Jackson plays punch out; Sox win home opener

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Jackson plays punch out; Sox win home opener

Thursday, April 7, 2011
Posted: 3:43 p.m. Updated: 5:45 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

CHICAGO After Brent Lillibridge gloved a warning-track fly ball by potential tying run Johnny Damon to end the eighth, Edwin Jacksons emphatic fist-pump on the mound put the finishing touches on an Opening Day gem, a game so dominant its immediately mentioned in the same breath as his 149-pitch no-hitter vs. these same Tampa Rays a summer ago.

Baseball is a game of inches, one pitch can ruin a whole game, Jackson said. When Damon hit that ball, initially I did think it was gone. It was a great feeling to see Lillibridge at the fence catching it for a last out. It was definitely exciting. Off the bat, I thought it was a home run.

Jackson punched out a career-high 13 batterswhich set a White Sox home opener recordin a 5-1 trampling of Tampa, which hasnt only failed to lead in a single game this season but fell to 0-6 for the first time in its history. Juan Pierre paced the Pale Hose with three hits, while Alex Rios, Paul Konerko, Lillibridge and Alexei Ramirez chipped in two apiece.

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The White Sox jumped ahead with three more early runs, two in the first off a two-run double misplayed by left fielder Sam Fuld, one in the third when Konerko tapped home Rios, who had doubled again and now stands at 7-11 career vs. Rays starter David Price.

Weve got a lot of dangerous hitters in our lineup, so its not the end of the world if you dont get the job done, said Konerko, who is hitting .360 on the season and set a White Sox record by driving home at least one run home in each of the first six games of the season.

But the story of the day was Jackson and an outing that Rays manager Joe Maddon characterized as more skillfully pitched than Jacksons no-hitter in 2010, tweeting after the game that Edwin had better command today then in his no-hitter against us last year. We weren't pressinghe was that good.

Jackson, even keel in that hell aw-shuck his way through good and bad both, could see his former managers point.

I mean, definitely this game is up there, Jackson said. Any time Im able to go out and get in an early rhythm, get outs quick and attack the strike zone, I like my odds. I have trouble in games when I get behind in the counts and have to throw strikes. There werent too many times where I had to do that today and when I did, I was able to make a quality pitch for an out.

He threw greateverything was working today, catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. He had all pitches going. He threw strikesthats the main thing. If he gets ahead against anyone, hes tough. I remember facing him. You didnt want him to get ahead of you because then it was, Oh boy, I got to try to hit this slider. Its as good as any slider there is. He continually got ahead of guys Once we got the lead, he got better and better as we went.

Jackson is characterized as a power pitcher but has long eschewed talk of him being all brawn and no savvy. Case in point: The fireballer doesnt count Ks.

I never really count the strikeouts, Jackson said. I really didnt know how many I had. I knew I had a lot. If you would have asked me an exact number, I probably wouldnt have been close. My main objective is get outs any way I can, either putting the ball in play or strikeouts.

Thats a blessing when youre a strikeout pitcher, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. His breaking pitches today were outstanding. He got into breaking ball counts, threw them and made those guys swing.

Pre-Velo

The fluke of schedule that had Jackson starting the home debut on Thursday, was one that the pitcher was eager to capitalize on.

Theres no jitters or anything right now, Jackson told CSNChicago.com on Wednesday. Its Opening Day at U.S. Cellular. Im sure it could be something exciting to see the crowds reaction. It would be even better to go out there and cap it off with a win.

Jackson was dominant in his home debut, setting a new career K mark (13) and retiring 20 of 21 batters to start the game (everyone except Fuld, who led off the game with a single) and allowing just four hits to the defending A.L. East champion Tampa Rays.

Jackson has proven a popular pitcher for the Pale Hose, but thats something the young righthander knows can turn at any time.

Ill only stay that way if I have a good game, Jackson laughed. Its always good if you can go out and have somewhat of a good day Opening Day, anywhere, regardless of whether its Chicago or anywhere else you play. You want to give the fans something positive to look forward to all season.

Thats just what Jackson has done, with an opener for the ages.

Its like youre opening the season all over again, Jackson said of his season opening honor. National anthem, lineups called outits like a brand-new Opening Day.

It would be easy to say that Jackson was a brand-new pitcher with his excellent work on Thursday, but as the strongest starter from the second half of 2010, hes just keeping on.

Asked about wanting to earn an A for his work on Opening Day, likening the pomp and circumstance to the first day of school, Jackson laughed in assertion.

Today, chalk Velo up for an A-plus.

