Anthony Ranaudo hadn’t reached base in eight major league plate appearances and hadn’t got a hit since his high school days in New Jersey. He didn't have any at-bats in the minor leagues, and wasn't given an opportunity to hit while playing for college baseball powerhouse LSU.
But in his second trip to the plate in the White Sox 3-1 loss to the Cubs Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, Ranaudo lifted a solo home run into the right field bleachers off right-hander Jason Hammel. It was a bizarre (in a good way) moment for a guy who also took a no-hitter into the sixth inning against one of baseball’s best offenses.
“I figured it was going over Heyward’s head,” Ranaudo said. “I thought it was a double at first. I thought it got stuck in the ivy and I kind of pulled up at second base. I looked back at (the White Sox dugout) and realized it was a home run, from the way everybody was reacting and stuff, and I had to finish out the jog. I think it took me a little longer than I wanted it to, but it was a good experience. It was fun.”
Ranaudo last homered nine years ago as a senior at St. Rose High School (Belmar, N.J.), where he actually once faced White Sox third baseman Todd Frazier (Toms River, N.J.) during a state tournament as a freshman. He also blasted a home run in the New Jersey state championship game as a sophomore in 2005.
With his fifth-inning solo home run, Ranaudo became the first White Sox pitcher to homer since Mark Buehrle blasted a dinger against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on June 14, 2009. He joined Buehrle and right-hander Jon Garland as the only White Sox pitchers to hit a home run in the designated hitter era (1973-present).
Ranaudo also became the first pitcher to homer in his White Sox debut since Jack Salveson went deep in a 16-11 loss to the Washington Senators on June 14, 1935. He’s also only the second American League pitcher to homer at Wrigley Field, joining Detroit Tigers left-hander Daniel Norris, who took one out on Aug. 19, 2015.
Ranaudo, who entered Wednesday with a 17.18 ERA in 2016, had his one-man show spoiled by home runs he allowed to Kris Bryant and Javier Baez. But the former first-round pick out of LSU still won’t forget his White Sox debut thanks to his no-hit bid and mighty wallop.
“Yeah, that was definitely cool,” Ranaudo said. “Definitely something I’ll remember the rest of my life.”
That inconsistent White Sox offense has managed to appear at the worst times throughout the 2016 season.
Cubs starter Jason Hammel drew it out on Wednesday night and prevented Anthony Ranaudo from creating his own sterling chapter in Crosstown Cup history.
Hammel stymied the White Sox for seven innings to outpitch Ranaudo, who had a no-hitter for 5 1/3 innings and hit a solo home run in his White Sox debut. But too much Hammel and a bunch of late offense by the Cubs sent the White Sox to an 8-1 loss in front of 41,166 at Wrigley Field. Kris Bryant, Javy Baez and Addison Russell all homered as the Cubs snapped a four-game White Sox winning streak.
“(Hammel) spins it really good,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “His breaking stuff is his bread and butter. Anthony got a fastball, pretty much the only guy to get one really in the zone. You have to be sitting on it, and he can break it both ways.”
Everything was going swimmingly for Ranaudo through five innings.
Not only had he pitched out of a potential first-inning disaster, he hadn’t allowed a hit in two trips through the Cubs lineup. On top of that, Ranaudo’s solo homer off Hammel in the fifth inning gave the White Sox a 1-0 lead. The opposite-field blast was the first career hit for Ranaudo, who was acquired from the Texas Rangers in mid-May.
“He knows how to pitch,” outfielder J.B. Shuck said. “He was mixing up speeds really well. Once he finally settled down here after the first inning, he was locating well and able to throw strikes with all his pitches.”
But Bryant energized the crowd in the sixth inning when he belted a 3-1 curveball from Ranaudo out to left for his 26th homer. Ranaudo rebounded nicely, however, inducing weak fly outs off the bats of Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist to end the sixth.
