Morel's struggles and the No. 2 spot

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Morel's struggles and the No. 2 spot

Brent Morel went 0-4 with four strikeouts on Opening Day, in which he hit second. The following game, Morel was dropped to eighth in the Sox order with Brent Lillibridge drawing a walk in four plate appearances in the two-hole. On that Sunday against Texas, Morel was given the day off and Gordon Beckham hit second, going 1-3 with a walk.

Morel returned to the No. 2 spot the next day, remaining there until he got a reprieve Thursday against Baltimore. His lines in between were: 1-5, 0-3 (1BB), 1-3, 1-3 (1BB), 0-4, 1-3, 1-5, 0-5. As a No. 2 hitter, Morel has struck out 18 times in 40 trips to the plate. For someone whose bat-handling skills were listed as a main reason why he would hit second, that's not good. And it's much, much worse for someone who showed so much promise last September.

A concern is that Morel's struggles are related to his spot in the order -- in other words, the duties that come along with hitting second. Unfortunately, No. 2 hitters are usually asked to hit behind runners, which means if Alejandro De Aza is on base, Morel's expected to punch the ball to the right side.

Given what Morel said at SoxFest about his September surge of 2011, that doesn't sound like the best strategy.

"I was just caught up trying to put the ball in play and just kinda move guys over and do that kind of stuff," Morel said of his pre-September approach. "Toward the end, I relaxed a little bit and was more selective and patient up there. That helped me out."

If Morel's caught up in trying to put the ball in play this year, it isn't showing -- his 41 percent strikeout rate is the highest of any starter on the Sox. But Morel's swung at plenty of bad pitches and, most notably, has only pulled two balls to the outfield all year (chart via Texas Leaguers):

Morel's eight-homer September was fueled by pulling the ball, along with better plate discipline. Right now, Morel isn't pulling the ball, nor is he displaying good plate discipline.

Hitting coach Jeff Manto, though, doesn't see Morel's 2012 issues as being the product of his spot in the lineup.

"Once the game starts, you become a hitter -- every inning, the order changes," Manto said Thursday. "I don't think he's trying to do anything different because he's in the two-hole. I know that if all goes well -- De Aza gets a hit, steals second and he moves the ball, then yeah, that becomes normal. But that might happen in the fifth inning, in the sixth inning if he's hitting in the two-hole, three-hole or four-hole. He is the hitter who he is, no matter where he is in the lineup."

Essentially, Manto's saying Morel would have the same duties associated with the No. 2 spot -- moving guys along, basically -- no matter where he hits. That makes sense, although it doesn't make sense to have Morel concentrate on putting the ball in play andor hitting to the right side.

Morel has the ability to be a productive offensive player for the White Sox. That much he proved at the tail end of last year. And, fair or not, that level (or, more realistically, one somewhat close to it) of offensive production is what Morel will strive for.

"He's been trying to get to that feel of last year, so to speak, and has always been trying to get to that feel," Manto said. "We're looking at the ball. We're looking to hit the ball and let the mechanics and everything else take care of itself. We talk about it all the time, the most important thing is the ball and not the mechanics."

So don't expect Morel to have his stanceswing tweaked a la Gordon Beckham. But maybe he could pull Manto's quote of "we're looking at the ball" and go from there, not worrying about where the ball ends up.

That's what he did last September, and that's what he'll have to do to pull himself out of his struggles and give the Sox a viable No. 2 hitter.

Derek Holland not satisfied despite strong outing in White Sox loss

Derek Holland not satisfied despite strong outing in White Sox loss

Derek Holland turned in one of his best starts of the season on Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, the White Sox had nothing to show for it after a 5-3 loss to the Oakland Athletics on Sunday afternoon.

In six innings, Holland allowed four hits, one earned run, and two walks while recording six strikeouts. He was charged with his only run in the seventh, when he allowed a single to Yonder Alonso, who came around to score after Holland had been pulled from the game.

Despite his confidence in the bullpen, which has been one of the White Sox biggest strengths this season, Holland would like to see himself go deeper into the games.

“I should be getting into the 7th and not having 110 pitches,” Holland said. “The bullpen's done a great job of picking us up in the seventh, eighth and ninth. The starters, and really pointing more to myself, we need to...I need to go out there and go longer."

