Jones settling into groove in the Sox bullpen

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Jones settling into groove in the Sox bullpen

By Paul LaTour
CSNChicago.com contributor

If anything encouraging for the White Sox came from a 5-0 loss to Kansas City on Saturday, it might be the performance of rookie reliever Nate Jones.

Jones threw 2 13 innings in a near-perfect appearance after entering for starter Chris Sale to begin the sixth inning. Jones struck out four and allowed only one hit in the longest outing of his brief career. His strikeout total is also a career high.

Jones said he has settled the nerves he experienced early in the season.

Those first couple times, Im not going to lie, I was a little bit nervous coming in, he said Sunday prior to the Sox-Royals series finale at U.S. Cellular Field. Ive calmed down a little bit and learned to trust my stuff, and do my thing out there.

In 14 13 innings spread over 10 games, Jones has a 1.26 ERA with seven walks and 14 strikeouts. He has allowed 10 hits and only two earned runs. Opponents are hitting .196 against him.

He continues to improve, manager Robin Ventura said. Thats one of the things with the young guys we have, youre bringing them into situations that you want them to gain experience and the feel for it every time they go out. You can see him gradually getting that. Im gaining a lot of confidence in putting him in different situations.

Understanding his role in the bullpen has been a big reason why he's settled down.

After the fifth, sixth inning, I know to be ready, Jones said. Every game, it doesnt matter what the score is, Ive become accustomed to being ready, getting stretched out, and being ready for that phone call.

Jones worked in spring training to incorporate a changeup and curveball into his repertoire. But he said everything still works off his fastball.

Once I get my fastball established I come in and try to throw my offspeed for strikes, he said. When I do (that) it makes it a lot harder on the hitters. It keeps them off balanced.

Jones also benefits from his relative anonymity among American League hitters. But he knows it wont be long before that changes. He said a pitcher must work to stay ahead of those adjustments.

You definitely hold an advantage because nobody has seen you before, Jones said. But once they start making that adjustment to you, you have to start adjusting as well. When that time comes, Ill do that. For now Im just going to do what I do, go out there and throw strikes.

Blackhawks assistant Kevin Dineen appreciates interview opportunities

Blackhawks assistant Kevin Dineen appreciates interview opportunities

Kevin Dineen is back with the Blackhawks but there were times this summer you wondered if another team would take him away.

The Blackhawks’ assistant coach was a major candidate for the Colorado Avalanche head coaching job, according to the Denver Post, following Patrick Roy’s surprising departure. There were probably other inquiries, too.

“It’s always nice to go through a process of talking about the way you do your business. It’s also a reflection of where you are,” said Dineen following the Blackhawks’ White-Red scrimmage on Saturday. “No. 1, you have to get permission to do that, and the Blackhawks have been great about giving me the opportunity to go out and do that. But also, when you have success, a lot of people want to get your feedback or whatever it is.”

Dineen’s name will likely come up whenever there’s a coaching vacancy. He coached the Florida Panthers from 2011-13 and coached Team Canada women’s team to a gold medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics. Dineen will get another opportunity in the NHL but for now, life is good in Chicago.

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“For me, I couldn’t be happier right here,” he said. “I have a great person and hockey mind to work with in Joel [Quenneville]. But you know, down the line, those things play their way out and we’ll see where it goes.”

Arriving soon

Patrick Kane, Ville Pokka and Michal Kempny will join the Blackhawks’ training camp on Tuesday. The three finished up round-robin World Cup of Hockey play with their respective teams on Thursday.

Dineen said there’s a chance one of the defensemen, Pokka or Kempny, play in Wednesday night’s preseason game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“They’ll get into the swing of things here on Tuesday,” Dineen said. “So that’ll give them a good rest after a long, tough September, and we expect them to hit the ice flying.”

Briefly

  • Duncan Keith will skate during one of the Blackhawks’ practices on Sunday and Monday.
     
  • Team White defeated Team Red 4-3 in Saturday’s scrimmage at the United Center. Spencer Abbott led Team White with two goals.

After locking up homefield advantage, Cubs flummoxed by Cardinals in blowout loss

After locking up homefield advantage, Cubs flummoxed by Cardinals in blowout loss

At the end of the day, a loss means essentially nothing for the Cubs right now.

But the Cubs also certainly don't want to hand games to their division rival as the St. Louis Cardinals make a run at the National League wild card spots.

After the Cubs clinched homefield advantage throughout the NL playoffs with the Washington Nationals' loss Friday night, they had no answer for the Cardinals in a 10-4 loss in front of 40,785 fans at Wrigley Field Saturday afternoon on national TV.

A few disturbing trends popped their heads above ground for the Cubs again Saturday, including the offense's struggles at manufacturing runs, Jason Hammel getting shelled and some bullpen woes.

The Cubs had no trouble putting runners on base against Cardinals phenom Alex Reyes, but they had a tough time plating those guys, cashing in only once with a runner on third base in six tries over the first four innings.

In two of those spots, a Cubs hitter came up with only one out, but failed to bring the run home as Addison Russell struck out in the first inning and Kris Bryant popped out to shallow left in the second.

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Hammel recorded only seven outs and was tagged for six runs on six hits and a walk, watching his season ERA rise nearly 30 points to 3.83. The veteran right-hander fell to 15-10 as he attempts to make a push for one of the Cubs' final postseason roster spots.

"Honestly, I would love to be a part of [the playoff roster], as the rest of the guys on the team would love to," Hammel said. "I know there's only a certain amount of spots, so if I'm handed the ball, I'll be ready. That's the way I'm gonna view it.

"Obviously you wanna be a part of something special like that, but I think everybody here has already been a part of something special to get to this point. We're all very proud. We still got eight regular season ballgames left to build some momentum. Whether I'm on the roster or not, I'm still gonna enjoy it."

Hammel was also clearly on the wrong end of some bad luck Saturday, as the four runs he allowed in the first came via a check swing and a couple hits just out of the reach of his fielders. 

Joe Maddon won't put too much stock into one rough start in late September.

"I'm not too worried about a good or bad outing right now. I'm not," he said. "Pretty much, you know who the guy is. You know if the guy's go this stuff going on or if he doesn't. ... The greater body of work matters."

Setup man Hector Rondon struggled in his appearance, needing 26 pitches to notch just one out, giving up three runs on three hits and a walk before handing the ball off to Felix Pena.

Of course, it's also just one game and one loss for a team with 98 victories and hopes of the World Series.

Rondon had been nearly unhittable since returning from the disabled list two weeks ago and the Cubs offense had been efficient and relentless in the past four games after Maddon's meeting with the hitters earlier in the week.

Maddon also used the blowout to get regulars like Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward and Russell out of the lineup to help keep them fresh for October.

After the game, Maddon chose to look on the bright side.

"Our starter had a tough day today; that's it. Otherwise we did some nice things," he said, referencing the solid offensive days from Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. "We had chances to score runs - runners on third, less than two outs - and we didn't fulfill that.

"We made their starter throw 115 pitches in five innings; I think that's a positive."

The Cubs will close out their season series with the Cardinals on another nationally-televised showdown Sunday night between Jon Lester and St. Louis ace Carlos Martinez.