MINNEAPOLIS — Jose Berrios gave the Minnesota Twins exactly what the White Sox could use most right now on Wednesday night: a deep, dominant outing.
The young Twins pitcher overcame a slow start to deliver eight sharp innings as the struggling White Sox fell 4-2 in front of 33,316 at Target Field. Starter David Holmberg lasted only 3 1/3 innings for the White Sox, losers of three straight. It was the 23rd time in 28 games a White Sox starter has failed to deliver a quality start.
“These guys are trying to give us length,” manager Rick Renteria said. “It just hasn’t happened. I get it. I don’t anticipate that’s what’s going to continue to happen as we move forward. I don’t think anybody could sustain over a long haul using your starters for three or four innings. It’s impossible. You would wear out your arms in the pen. Today we were fortunate in that we just used two guys for quite a few innings and outs. … They did a very nice job. That type of work is unsustainable.”
There are many reasons why the White Sox rotation has struggled through the first 70 games of the season. Injuries to four starters is the most significant factor, the biggest being to Carlos Rodon. The White Sox were hopeful their third-year starter would step into the rotation and deliver 33 starts and 200 innings. But Rodon is only now nearing a potential return to the majors and his first start of the season after he went on the disabled list in March with bursitis in his left shoulder. James Shields, Miguel Gonzalez and Dylan Covey, who originally replaced Rodon, have also been placed on the DL.
While replacements Mike Pelfrey and Holmberg have pitched well enough, neither starter has gone deep into games. The pair is averaging 5 1/3 innings in 16 starts with two six-inning performances by Pelfrey marking the longest efforts to date.
Combine those figures with the inconsistent performances of Derek Holland and Jose Quintana and you have a White Sox bullpen working overtime.
Holmberg limited the Twins to a run through the first two innings. But a combination of hard-hit balls — four straight registered at 95 mph or better to start the inning — and shoddy defense helped Minnesota pull ahead for good in the third.
Miguel Sano blasted a game-tying solo shot, Max Kepler singled in a run and Ehire Adrianza’s fielder’s choice brought in another as the Twins made it 4-2. Mixed in was a Tim Anderson error, a liner that Jose Abreu didn’t catch and a bobbled turn of a potential inning-ending double play by Anderson.
Holmberg recorded only 10 outs before he gave way to Gregory Infante and Michael Ynoa, who pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings.
“Feel like I got behind a couple guys, had to make a pitch a few times,” Holmberg said. “Labored through some innings. I would have like to get some quick outs and gone a little deeper into the game.
“Ultimately it’s up to Ricky. He’s going to do what’s best for the team. But that goes hand in hand with performance. We get some quick outs, quicker through the order, that’ll tie in.”
The White Sox scored in the first and third innings against Berrios before he began to find a rhythm. In the first, Avisail Garcia singled in Alen Hanson, who led off the game with a walk, to give the White Sox a 1-0 lead. Then in the third, Melky Cabrera grounded into a double play to score Adam Engel, who started the inning with a double.
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But that was all the White Sox would get against Berrios, who has allowed 34 hits in 54 innings this season. Berrios retired 14 of 15 hitters after Hanson singled in the third inning. The only man to reach was Garcia on an error in the fourth inning.
Berrios didn’t allow another hit until Omar Narvaez singled to start the eighth inning. He allowed two runs and four hits in eight innings with eight strikeouts and one walk.
It was a performance of which the White Sox are desperately in need. Through 70 games, the team’s rotation has also only had a pitcher go at least seven innings eight times. Jose Quintana was the last to do so on Friday. Before that it was Gonzalez on May 28. Over their last 28 games, White Sox starters are averaging a tick over 4 2/3 innings.
Renteria is confident the trend will turn. Quintana starts on Thursday and has been good in two of his last three outings. Shields just returned from the DL and Rodon is right around the corner, if he stays on track. But Renteria also knows his bullpen can’t keep this up and hope to remain effective.
“It’s not sustainable,” Renteria said. “It just isn’t.”
Avisail Garcia likes to observe teammate Jose Abreu whether it’s in the batting cage, on the field or in the clubhouse.
Having played with Miguel Cabrera in Detroit, the White Sox outfielder knows firsthand what a great hitter looks like. He sees in Abreu a perfect model from which to learn. And while he likes to see how the opposition pitches Abreu to get a sense for how they may attack him and has viewed the first baseman’s daily preparation, perhaps the most critical aspect for Garcia is seeing how his veteran teammate handles himself in good times or bad. Rebounding quickly has been one of the most prominent traits this season for Garcia, who hasn’t gone more than three full games without a hit in all of 2017.
“His routine,” Garcia said. “He works hard every day and he never gives up. Whatever happens happens and he’s always going to do his best.”
Garcia has been one of the best in the American League so far this season, even better than his teammate. Entering Wednesday, Garcia is among the AL leaders in average (first at .339), three-hit games (first, 11), multi-hit games (third, 27), RBIs (fourth, 50), hits (fourth, 87). He’s also top 10 in total bases, OPS and slugging.
But it’s the lack of a lengthy slump — something previously unavoidable for Garcia — that truly has stood out.
Whereas in past seasons Garcia could go weeks at a time without a good game, now it’s days. Last month, Garcia went 13 at-bats without a hit from May 21-26, a stretch that ended with a 3-for-5 effort against the Detroit Tigers. Following a 1-for-11 series in Toronto this weekend, Garcia bounced back on Tuesday night by reaching base four times, including a monster two-run home run, his 11th.
“He’s a totally different person than last year hitting-wise,” Abreu said through an interpreter. “It’s fun what he’s doing right now and I’m very glad he’s with us.
“You can see he has the confidence as the results have (come in).”
Successful or not, Garcia has learned how to take each day for what it is and move on to prepare for the next. He’s experienced good stretches and is even more familiar with the bad times. Perhaps that’s where watching Abreu has helped the most. Last year, Abreu struggled for four months before he took off in August. Seeing a hitter he thinks as highly of as he does of Cabrera struggle seems to have registered.
“You that know those days are going to come, are going to happen,” Garcia said. “That’s normal in this sport. I think in all of sports everybody has a bad day. We’ve got to keep working.”
Abreu said Garcia is a “good person, he’s been working hard.”
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Garcia is appreciative he has Abreu to learn from. He feels fortunate to have played with both Abreu and Cabrera and doesn’t see a whole lot of separation between their hitting abilities.
He just hopes to incorporate a little of what each does well into his own game.
This season he has.
“I feel grateful and thankful,” Garcia said. “I’m just trying to do my part, trying to do my best and trying to learn from the best.
“I’m happy to be with him here and trying to share what we can fix and what we can get better.
“I always (watch his at-bats). I see how they attack Abreu and I know they’re going to do the same or something close to that to me and try to be ready, try to be focus and try to be positive.”