Entering Sunday, three of Holland’s last four starts had been the worst outings of the season – allowing 22 earned runs over those four games. Despite the team’s 5-3 loss, Holland felt his outing was a step in the right direction.

“I felt good about everything out there,” Holland said. “(Omar Narvaez) and I were right on the same page. There were just a couple of things that got away from us. Just one of those things. Defense made the plays for us when they needed to, unfortunately we just didn't come out on top."

Manager Rick Renteria also had high praise for the 30-year-old southpaw, who bounced back from one of his shortest outings of the season.

“I thought Holland, hopefully what's not lost is Holland's outing today was really, really good,” Renteria said. “He kept us in the ballgame. They've got some kids that can swing the bat. They were putting things together. All we were trying to do at the end was minimize any damage they could produce. We weren't able to.”

Tough luck for Tommy Kahnle as White Sox blow lead, get swept by A’s

Tough luck for Tommy Kahnle as White Sox blow lead, get swept by A’s

Tommy Kahnle has been one of the White Sox brightest bright spots, but fell victim to some tough luck that could ding on his under-the-radar All-Star bid.

Kahnle allowed the tying and go-ahead runs in the White Sox 5-3 loss to the Oakland Athletics Sunday in front of 28,089 at Guaranteed Rate Field, marking only the sixth time in 31 games the 27-year-old right-hander has allowed a run in 2017.

In the eighth inning, Kahnle allowed a broken bat single to Franklin Barreto, then Ryon Healy reached on a Todd Frazier error. Khris Davis tied the game with a single to left, knocking Kahnle out of the game, and Oakland took the lead when Yonder Alonso blooped a single off David Robertson that plopped into left field out of the reach of Melky Cabrera. Consider the hit probabilities, according to Statcast, of those three hits and the error:

Barreto: 78 percent
Healy: 5 percent
Davis: 62 percent
Alonso: 2 percent

That Kahnle coughed up the lead was surprising given his stealthy success leading a strong back end of the White Sox bullpen this year. The White Sox, prior to Sunday's defeat, were 28-0 when leading after seven innings. 

"Our bullpen's doing a great (job), it really is," manager Rick Renteria said. "I think you can't take away from what they've been doing for us all year long. We've been going to them a lot."

On that improbable Alonso bloop single, Cabrera was shifted more toward center field. 

"He was actually playing a little more to the pull side than he was to the line," Renteria said. "I don't think he was going to be able to get to it, regardless of the effort he might have given us. These guys are all a little fatigued, they're a little tired right now. They're giving you what they've got right now."

Entering Sunday’s game, Kahnle’s 1.2 WAR was sixth-best American League relievers, behind Boston’s Craig Kimbrel (2.2), Houston’s Chris Devenski (1.6), Cleveland’s Andrew Miller (1.6), Los Angeles’ Blake Parker (1.4) and Toronto’s Roberto Osuna (1.3). His 44.8 strikeout percentage is among the five best in baseball along with Kimbrel, New York’s Dellin Betances, Los Angeles’ Kenley Jansen and Milwaukee’s Corey Knebel.

Kahnle has been undoubtedly spectacular this year even with Sunday’s hiccup, though with Garcia seeming likely to be on the American League All-Star roster, Terry Francona wouldn’t have to take him to fill the game’s requirement. That this year’s All-Star Game doesn’t count — it’s the first since 2002 that won’t dictate home-field advantage in the World Series — could alter Francona’s roster construction to reward more starters and closers, and the Cleveland Indians manager would certainly be justified if he wanted to take his own setup guy in Miller.

The White Sox handed Kahnle the lead on Adam Engel’s first career home run (a solo shot in the third) and Jose Abreu’s dash home on a passed ball in the fourth. Starter Derek Holland was solid, allowing one run on four hits with two walks and six strikeouts over six innings. Melky Cabrera added a solo home run in the ninth inning, his eighth of the season.

Adam Rosales and Matt Joyce homered off Robertson and Chris Beck, respectively, in the ninth inning to give the A’s a comfortable ending to their three-game sweep of the White Sox. Beck was hit by a comebacker after allowing that home run and left the game with a bruised left hamstring, and is considered day-to-day.