the winner of the Dec. 14-15 open tryout in Bridgeview is chosen.

That player is guaranteed a week in the first phase of preseason training, expected to begin in Florida in mid-January. The MLS SuperDraft, on Jan. 17 in Indianapolis, will also bring some fresh talent to the camp.

Why Dusty Baker believes these Cubs are better positioned than his Kerry Wood/Mark Prior teams

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Why Dusty Baker believes these Cubs are better positioned than his Kerry Wood/Mark Prior teams

The Washington Nationals PR guy made sure a red backdrop spelling out the team’s website and Twitter handle framed Dusty Baker’s pregame media session for the TV cameras. But you could still see an even bigger blue screen covered with Cubs logos and Wintrust advertising inside this corporate conference center.  

There are so many layers to Baker, so much history with a guy who’s spent almost 50 years in professional baseball, building a resume that’s probably one bullet point away from the Hall of Fame and shouldn’t be defined by Kerry Wood and Mark Prior.   

“Boy, this is different than the old interview room,” Baker said Thursday at Wrigley Field. “Look at this place. Before, I was in kind of like the dungeon over there around the corner. And then I walked in here and I saw the lights and stuff and I was ready to ‘Saturday Night Fever.’”

Insid their state-of-the-art clubhouse, the Cubs now have a Celebration Room, which they got to use after a 5-2 victory over the Nationals that pushed their best-in-baseball record to 21-6 with an absurd plus-96 run differential.  

Back managing a star-studded first-place team after two seasons away from the game, Baker knows all about huge expectations after guiding the 2003 Cubs to five outs away from the World Series, and then missing the playoffs with a 2004 team that won 89 games and might have been even better on paper.

So far, the 2016 Cubs are even better than the hype, and Baker believes they will be better positioned to withstand the attrition that wrecked what once looked like a great foundation.   

“I know they have more depth than we had,” Baker said. “They have a better bullpen than we had then, which is no consolation, but that’s why I had to stretch out my starters longer than I even wanted to, because we didn’t have the bullpen. Not to say we didn’t have a good bullpen, but at that time we had to make a big trade in order to make that push.”

A media/fan-driven narrative unfairly labeled Baker as a bad caretaker for young pitchers, and the way it ended with a last-place finish in 2006 probably helps explain the occasional shouting from the stands on Thursday night: “Dusty sucks!”  

“What kind of upset me a little bit is how much money they spent as soon as I left,” Baker said. “But I had to also realize that the Cubs weren’t spending money then because we were in the middle of the transition for the Tribune Company to be sold. 

“When you look back on things, ‘How come you didn’t do this?’ Or, ‘How come we didn’t do that?’ And then again, baseball takes a backseat to baseball business.”        

Baker is a three-time Manager of the Year who has won 1,690 games and already guided three different franchises to the playoffs. Cubs-Nationals would be a fascinating matchup in October.   

“Sometimes people appreciate you more when you’re gone than when you’re there,” Baker said. “On the other hand, I think about many times how I wanted to be the guy that won it in Chicago. We were close. 

“Now I’m in a similar situation in D.C. (The Nationals) haven’t been in existence that long. But baseball’s been in D.C. for a long period of time. This is the third try at baseball in D.C. since I’ve been alive. So now I got a new goal – to be the first guy to manage a team, take it to the World Series and win in D.C.”

Erik Johnson struggles in rotation audition as White Sox fall to Red Sox

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Erik Johnson struggles in rotation audition as White Sox fall to Red Sox

The situation regarding the fifth spot in the White Sox rotation is still fluid after Erik Johnson made his first start on Thursday night.

When he announced Tuesday that John Danks would be designated for assignment, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said little is certain about the final spot in the rotation after the club parted with its struggling veteran pitcher.

The team’s next move is to be determined as the White Sox optioned Johnson back to Triple-A Charlotte after a 7-3 loss to the Boston Red Sox in front of 20, 126 at U.S. Cellular Field. Johnson retired seven of his last eight he faced, but not before he allowed four earned runs with eight hits and three walks in five innings.

“I felt like I found my rhythm there,” Johnson said. “I definitely -- I know I have more to offer for this team and I know I expect more out of myself.”

Not much looked easy for Johnson, who officially was promoted from Triple-A Charlotte earlier in the day.

After he struck out leadoff man Mookie Betts in the first, Dustin Pedroia homered on the first pitch he saw from Johnson. It would be a sign of things to come for Johnson, the 2015 International League pitcher of the year.

Johnson put two more men on in the first, including a walk to Hanley Ramirez, one of 16 combined free passes by the clubs. He put at least one runner on in four of the five innings worked and stranded six men in his first three frames alone as Boston built an early 4-1 lead.

The Red Sox forced Johnson to throw 81 pitches through three innings.

He pitched well in the fourth and fifth innings, which allowed the White Sox to rally. But the 108 pitches needed to complete those innings knocked him out early.

“It was a tough one to navigate through,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “Erik finally got his footing and got through it. But you’re looking at a high pitch count, he’s up over 100. It can be better.”

Hahn and the White Sox quickly moved on from Danks because they don’t want to see their chances of contending this season done in by a weak link in the rotation. Hahn said Tuesday he has several other options at Triple-A if Johnson’s first audition lasted one start.

The White Sox could again turn to Miguel Gonzalez, whom they signed early last month and has already made one start. He allowed five runs in Toronto on April 25 in a contest the White Sox eventually rallied to win.

The right-hander, who won 30 games for the Baltimore Orioles from 2012-14, last pitched on Wednesday night for Charlotte. He allowed two runs and eight hits in 5 2/3 innings with seven strikeouts and has a 2.65 ERA in 17 innings for the Knights. Gonzalez has 18 strikeouts and only four walks.

The club could also call upon Jacob Turner, who has a 3.04 ERA in five starts at Charlotte. But Turner has struggled in his past two outings, allowing seven earned runs and 12 hits in 9 2/3 innings.

If the White Sox -- whose fifth starters are 0-5 with a 7.44 ERA in 32 2/3 innings -- aren’t satisfied with their internal options, Hahn said they’d consider external ones, too.

The White Sox offense had plenty of chances against Henry Owens and an entourage of Boston relievers to earn the win.

But the big hit avoided them every time.

Jose Abreu grounded into a double play in the first with runners on the corners and no outs, a play which tied the game as Adam Eaton scored from third. Abreu also struck out with two on in the third and and Melky Cabrera and Brett Lawrie couldn’t come through later in the inning with the bases loaded.

Avisail Garcia’s solo shot in the fourth got the White Sox within 4-2. But Abreu flew out to left with the bases loaded to end the threat.

Hector Sanchez drew a bases-loaded walk in the fifth to make it a one-run game. But Lawrie was thrown out at home on Austin Jackson’s one-out fly to shallow right -- a call Robin Ventura contested because he believed Ryan Hanigan improperly blocked home plate. Replay officials disagreed with Ventura and the White Sox trailed by a run.

Red Sox relievers retired 12 of the last 14 men they faced and Boston scored three times off the White Sox bullpen to pull away.

“Obviously, I beat the throw,” Lawrie said. “Yeah, he blocked me.

“I thought I was in there because I got through him. Yep, just one of those things again.

“(They made) pitches when they needed to. But that’s how baseball goes sometimes. So gotta suck it up and move on to tomorrow.”

White Sox turn to Latos as they play Twins Friday on CSN

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White Sox turn to Latos as they play Twins Friday on CSN

The White Sox take on the Minnesota Twins on Friday, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Mat Latos vs. Ricky Nolasco

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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