Hot start propels White Sox past A's in season opener

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Hot start propels White Sox past A's in season opener

OAKLAND, Calif. — The 4-3 White Sox victory over the Oakland A’s on Monday night wasn’t without its warts.

They ran into outs on the bases, failed to get a sac bunt down and consecutive relief pitchers issued leadoff walks late in a one-run contest. But it was what the White Sox did around those plays that had them victorious instead of lamenting a close loss.

Chris Sale overcame a shaky early inning and took advantage of four early runs before his defense and bullpen did just enough to secure a victory. Sale struck out eight in seven innings and David Robertson pitched a scoreless ninth for his first save.

“It wasn’t pretty,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “Good to get this one out of the way.

“We got a win, and we’ll take it.”

Given Sale nearly surrendered a 4-0 lead in the third, the White Sox have to be pleased to have pulled this one out.

Making his third Opening Day start in four seasons, Sale appeared to entirely lose his rhythm in a 34-pitch frame. He retired the first seven batters he faced before yielding a one-out infield single to Stephen Vogt and Oakland’s offense woke up.

Sale said he tried to do too much and walked Marcus Semien. One out later, Jed Lowrie lined a 96-mph fastball up and away into right field for a two-run single to make it a 4-2 game.

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Sale missed high with several fastballs in the inning. Josh Reddick and Danny Valencia followed with singles, the latter driving in another run to make it 4-3. But Sale struck out Khris Davis to strand runners on the corners and leave Billy Butler — who doubled twice — in the on-deck circle.

“Held it together and thankfully we got out of it,” Sale said. “I don’t know if I was overthrowing. Maybe just trying to do a little too much. That’s a tough team. This is a great atmosphere, really.

“They feed off of it. You just have to take that into consideration and try to not get overwhelmed.”

The sellout crowd had more to cheer in the eighth and ninth innings. Jake Petricka took over for Sale — who allowed three earned runs and seven hits in seven innings — and walked Lowrie.

But Zach Duke retired Josh Reddick on a comebacker and Nate Jones got two batters, including a strikeout of Davis to strand the tying run at second.

Robertson also started his inning with a walk of the speedy Coco Crisp. But he bounced back with a strikeout of Chris Coghlan and Brett Lawrie ended the game with a nice sliding stop in right field, throwing out Yonder Alonso at first with Robertson on the cover.

The White Sox had a handful of nice defensive efforts. Jose Abreu smothered two grounders at first, Sale made a nice play on a comebacker in the fifth and catcher Dioner Navarro picked off Billy Burns at first base to end the seventh inning.

“We put the preparation in spring training, work hard and we put ourselves in a position to win and it showed tonight,” said leadoff man Adam Eaton. “We’ll continue to believe in our preparation and allow our preparation to instill confidence in everybody and play a good brand of baseball.”

Sale dominated Oakland’s offense on both sides of the third inning.

He blew 97-mph fastballs by Lowrie and Davis in the first two innings for strikeouts. And after Butler opened the fourth with a double, Sale retired 11 of the last 12 he faced.

That made a four-run rally in the third hold up.

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Eaton jump-started the offense against Oakland replacement starter Rich Hill.

With a man on third, Eaton — who didn’t have an RBI until his 109th plate appearance last season — tripled to deep center to make it 1-0.

Jimmy Rollins followed Eaton with a bloop RBI single to right to give the White Sox a two-run cushion. He advanced to third on Abreu’s double and both scored on a two-out error by first baseman Mark Canha.

But that was all the White Sox would get.

Oakland relievers retired 11 straight White Sox hitters into the seventh. Austin Jackson, who scored on the triple, and Eaton singled. But reliever John Axford won an 11-pitch battle against Abreu to strand the runners.

The White Sox didn’t help themselves on the bases, either.

Eaton was picked off in the first inning after Hill hit him with a pitch (the A’s starter also hit Abreu in the frame).

Navarro popped out on a ninth-inning bunt attempt after Lawrie led off with a single. Lawrie was then picked off by Sean Doolittle to end the ninth.

But the White Sox prevailed anyway and that’s plenty for Sale and Ventura.

“It’s like the first strike of the game, once you get the first strike of the game, once you get the first win of the year, you kind of exhale a little bit and just go from there,” Sale said. “Business as usual.”

Miguel Gonzalez throws six perfect innings as White Sox take series against Tigers

Miguel Gonzalez throws six perfect innings as White Sox take series against Tigers

For six innings Sunday, Miguel Gonzalez was perfect.

The White Sox right-hander put the baseball world on perfect-game alert and conjured memories of Mark Buehrle and Philip Humber with his dazzling work through six innings. Gonzalez lost his bids for a perfect game, no hitter and shutout in the span of three batters to lead off the seventh inning, but that didn’t take away much from how good he was in a 7-3 win for the South Siders at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“He was dominant,” shortstop Tim Anderson said, providing an accurate if brief summation of the day’s proceedings.

Gonzalez, who entered with a 3-5 record and a 4.55 ERA in nine previous starts this season, set down the first 18 hitters he faced in order, with the visiting Detroit Tigers rarely even coming close to reaching base. That streak of 18 straight hitters retired to start the game was the longest by a White Sox starter since Chris Sale sat down the first 19 he faced back in May 2013.

Of course, whenever a performance nears no-hitter territory, players know it and stay away from the pitcher in the dugout, afraid of jinxing things. And the White Sox weren’t immune to that baseball tradition on Sunday.

“It was getting quiet,” Gonzalez said. “I was just trying to do my thing. Just go out there and make pitches, let them make the plays and that’s how things went.”

