On Tim Wakefield, Charlie Haeger and the knuckleball

676186.png

On Tim Wakefield, Charlie Haeger and the knuckleball

If you haven't read Joe Posnanski's fantastic piece on the knuckleball, do so immediately.

The knuckleball is a beautiful pitch. As Posnanski writes, "It is the only thing in sports I know of that is a constant surprise not only to the opponent or the fans, but also to the person who is actually initiating it." Every athlete, at least those who throw or shoot objects, knows what will happen if he or she executes their motion perfectly. A knuckleballer hopes.

Nobody goes out for a casual catch with their father or friend and says "let's throw a few split-finger fastballs." You toss a ball around all while messing with a knuckleball grip in the hopes of miraculously discovering the right way to throw it. Usually, the ball has just enough cruel rotation on it so that it doesn't work.

But when you get a knuckleball right, it's like you just won the lottery. Only instead of getting money, the little white orb you just threw doesn't have any spin. It dances, it dives, it does seemingly whatever it wants.

With Tim Wakefield announcing his retirement, though, there doesn't appear to be a true knuckleballer coming through the ranks. There doesn't appear to be the next Charlie Hough, Tim Wakefield or Niekro ready to break through. Sure, R.A. Dickey throws one, but he only began to use a knuckleball when his regular stuff -- which was good enough for him to make the majors -- failed him.

Six years ago, Charlie Haeger was a young knuckleballer who had worked his way to the top level of the White Sox farm system. He was drafted in the 25th round by the Sox out of high school in 2001, back when his 90 mph fastball was good enough to get him picked. He left baseball for a year in 2003 to play golf, but before he did, he started messing around with a knuckleball.

In 2004, he was back in the White Sox organization as a knuckleballer. By 2005, he had reached Double-A Birmingham, where he threw two shutouts. In 2006, he posted a 3.07 ERA with Triple-A Charlotte and made his big-league debut. In the majors, Haeger posted a 3.44 ERA in 18 13 innings.

But Haeger, who spent plenty of time working on his knuckleball with Hough, never was able to find the touch with his knuckeball in the majors. After allowing 11 runs (nine earned) in 11 13 innings with the 2007 White Sox, Haeger landed in San Diego, where he allowed 10 runs (eight earned) in 4 23 innings.

Haeger had some stabs of success with the Dodgers in 2009 and 2010, but never was a serious threat to stay in the majors. His first two games with Los Angeles in 2009 went great, as Haeger allowed three runs in 14 innings with nine strikeouts and four walks. But he was lit up by the Reds in his next start and was booted from the starting rotation.

He began 2010 by striking out 12 Marlins in six innings, but was shuffled between the bullpen and rotation after that before being sent down to the minors for good in late June. Haeger was released and spent 2011 with Seattle's Triple-A and Boston's Double-A affiliates, marking the first time since 2005 he didn't throw a pitch in the major leagues.

Haeger's future is uncertain -- I can't find out if he's still with Boston, some other team or is a minor league free agent.

But hopefully he keeps on fighting the good fight, armed with a 70 mile-per-hour pitch and a prayer as to where it's going. Because, to steal a line from Theo Epstein, baseball is better with the knuckleball.

Chris Sale scratched from start due to 'clubhouse incident'

Chris Sale scratched from start due to 'clubhouse incident'

Chris Sale has not been traded, but he was scratched from his scheduled start Saturday due to a "clubhouse incident."

White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said in a statement about 25 minutes before the scheduled start of Saturday's game against the Detroit Tigers that Sale was sent home from the park after a "non-physical" incident that is being investigated by the team. 

Here's Hahn's statement in full:

“Chris Sale has been scratched from tonight’s scheduled start and sent home from the ballpark by the White Sox due to a clubhouse incident before the game.  The incident, which was non-physical in nature, currently is under further investigation by the club.

“The White Sox will have no additional comment until the investigation is completed.”

Multiple reports, which CSNChicago.com's Dan Hayes confirmed, have the incident stemming from Sale not wanting to wear a 1976 throwback jersey for Saturday's game. The White Sox announced in March they would wear those uniforms on July 23, instead, the White Sox wore their 1983-style uniforms for Saturday's game. 

Matt Albers instead started for the White Sox on Saturday.

CSN Chicago's Chuck Garfien reported the incident started over something "stupid," while ESPN's Jerry Crasnick reported the incident wasn't with any of Sale's teammates. 

The news of Sale’s scratching set Twitter ablaze with questions about if this year’s American League All-Star starting pitcher was on the move. On Friday, rumors circulated that the Texas Rangers were pushing to acquire Sale, but the White Sox reportedly were asking for a hefty return. 

On Saturday, the Dallas Morning News’ Evan Grant reported the Rangers had moved on from talks with the White Sox and were focusing on acquiring a starting pitcher from the Tampa Bay Rays.

[SHOP: Buy a Chris Sale jersey]

MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reported Saturday the cost to acquire Sale would be “five top prospects.”

Earlier this week, general manager Rick Hahn said the White Sox were open to anything (except acquiring a second-half rental) but added that it might be “extreme” to undergo a full rebuild with Sale and fellow All-Star left-hander Jose Quintana under team control through 2019 and 2020, respectively. 

“We certainly have desirable players that people would want to help them win a championship,” Hahn said Thursday.” But at the same time, we’re aware of the fact that we have a lot of high-quality talent under control for years beyond 2016.”