With the back end of the bullpen still running on fumes, Ranaudo returned for the seventh inning and quickly recorded two outs. But a two-out walk by Jason Heyward set up Baez’s heroics. Baez, who lined out hard to center field in his previous at-bat, worked the count and hammered a 3-2 curveball for a two-run homer to put the Cubs ahead for the first time in three games.
Ranaudo allowed three runs and two hits with four walks in 6 2/3 innings.
But the Cubs turned into on in the eighth inning, scoring five times off Carson Fulmer and Jacob Turner, including Russell’s grand slam.
“Definitely something I’ll remember the rest of my life,” Ranaudo said. “The way the game kind of turned, that kind of took a bad turn for us. Definitely a great experience. The atmosphere was electric and thought we played really well for most of the game.”
The White Sox offense couldn’t keep pace against Hammel and Co., who struck out the side in his seventh and final inning. The right-hander only allowed more than one batter to reach base in a single inning once. Todd Frazier doubled with one out in the fourth and Shuck walked. But Hammel, who struck out seven, got Dioner Navarro to fly out and struck out Tyler Saladino.
Hammel allowed five hits and walked two in a 103-pich effort.
It was the 48th time in 101 games the White Sox have scored three or fewer runs and second straight day. They’re 13-35 in those contests.
“(Hammel) was down in the zone, mixing speeds really well and just was locating,” Shuck said. “Wasn’t giving us anything to hit today.”
Miguel Gonzalez has thrown his cut-fastball more in July than ever before.
The White Sox pitcher thinks the way its complements his repertoire has been critical to his most consistent month in the majors since 2014.
Not only is he 1-2 with a 2.76 ERA in five starts in July, but Gonzalez has increased his strikeout rate by three percent with 26 strikeouts in 32 2/3 innings.
The improvement has helped Gonzalez, who next starts Saturday at Minneapolis, develop into either a good back-end rotation option for the White Sox and perhaps even a trade chip. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported that the Miami Marlins scouted Gonzalez on Monday when he outpitched Jake Arrieta.
“It has been helping me this year,” Gonzalez said. “Hitters see a fastball out of the hand and at the end it’s already on them. That’s been a big change for me and it’s helping a lot. I’ve been seeing better results.”
His catchers have seen a dramatic increase in the number of cutters Gonzalez has thrown. In four seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, Gonzalez threw 19 cutters. The pitch is a staple for White Sox hurlers under Don Cooper and Gonzalez took his regular slider and started to throw it harder once he signed a minor-league deal with them in April.
So far this month, Gonzalez has thrown the cutter 119 times, which accounts for 24.59 percent of his pitches, according to brooksbaseball.net. Batters have hit .188 and are slugging just .313.
“It made sense to where if I throw a fastball inside, located, and then I throw that cutter, it’s going to make it a lot harder for a lefty, or a righty, to react on,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve seen swings where they get jammed or break a bat or they swing and miss because they think it’s a fastball and it’s three or four miles an hour slower.”
Always more of a contact pitcher, the addition has -- in the short term -- increased Gonzalez’s strikeout rate to near league average. Before July, Gonzalez struck out 17.1 percent of the batters he had faced in his career. This month, the rate is 20.2 percent.
Cooper is pleased with the development of Gonzalez. He’s also not surprised to find that Gonzalez’s name has appeared in recent Hot Stove chatter along with James Shields, Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, among others.
“Every year this comes up,” Cooper said. “It’s not the first time. People come and go. Trades do happen. Heck, when (Mark) Buehrle left that was a tough one because that was 10 years there. So if Buehrle can leave,anybody can leave. I’ve always said the names change, but the job doesn’t.”
Gonzalez is happy with his current location. He didn’t know what to expect with the White Sox when he signed in April. Suffice it to say, the experience has been better than he could have hoped.
“When you have a free mind, stress free, and you’re on a new team, new environment, things tend to change a little bit and in a good way,” Gonzalez said. “That’s how I feel. I feel comfortable with the team. They welcomed me and now it’s paying off. Hopefully we can get into a nice little stretch and win, a little streak going. That’s what we need right now.”