Slip sliding

Perhaps the most devastating out pitch any White Sox starter has in his arsenal, with the possible exception of Mark Buehrles changeup, is Jacksons slider, which was as sharp as its ever been during Thursdays win, accounting for 12 of Velos 13 strikeouts.

I had a lot of strikeouts with the sliders, he said. I was able to mix it up a little bit in the count, keep them off-balanceyou know, put them away when I had chances to.

Interestingly, neither Jackson nor Pierzynski had any notion that the hurler would be so untouchable today.

Thats why they call it warming upthats exactly what it is, Jackson said by way of explaining why. I had some of my best games after some of my worst bullpens. I tried to go in and find a rhythm in the pen and bring it out to the game. Sometimes its not that easy. The main thing in the bullpen is get warm and ready for the first inning.

A guy can be pitching really well warming up and you still dont know how a hitter is going to react to his stuff, Pierzynski said. But the thing about Edwin is, when hes on, he can be unhittable.

Cool runnings

Jackson was pumped up before the home opener, so much so that he was walking through the White Sox dugout in short sleeves, seemingly impervious to the near-freezing temperatures.

I really wasnt cold, but I came out to see how cold it was and get used to the temperature. It really wasnt as bad as I thought.

With a gametime temp of 39 degrees and Jackson hailing from Georgia, Jackson proved he had some grit, throwing in the game with bare arms up to his elbows.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.coms White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox information.

White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf knows 'it will be very hard to trade' Chris Sale

White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf knows 'it will be very hard to trade' Chris Sale

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The baseball world has come to suburban DC for the winter meetings. In a hotel just steps away from the Potomac River, the White Sox are holding onto the biggest fish available.

But trading their ace Chris Sale might be tougher than it seems because of the White Sox steep asking price. Will any team meet their demands? That’s the question.

"You have to have four prospects who can’t possibly miss to get one," White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf told CSN. "I’ve seen so many players over the years who were going to be phenoms, they were going to be future Hall of Famers, and we don’t even remember what their names are anymore. That’s why when you’re trading a player of stature you’ve got to get multiple can’t-miss prospects back. That’s why it makes it tough to trade a player of great stature."

With the meetings in their hometown this year, the Washington Nationals could make quite the splash by acquiring Sale, which would give them a dominating 1-2 punch with Sale and Max Scherzer, not to mention Stephen Strasburg. The Nationals have the pieces to pull off such a deal, but they’ve reportedly been unwilling to trade their top prospect, Trea Turner, a 23-year-old who slashed .342/.370/.567 in 307 at-bats after getting called up last season. He can play second base, shortstop and center field. Oh, and he also stole 33 bases.

But Sale is no slouch himself. He’s finished in the top six in AL Cy Young voting in each of the last five seasons. And then there's his salary. He’s owed $12 million for 2017, with club options for each of the following two seasons at $12.5 million and $13.5 million. That’s three years for $38 million. Compare that with top free-agent pitcher Rich Hill, who is 10 years older than Sale and reportedly got a three-year, $48 million contract when he signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday. This is one of the weakest free-agent classes for starting pitchers we’ve ever seen.

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On the surface, the White Sox hold all the cards. But so far teams are holding onto their top prospects like gold and have been unwilling to deal them even for one of the best pitchers in the game.

Knowing what Sale has meant to the franchise, Reinsdorf admitted "it will be very hard to trade him."

For it to happen, the White Sox don’t sound like they are willing to put Sale in the clearance section.

"We’d have to really feel we were coming back with a lot of goods, a lot of merchandise," Reinsdorf said.

But for the first time, the White Sox are open to trading Sale, an idea few could fathom a year ago.

"I’ve said it many, many times, I’ve only had one player that couldn’t be traded (Michael Jordan), and the only reason he couldn’t be traded was that I would have been shot dead the day after,” Reinsdorf said. “We love our players, and we want our players when their careers are over to say that 'the best place I played was with the White Sox.' But again our obligation is to the fans to make our teams as good as we can make them, and we have to look at the players basically as assets and if we can make a team better by trading somebody no matter how much we love the guy, we have to go ahead and do it.

"Having said that, I don’t know what’s going to happen here."

White Sox revamp would mean fewer 'stopgaps' and 'half-measures'

White Sox revamp would mean fewer 'stopgaps' and 'half-measures'

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Seems like every hour another juicy rumor surfaces in which the White Sox are considering the unthinkable: a trade for five-time All-Star Chris Sale.

With baseball’s Winter Meetings starting on Monday, those reports have begun to arrive at a furious pace. Team A has shown interest in Sale and plans to make a push at the four-day conference. Team B doesn’t think it can meet the White Sox reported asking price. Teams C and D have made their top prospects untouchable in a potential deal for Sale.