White Sox expect Brett Lawrie back soon, Alex Avila needs 2-4 more weeks

White Sox expect Brett Lawrie back soon, Alex Avila needs 2-4 more weeks

White Sox second baseman Brett Lawrie was out of the lineup for the second consecutive day with a tight left hamstring, and while he won’t require a stint on the 15-day disabled list, his injury has left manager Robin Ventura a little shorthanded. 

The White Sox are carrying 13 pitchers, so with Tyler Saladino filling in for Lawrie at second base, they’ve been left with only three players on the bench for this weekend’s series against the Detroit Tigers. Ventura said he expects Lawrie to be ready to return to the lineup in the next couple of days. 

Had outfielder Adam Eaton, who left Friday’s 7-5 loss after fouling a ball off his foot, needed to miss Saturday’s game, Ventura said the White Sox might’ve had to make a move to bring up another position player. Eaton is back leading off and playing right field on Saturday. 

“It's a little tight having enough players on the bench,” Ventura said.

 [SHOP: Grab your White Sox gear right here]

The White Sox position player depth has already been tested by injuries to outfielder Austin Jackson (knee) and catcher Alex Avila (hamstring), with both players unlikely to come off the disabled list for at least another month. 

Avila, who re-aggravated his strained right hamstring Wednesday during a rehab game with Triple-A Charlotte, said he probably tried to return too quickly the White Sox. The 29-year-old Avila leads White Sox regulars with a .362 on-base percentage and said he’ll need at least two to four weeks to heal up. 

“I probably tried to rush back a little too quick and wasn’t ready,” Avila said. “It's frustrating. I’d like to be back, but you have to let nature take its course."

After wild seventh, Carson Fulmer wants another big-time opportunity for White Sox

After wild seventh, Carson Fulmer wants another big-time opportunity for White Sox

The White Sox called up Carson Fulmer from Double-A Birmingham a week ago with the expectation he could add a strong, powerful arm to the back end of a bullpen that’s been taxed quite a bit this season. 

After he struggled in his first high-leverage appearance in the majors, though, the White Sox remain confident their 2015 first-round pick will be an important part of the team’s bullpen down the stretch this summer. 

Fulmer only threw 12 of 30 pitches for strikes and allowed three game-deciding runs in seventh inning of the White Sox 7-5 loss to the Detroit Tigers in front of 22,611 at U.S. Cellular Field Friday night. The leverage indexes of Fulmer’s first two appearances on the West Coast — which spanned 2 2/3 scoreless innings — were .01 and .05 (a leverage index of 1 is average), with those coming in a 8-1 loss and a 6-1 win. On Friday, Fulmer’s leverage index was 2.98. 

Fulmer said nerves weren’t behind his erratic outing, in which plenty of those 18 balls weren’t close to the strike zone. 

“I want to be in those situations,” the 22-year-old Fulmer said. “When you go out there and don’t do your job, it’s obviously frustrating. But you have to have a quick memory and throw it over your shoulder and prepare yourself for tomorrow.”

Fulmer’s electric mid-90’s fastball and wipeout curveball were rendered ineffective by his inability to command them in his two-thirds of an inning. He walked Justin Upton, gave up a single to Tyler Collins and walked Jarrod Saltalamacchia to load the bases with nobody out, and after a pair of groundouts brought a run in, he walked Cameron Maybin to re-load the bases.

 [SHOP: Get your White Sox gear right here]

After that walk, Fulmer was pulled in favor of Nate Jones, who surrendered a go-ahead, ultimately game-winning two-run single to Tigers All-Star first baseman Miguel Cabrera. 

At some point, the White Sox were going to have to test Fulmer. With starter Jacob Turner only lasting 3 1/3 innings, and Fulmer looking comfortable in his first two appearances in the majors, manager Robin Ventura calculated that the seventh inning Friday was a prime opportunity. 

“He’s going to have to have it sooner or later,” Ventura said. “From the way the first (two) went, we felt comfortable he was going to come in there and be able to do that. But tonight, that doesn’t happen. But you have the confidence he can come back from this and be very effective in that spot.”

Morneau, who’s provided offense for bullpens over 14 major league seasons, agreed with his manager’s confidence in Fulmer. 

“We see a lot of good things in him,” Morneau said. “It’s obviously not up to me, but hopefully we get him back out there quick and let him settle back down and get comfortable, because he can really help this team.” 

White Sox relievers entered Friday with the fifth-highest leverage index in baseball, a product of the high volume of one-, two- and three-run games this team has found itself in this season. All those stressful innings — as well as Jake Petricka’s season-ending injury and Zach Putnam’s elbow issue from which he isn’t likely to return anytime soon — have put a considerable strain on Jones, Dan Jennings, Matt Albers, Zach Duke and David Robertson.

Fulmer, by virtue of being in the White Sox bullpen, will get another opportunity at a high-leverage inning. And while his first foray into a pressure-packed relief appearance didn’t go well, he hopes to quickly get a chance to put Friday in the rearview mirror. 

“I can’t ever use the excuse of it being my first big-time experience, especially for me being put in that situation,” Fulmer said. “Hopefully I get the opportunity to do it again. I’ll continue to stay prepared, just like I was tonight, and hopefully the odds turn in my favor. That’s all I can control.”