Quick learning curves help freshmen Vitale, Lowry

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Quick learning curves help freshmen Vitale, Lowry

The learning curves were conquered quickly by Northwestern freshmen Dan Vitale and Dean Lowry.
Just six months after their respective high school graduations, the first-year players already have made increasingly impressive marks with the Gator Bowl-bound Wildcats.
Some major college programs make freshman wait their turn to work their way up a depth chart. Wildcat coach Pat Fitzgerald said he has no problem calling on first-year players, especially if they are ready and able.
Danny is very gifted athletically, a very bright young man who I thought made a lot of big plays as the season went along. Fitzgerald said. Dean is physically very gifted, hes got great size and had a great quarter academically. As the year went along he was more comfortable in his role and really started to play well.
Vitale and Lowry are among four freshman to crack the lineup and both are expected to play when Northwestern (9-3) meets Mississippi State (8-4) in the Jan. 1 Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla.
The Wildcats are scheduled to leave Evanston for Jacksonville early Wednesday and open several days of training Thursday at Jacksonville University.
A 6-foot-2 tight end from Wheaton, Vitale topped the depth chart at "super back" -- a combination tight end and fullback -- coming out of training camp.
Through 12 games -- including 10 starts -- he was fifth among Northwestern receivers with 21 catches for 206 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Vitale broke out against Michigan State with nine receptions for 110 yards and earned Big Ten freshman of the week honors.
But in August, he had no great expectations entering preseason Camp Kenosha.
I just went into camp thinking I was going to do everything I could just to get on the field, said Vitale, who won a 2010 state championship as a Tiger running backwide receiver. Its been a very good growing experience, especially starting off with little reps and progressively getting more time and getting the ball thrown to me, and Ive learned a lot.
The intense preseason training helped Vitale prepare, although he admitted there were some major adjustments to make.
The speed of the game (is different), he said. And I never had to block as much. Thats been one of the key aspects of the game this year.
Lowry, a 6-foot-6 reserve defensive lineman from Rockford, appeared in all 12 games. Hes had eight solo tackles and five assists plus a fumble recovery against Vanderbilt and a quarterback sack at Michigan State.
Its been crazy -- a lot of good times but a lot of stressful times trying to balance school and football, Lowry, an all-stater who played on back-to-back unbeaten Rockford Boylan championship teams, said. But now Im feeling real confident going to a bowl game. I have the technique and the coaching has definitely helped me get there. I feel really good.
Last summer, Lowry also didnt figure hed be in line for the role he eventually earned.
Probably not, he said. I took one day at a time as the coaches told me. But I really didnt think Id be at this point yet.
And Lowry said he continues to learn.
Everyones bigger, stronger and faster, he said. A lot of physical teams we played against they kind of pushed me around a little bit, but I learned from that.
A year ago Vitale was on a holiday break from Wheaton Warrenville South and wrapping up Christmas shopping. He already knew he was bound for Northwestern after committing the previous June.
There was nothing to worry about, nothing to focus on except getting ready to come here, Vitale said. Actually I think I was little worried about finals. I think I had them after break.
Lowry, meanwhile, was preparing for a holiday basketball tournament with his Boylan Catholic team.
We had just finished winning a state football championship, Lowry said. It was basketball season and I was sweating a lot, losing a lot of weight.
Fast forward 12 months and both were among three Northwestern players named to the all-Big Ten freshman team. Redshirt freshman cornerback Nick VanHoose also landed on the squad.
Some of his teammates have experienced as many as four bowl games.
Lowry cant wait for his first.
Im just going to embrace it and see how it goes, he said.

Starters help White Sox bullpen maintain health for lengthy stretch

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Starters help White Sox bullpen maintain health for lengthy stretch

The White Sox are at another point in their schedule where every inning is precious.

So even though they only managed a split in Monday’s doubleheader against the Cleveland Indians, the White Sox have to feel good not to have taxed their bullpen.

Mat Latos and Erik Johnson combined for 12.1 innings pitched and five relievers combined for another 5.1 on Monday for the White Sox, who are in the midst of a stretch of 17 games in 16 days. Given they have Chris Sale and Jose Quintana scheduled the next two games, the White Sox feel pretty fortunate at the midway point of their lengthy run.

“We didn’t really abuse anybody,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “These doubleheaders can kind of get away from you and both sides probably had that. You get out of these things without having to use anybody in both games and extending anybody.”

With the way things had recently gone for Latos and Johnson’s command issues in his last start, Monday’s doubleheader could have been trouble for the White Sox bullpen.

Latos hadn’t completed six innings since April 24 and posted a 7.84 ERA in his last four starts. And in his only major league start this season, Johnson allowed four earned runs in five innings against the Boston Red Sox on May 5.

Not only do the White Sox have two more here against the Indians, they start a four-game series in Kansas City on Thursday and then head to Citi Field for three against the New York Mets. Only then do they have another day off.

Johnson made two early mistakes, but mostly followed in the footsteps of Latos, who delivered six innings in the opening game before he departed with a 6-3 lead courtesy of a three-run homer by Brett Lawrie.

While Johnson left a 3-0 fastball up to Rajai Davis and he ripped it for a two-run homer, which put Cleveland up 3-1 in the fifth, he faced only five over the minimum through six innings.

“EJ did a good job for us, we just weren’t really getting anything going,” Ventura said.

Johnson — who was optioned to Triple-A Charlotte after the start — entered the seventh inning at 93 pitches. With his team trailing by two, Ventura hoped to steal another inning from his right-hander. The Indians took advantage as Juan Uribe homered and scored another run off the combination of Johnson and reliever Matt Purke, who allowed a hit in 2.1 scoreless innings.

“You want to help the team out and save the bullpen as best you can, especially on these nine and nines,” Johnson said. “That’s your job as a starter for a regular nine inning game, whether it’s a doubleheader or not.

“I’m thankful for the opportunities and if they keep coming I’m going to keep coming back here.”

For now, the opportunity belongs to reliever Tommy Kahnle, whom was added as the 26th man before the doubleheader. By optioning Johnson to Charlotte, the White Sox will employ an eight-man bullpen.

Preview: Cubs look to snap losing streak vs. Cardinals on CSN

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Preview: Cubs look to snap losing streak vs. Cardinals on CSN

The Cubs look to snap a three-game losing streak against the St. Louis Cardinals tonight, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 5:30 p.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Jason Hammel (5-1, 2.31 ERA) vs. Michael Wacha (2-4, 4.03 ERA)

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

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Preview: Chris Sale targets 10th win as White Sox battle Indians on CSN+

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Preview: Chris Sale targets 10th win as White Sox battle Indians on CSN+

The White Sox continue their series with the Cleveland Indians tonight, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet Plus. Coverage begins with White Sox Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Tonight’s starting pitching matchup: Chris Sale (9-0, 1.58 ERA) vs. Josh Tomlin (6-0, 3.56 ERA)

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

[SHOP WHITE SOX: Get your White Sox gear right here]

— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the White Sox: All of the most recent news and notes.

— See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with White Sox Pulse.