While the White Sox won’t reveal their direction until they make their first few major moves, the tone of most reports has made it clear they’re at least entertaining a trade for Sale, who has finished in the top six in the American League Cy Young Award vote in each of his five seasons as a starting pitcher.

In the past, trading Sale has been an afterthought as the White Sox have envisioned the lanky left-hander leading them back to the postseason. But those days appear to be numbered. To understand how they’ve reached this point, where Rick Hahn isn’t just humoring his fellow general managers by picking up the phone but is actively listening on Sale, you only need to look at the White Sox roster over the past five seasons.

While the White Sox have an extremely competitive top half of the roster, one that could seemingly compete on an annual basis in the AL Central, much of the rest has been comprised of what Hahn himself referred to as “stop-gaps” and “half measures.” Since the start of the 2012 season, more than 30 players who have appeared for the White Sox made their final major league appearances on the South Side. Several others made brief stopovers but have spent the rest of their time in the minors, another country or retired. Were they to begin a rebuild and bolster the farm system, Hahn and executive vice president Kenny Williams could better position themselves to avoid the use of short-term players and quick fixes to supplement the roster for a team that hasn’t reached the postseason since 2008.

“I think we’re veering away from the standpoint of looking for stopgaps,” Hahn said last month at the GM meetings in Phoenix. “A lot of what we did in the last few years had been trying to enhance the short-term potential of the club to put ourselves in a position to win immediately. I feel the approach at this point is focusing on longer-term benefits. It doesn’t mean we won’t necessarily be in a good position in 2017. It means that our targets and whatever we’re hoping to accomplish have a little more longer term fits in nature.”

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Whereas they were taking a step back in 2014, the White Sox at least went into four of the last five seasons with hopes of reaching the postseason.

But those aspirations were dashed in part because of a thin farm system. Whether depleted by an international program that was dormant for five seasons, trades of prospects to fill holes or previous draft misses, the White Sox have had few internal answers to cover for injuries or underperformance. That lack of depth has led to a number of short-term signings or bargain trades in hopes of catching lightning in a bottle.

Last season, the White Sox signed Jimmy Rollins, Mat Latos and Austin Jackson in February and March in hopes of providing depth at shortstop, in the rotation and in center field. Those moves are typical of the way the club has hoped to plug holes the past few years.

Rollins and Latos were released in June while Jackson suffered a season-ending injury. Jackson is a hopeful free agent this offseason and should find a home, but Rollins didn’t find a new team after the White Sox released him and Latos made six appearances with Washington, compiling a 6.52 ERA.

From the 2015 roster, Adam LaRoche retired and Mike Olt and Hector Noesi haven’t resurfaced in the majors since departing the White Sox. Kyle Drabek appeared in one game for Arizona before he was released last July.

One-time 2014 closer Ronald Belisario played six games for Tampa Bay in 2015 and sat out last season. Moises Sierra has spent time in the minors with Kansas City and Miami. Adrian Nieto played 37 games with Miami’s Triple-A squad in 2016, Felipe Paulino and Dayan Viciedo finished the season in Japan, Maikel Cleto split the year between Mexico and Atlanta’s farm system and Frank Francisco hasn’t played since winter ball in 2015.

Michael Taylor and Matt Lindstrom retired, Jordan Danks didn’t play in 2016 and Taylor Thompson, Scott Snodgress and Charlie Leesman all played independent ball.

Jeff Keppinger hasn’t returned to the big leagues since he was released in early 2014. The same goes for Hector Gimenez, Dewayne Wise, Tyler Greene, Blake Tekotte, Ramon Troncoso, David Purcey, Brian Omogrosso and Deunte Heath from the 2013 club.

Casper Wells briefly played with Philadelphia after he was waived in 2013 while Kevin Youkilis only played 28 games that season, a year after the White Sox acquired him on the cheap from Boston. Orlando Hudson, Kosuke Fukudome, Ray Olmedo, Jose Lopez, Will Ohman, Brian Bruney and Leyson Septimo never appeared in the majors after 2012.

Starting with Hahn’s declaration in July that the White Sox were mired in mediocrity, the club has made its frustrations very clear. Whereas the Sale rumors once seemed far-fetched, they might not be this time as the White Sox look to replenish an organization short on talent past the very top portion.

“We’ve gotten to the point where we’ve had our conversations internally with Jerry and Kenny and the coaches and our staff and our scouts where we realize putting ourselves in a better position for the long term is the more prudent path,” Hahn said.