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.

Jose Quintana gets the Opening Day start for White Sox

Jose Quintana gets the Opening Day start for White Sox

 

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Jose Quintana has been named the Opening Day starter — for the White Sox.

While many are surprised he still hasn't been traded, few should be shocked by the news manager Rick Renteria delivered on Friday, when he announced Quintana would pitch the April 3 opener.

With Chris Sale gone to Boston, Quintana, a first-time All-Star in 2016, has been the odds-on favorite to take over as the team's ace. The only question seemed to be whether or not he'd still be in a White Sox uniform when the season began. But the club made it clear Friday that Quintana is their guy and he'll face the Detroit Tigers in the first game of 2017. The only one who seemed a little taken aback about the news is Quintana.

"I was surprised," Quintana said. "I knew I may get the ball for that day, but they didn't say nothing, so you didn't know. I just kept going and doing my workouts and all my stuff. I'm really, really happy with this opportunity. It's huge for me. I can't wait for that day to come.

"I'm excited to have this opportunity. It's a huge honor for me to have the ball for Opening Day the first time in my life. And I think it's a once-in-a-life opportunity."

Asked about the announcement earlier in the week, Renteria said he needed more time. Many speculated that it meant the White Sox were continuing to listen to offers for Quintana, who has drawn constant interest since the team began its rebuild in December.

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Quintana, who went 13-12 with a 3.20 ERA and 181 strikeouts in 208 innings last season, has looked fantastic all spring. Pitching in front of more than a dozen scouts on Thursday, Quintana made his first Cactus League appearance in a month and allowed two hits over seven scoreless innings. The left-hander also put on a brilliant performance for Colombia in the World Baseball Classic on March 10 as he retired the first 17 Team USA hitters he faced before allowing a hit.

"He's very happy about it," Renteria said. "He has obviously earned it.

"I don't know if he was surprised as much as he was elated and proud to be given the opportunity to be the Opening Day starter. It's a privilege."

Quintana's resume of consistency made him a clear-cut choice for the nod. He heads into 2017 having pitched at least 200 innings in each of the past four seasons. In that span, he's produced a 3.32 ERA and 18.1 Wins Above Replacement, according to fangraphs.com. That figure represents the seventh-highest WAR total among all big league pitchers in that span.

Even though he's viewed as the staff ace, Quintana — who potentially has four years and $36.85 million left on his current contract — said he was surprised by the news because the club hadn't yet informed him of the honor.

"It means a lot for me, especially after last year when you make the All-Star team and this year the opportunity to play in the WBC and now you have the opportunity to pitch on Opening Day," Quintana said. "That's a lot of things happening for me now and I'm happy. And really blessed. You just try to do all my things every time.

"Maybe they don't know what it means for me, but it's a big thing."

Carlos Rodon slated for MRI, could start season on disabled list with bicep tightness

Carlos Rodon slated for MRI, could start season on disabled list with bicep tightness

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Carlos Rodon was scratched from a Friday start with tightness in his upper left bicep, and it could land him on the disabled list to start the 2017 season.

General manager Rick Hahn said on Friday that the team's initial exam of their third-year starter was "positive." But the White Sox intend to be extremely cautious with Rodon, who is headed to have an MRI instead of starting against the Oakland A's in Mesa. Hahn said Rodon also is likely to have a second opinion early next week.

"We're going to err on the side of caution here, even if it winds up costing him his first couple starts because we're slowing down the schedule now by scratching him," Hahn said. "It's too early to speculate how long we're going to be without Carlos. I hate to speculate, but since we are slowing down his schedule by having him miss the start today, the odds are probably that he starts the season on the DL. But again we'll know more after he takes his further exams."

Rodon informed the White Sox he felt some tightness in his bicep on Thursday, at which point they examined him. The team's exam suggested Rodon has no structural damage, Hahn said.

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Free of worry, Rodon requested to make his start against Oakland, but the team declined and opted for a second opinion. Zach Putnam will start and pitch one inning instead.

With the intent of helping him reach the 200-inning mark this season, the White Sox took a slower route with Rodon this spring, similar to the way they handled Chris Sale last year.

Rodon went 9-10 with a 4.04 ERA in 28 starts last season, striking out 168 batters in 165 innings.

Rodon has done most of his work this February and March on back fields and in simulated games. He made his first Cactus League appearance against the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday and struck out five in four scoreless innings. He allowed one hit and walked one.

Hahn said the injury could land Rodon on the DL to start the season as the White Sox intend to make sure the left-hander is healthy and prepared to return.