The Tigers — who trailed big after the White Sox gave Gonzalez a 7-0 lead — finally broke through to start the seventh. Austin Romine reached on an infield single, Alex Avila singled through the right side of the infield, and Miguel Cabrera dumped an RBI base hit into right field.

Detroit added two more runs on three extra-base hits in the eighth, but Gonzalez still finished with a great line, yielding just three runs on six hits in 7.2 innings of work.

Gonzalez’s gem snapped a streak of rough outings that started, coincidentally enough, against this Tigers team, when he was crushed for seven runs on 14 hits in an April 30 loss in Detroit. Entering Sunday’s game, Gonzalez was a nasty 0-5 with a 6.99 ERA in his previous five starts. He hadn’t made it out of the sixth inning in any of his previous three starts.

“I started off really good. I was struggling for a couple outings, and all you can do is keep working hard and things are going to happen,” Gonzalez said. “I think if you work hard in between your starts you have a pretty good chance of getting back on track and that’s how I felt today.”

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That seventh-inning blip by the Tigers ended the day’s only drama, as the White Sox offense put the result of the game out of question earlier, tagging opposing starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann for seven runs in his five innings of work.

Zimmermann entered the day struggling on the 2017 campaign, and that didn’t change Sunday. Willy Garcia tripled in Omar Narvaez for the game’s first run in the third and scored on the same play thanks to a throwing error. Two hitters later, Melky Cabrera hit a solo home run to make it 3-0.

Matt Davidson led off the bottom of the fourth with his 10th home run of the season, and Narvaez drove in Yolmer Sanchez to make it 5-0. Todd Frazier tacked on two more in the fifth with a two-run shot that also scored Jose Abreu.

“As an offense, we’re trying to give that (big cushion) every night. That’d be nice,” Davidson said. “And it really relaxes them. And you can see what happens when they’ve got a lead and you let them do their thing.”

The White Sox took three of four from the Tigers in this weekend series that featured a doubleheader split Saturday. It’s a positive start to this home stand — which continues with a three-game series against the Boston Red Sox — after going 3-7 on a recent 10-game road trip.

“I'm very happy with it, but again I'm not surprised by it, simply because I think they come out every single day to try to play good baseball and do what they need to help each other out and win ballgames,” manager Rick Renteria said. “It's just their character, the way they're put together. They keep battling.”

Jose Abreu relishing opportunity to help mentor Luis Robert, White Sox newest Cuban addition

Jose Abreu relishing opportunity to help mentor Luis Robert, White Sox newest Cuban addition

Call it the White Sox latest Cuban connection.

When news came out of the team pursuing 19-year-old Cuban outfielder Luis Robert, it was pretty easy to guess that Jose Abreu, the franchise’s previous big-time, free-agent signing from Cuba, would be involved.

But not only was Abreu involved in the White Sox courting of Robert, sending a personalized message as part of the team’s video pitch, he’s been a willing participant. And now that Robert is officially signed after Saturday’s much-hyped introduction, Abreu is ready to take on a mentorship role, much like he has with another one of the organization’s Cuban prospects, Yoan Moncada.

In the lead up to Saturday’s press conference, it was Abreu touring Robert around Guaranteed Rate Field, chatting with him in the dugout and taking pictures on the infield.

“I was very excited to have him here, and I’m very happy right now because he’s signing with the team,” Abreu said through a translator ahead of Sunday’s series finale with the visiting Detroit Tigers. “He’s a very good player. I just told him that he has to keep working hard and keep doing the things to get here as soon as he can. He’s a nice guy.

“I’m excited to have that opportunity (to be a mentor). That’s something that I like to do. I like to advise the guys and tell them what to do for their best like I am doing right now with Moncada. I’m just waiting for that opportunity to happen with (Robert).”

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While Abreu arrived on the South Side an older, more experienced player who was ready for the big leagues, Robert’s journey to the majors will be a much different, much longer one. Abreu recognizes that and talked about how tough the transition will be. He also has confidence Robert, who has received glowing scouting reports comparing him to perennial All Stars, can succeed.

“It’s not an easy thing to do to come here straight to play in the majors because this is a very high level and a tough one to play,” Abreu said. “I think the best for him is the decision that he’s making for him, to have some games in the minors and let him develop there. He’s had a long time without playing baseball. Baseball in Cuba is good, but it’s not as good as baseball here in the U.S. and you have to adjust. I think that process for him is going to be perfect in the minors.”

Saturday, Robert talked about the White Sox tradition of Cuban players, mentioning how it helped motivate him to sign with the team. Abreu has been one of the franchise’s most successful Cuban players, a list that includes the legendary Minnie Minoso as well as more recent players like Alexei Ramirez and Dayan Viciedo and Moncada in the minor leagues.

While that tradition might not be the entire or even main reason Robert is now a part of the organization, general manager Rick Hahn talked about how it’s created an environment that will help Robert develop. Banners featuring Minoso, Abreu, Ramirez and Moncada flanked the table where Robert signed his contract.

Abreu said it’s a tradition he’s very proud to be a part of.

“That made me feel happy and proud. Not just for this organization that I’m a part of, but also for my heritage because I know that this is a very good organization and they are trying to take care of the Cuban players,” Abreu said. “I also feel a huge respect for Minnie Minoso because he was the first one who opened this door here with the White Sox.”

Through his mentoring, Abreu could keep that tradition going into the future. Robert and Moncada are huge pieces of the White Sox rebuilding puzzle, and Abreu is helping put those pieces together for the White Sox.