Missle barely misses gold, bags silver instead

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Missle barely misses gold, bags silver instead

Thursday, Nov. 11, 2010
9:06 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

If you lose out to Derek Jeter on the Gold, might as well take his Silver.

So may be the thought process of Chicago White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez, who just a day after losing a shot at his first Gold Glove in a controversial decision favoring the New York Yankees shortstop stole away the American Leagues Silver Slugger award.

Ramirez, helming a position of traditional defensive expertise for the White Sox (as heir to Chico Carrasquel, Luis Aparicio and Ozzie Guillen) nodded more to Hall-of-Famer and ex-Chisox Luke Appling in becoming the first White Sox Silver Slugger winner. Ramirezs win in fact made him the first shortstop on either side of town to win the award. The 29-year-old also snapped Jeters four-year hold on the honor, which has existed for three decades and is decided by a survey of managers and coaches.

While his rookie campaign of 2008 was a slightly better offensive season, the Cuban Missile dominated AL shortstops offensively in 2010. Ramirez proffered a .313 on-base percentage and .431 slugging percentage (first among shortstops) for a .734 OPS. He led AL shortstops with a .282 batting average, 18 home runs and 252 total bases. He finished second among campocortos with 70 RBI, third with 165 hits and tied for third with 29 doubles.

Ramirezs .282 batting average qualifies as the fourth-best in history by a White Sox shortstop and his 18 longballs were the sixth-most. He was named to the Sporting News 2010 AL All-Star Team in Pale Hose annals, only Appling (1936, 1940, 1943) and Aparicio (1968, 1970) have been so honored. The three-year vet is the first White Sox player since Carlos Quentin in 2008 to win a Silver Slugger, and just the ninth player in team history.

Honors are nothing new for the Cuban Missile. At just 23, he won a gold medal on Cubas triumphant baseball team in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. His career average playing for Pinar del Rio in Cuba stands at .335, and he led the league in homers (20) and batting average (.338) in his final season (2007).

After playing out of position (center field) and batting .375 for Cuba in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, the White Sox signed him in part on the advice of World Series hero and fellow Cuban Jose Contreras. Ramirez played a spectacular center field in the 2008 opener for the White Sox, and eventually spent much of the season playing out of position at second base; still he finished as the runner-up in AL Rookie of the Year voting.

With the Silver win and Gold near-miss, Ramirez was denied a relatively rare double play of sorts, being named both the best defensive player (Gold Glove) and offensive player (Silver Slugger) at his position for a given season. The AL Gold Glove was thought to be a two-man battle between Ramirez and Elvis Andrus of the Texas Rangers, but in a surprising and disheartening move, AL managers and coaches bestowed the honor on Jeter, forever one of the weakest shortstops in the league.

The Fielding Bible Awards, which like the Gold Glove has bestowed two straight honors to White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle, are selected by an expert panel of 10 analysts who study defense and defensive metrics for a living. Only one player is honored across baseball per position thus Troy Tulowitzki was the 2010 FBA shortstop but Ramirez finished third in the polling, well ahead of any other AL candidate. A number of factors are taken into consideration by the panel, but Ramirezs AL-leading 768 chances, indicating supreme range, surely didnt hurt.

A year ago, few would have pegged Ramirez as a future Gold Glover, of course, and many, including your humble scribe, thought it best to shift Ramirez back to second base and install Gordon Beckham at short for 2010. But Ramirez proved any naysayer wrong: His Ultimate Zone Rating a metric that encompasses fielding ability, range, and double-play work jumped from 3.1 in 2009 to 10.8 this past season. His 2010 UZR represents the 14th-best rating in all of baseball and second among shortstops (behind Brendan Ryan of the St. Louis Cardinals).

Ramirez is expected this month to opt out of the final year of his original, four-year contract and become arbitration eligible. The White Sox hold a 2.75 million option on Ramirez for 2011, an option they will exercise within seconds of Ramirezs opt-out.

Despite a hamstrung budget, dont be surprised if GM Ken Williams locks up Ramirez in a multi-year contract well in advance of spring training. Such a move would be only fairusing FanGraphs value estimates of Ramirezs first three seasons, the shortstop has provided 29.3 million in value in exchange for just 3.6 million in salary.

On Wednesday, CSNChicago.com pegged Ramirez as the second most essential player on the White Sox. His two-way mastery nearly pulling off the ultimate offensive and defensive awards in just his third major league season and second as a full-time shortstop and bargain-basement price tag (1.1 million) makes such a designation a no-brainer.

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

Anthony Ranaudo becomes first White Sox pitcher since Mark Buehrle to hit a home run

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USA Today Sports Images

Anthony Ranaudo becomes first White Sox pitcher since Mark Buehrle to hit a home run

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 8-1 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.”

White Sox pitchers falter late in loss to Cubs

White Sox pitchers falter late in loss to Cubs

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.”

Cut-fastball key to Miguel Gonzalez's improvement with White Sox

Cut-fastball key to Miguel Gonzalez's improvement with White Sox

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.”