Poetry in Pros BBQ: Cutting to the Quick

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Poetry in Pros BBQ: Cutting to the Quick

Friday, March 25, 2011Posted: 5:00 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

With rumors, whispers, and team sources ever swirling through spring training, look to BBQ to provide a bit of a reality check. Even with the Chicago White Soxs final batch of big cuts this week, competition for the final two roster spots remains heavy. Are you a Brent Lillibridge fan, or Lastings Milledge? Want to see Jeffrey Marquez man the last bullpen spot, or Phil Humber? Lets take a look at the ins and outs of roster spots 24 and 25 for the White Sox:

Will only two of these four players break camp with the White Sox?

Theres a chance that only one player is turned away, but that all depends on whether projected fifth starter Jake Peavy is healthy enough to avoid a stint on the disabled list to open the season. With the brakes applied fully to his rehab as the righthander struggles through the setback everyone anticipated would happen, the odds are that Peavy will indeed open on the DL.

So, Marquez vs. Humberwho wins?

In both a stats test and an eye test, Marquez has earned a spot on the White Sox, ahead of Humber. Whats frightening about Humber is that whenever the light has started to intensify on him, poor outings have been the result. And those numbersa 5.87 ERA in six games, two losses, two home runs allowed and five walks against 10 strikeouts. He also seems best suited to be a starter, underscoring the need for him to begin the season at AAA Charlotte as longer-term insurance for Peavy.

Marquez, on the other hand, is a wild card who brings greater flexibility to the roster, available to start or pitch in long relief. Hes rocking a new cutter, cultivated since his acquisition in the Nick Swisher deal, and is having a terrific spring: 2.70 ERA in six games, a win and just two walks against 13 strikeouts. Marquez has an electric armnot always a good thing, given three wild pitches and two hit batsmenwith greater upside than Humber.

With off-days and likely postponements in the first two weeks of the season, why is there any hubbub at all about a fifth starter?

Its very strange that given the off-day between the first and second series of the season that the White Sox would still be tabbing the first start for a No. 5 reliever as April 6, when there is no need for a fifth turn until April 10and thats with no postponements at all in the first eight games of the season. The rotation has had six weeks and five or six starts to tune up for the regular season. Making Gavin Floyd pitch a simulated game in order to stay in a groove, as he did on an off-day on March 15 (just a month into training), makes senseand by extension, giving Opening Day starter Mark Buehrle five days between starts in the first week of the season and assuming that wont throw some rhythm off seems silly.

The White Sox are loaded with startersfour electric ones, and five when Peavy is healthy. They extend six strong in the bullpen, led by power arms Matt Thornton, Chris Sale, Sergio Santos and Jesse Crain and supplemented by lefty specialist Will Ohman and long reliever Tony Pena. Let the top guys pitch, rather than giving five or six innings to the 12th or 13th-best pitcher on the club, as will happen with Humber (or even Marquez) taking the bump on April 6.

Does Marquez being out of options play a role in the decision?

As much as it shouldnt, were not talking about a pitcher whos spit the bit this spring. Marquez has been electric. Saturdays start could actually cement his position as the No. 12 arm on the White Sox, ahead of Humberbut even if Marquez struggles, hes got more weapons in his arsenal. Need proof? Hes tied with wunderkind Chris Sale, behind Thornton, for the second-best KBB this spring at 6.5.

Theres speculation that as the only viable piece left from the disastrous Swisher trade, GM Ken Williams wants to see Marquez succeed. But thats short-sighted and silly, and not how Williams operates. If Humber is the clear choice, transaction history will play no role in who gets cuts. Likely losing Marquez, who is out of options, if hes demoted? That will most definitely be a factor, especially in a pitching-thin system as the White Soxs.
As for the final bench spot, Lillibridge is out of luck, right?
It appears so. Lillibridge has a lot of factors in his favor while fighting for the final bench spot, including his history with the team, flexibility in the field (the Washington native basically excels everywhere but pitcher and catcher), even leadership. But his spring numbers havent been too goodjust a .591 OPS, two walks against nine Ks and one stolen base.

Milledge has the job?

Yeah, and deservedly so. The 25-year-old came to camp not even on the team roster and basically tore up the Cactus League, hitting at a 1.015 OPS clip, four homers, 10 RBI (fourth on the team) and three steals against one CS. Most significant for Milledge, at a time when the White Sox are whiffing with impunity and in direct contrast to his free-swinging past ways, hes had a team-best 10 walks against 10 strikeouts.

Isnt Milledge a head case, an eruption with Ozzie waiting to happen?

Youve seen flashes of impudence from Milledge, some slow jumps on fly balls, his odd habit of chucking equipment and snatching off his helmet in good times and bad. But with a clubhouse as tight as Chicagos, surely Guillen and Williams are confident that Milledge will adapt. Hes proven a ready pupil, learning early from Paul Konerko, Juan Pierre and others.

And hes a Kenny guy, right?

Well, Williams traded for Lillibridge just a few years ago, too. But do the White Sox see greater upside from Milledgeperhaps even to the extent where he could be a long-term possibility on the team ifwhen Juan Pierre or Carlos Quentin leave? Absolutely. Milledge has flashed five tools in the desert this spring.

So, assuming Peavy is sidelined, only Lillibridge gets his bus ticket punched out of town?

Not in my book, actually. I fail to see the need for 12 pitchers breaking camp, especially given the delicate situation with Lillibridge, who most certainly will be claimed on waivers and lost to the White Sox (as Marquez would be) if hes cut. Without a pressing need for a fifth starter, Id send Humber down to begin as the No. 1 starter at Charlotte and employ Marquez as the wild-card arm out of the bullpen. That would allow the White Sox to break camp with both Lillibridge and Milledge, safeguarding the team against an early injury at almost any position, as well as buying time for Williams to broker a minor deal for Lillibridge if it remains clear hell be the odd man out when Peavy returns.

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

Omar Narvaez helps father celebrate his birthday in style with first home run

Omar Narvaez helps father celebrate his birthday in style with first home run

Omar Narvaez’s teammates gave him a beer shower after he blasted the first home run of his career on Friday night.

But the rookie catcher said it wasn’t the best gift he gave or received in a 7-3 White Sox victory over the Minnesota Twins. Narvaez’s father, Omar, was in attendance at U.S. Cellular Field and celebrating his birthday when he son blasted a 377-foot drive to right field.

“It was great, especially because it was my dad’s birthday today,” Narvaez said. “It’s a very special gift for my dad. That’s what I was thinking as I was running the bases. It’s the best thing I could do this day.”

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

Narvaez, who hails from Maracay, Aragua, Venezuela, said his family has been in town all week to see him play. His fourth-inning homer off Twins pitcher Pat Dean put the White Sox ahead 6-0. Narvaez -- who has seven minor-league homers, including two at Triple-A Charlotte this season -- homered in his 111th plate appearance in the big leagues.

“That was awesome,” pitcher Carlos Rodon said. “I’ve been waiting a while because I know he’s got that pop. Took him a little bit, but I was happy for him.”

Young White Sox players star in win over Twins

Young White Sox players star in win over Twins

The word electric was used multiple times to describe several young White Sox players on Friday night and it wasn’t hyperbole.

Carlos Rodon tied an American League record with seven consecutive strikeouts to start a 7-3 White Sox victory over the Minnesota Twins at U.S. Cellular Field and Tim Anderson was an all-around force. Anderson turned several double plays and finished a double shy of the cycle and Rodon, who was coming off the best start of his career, struck out 10 to close out a stellar second half. Rookie catcher Omar Narvaez also blasted the first home run of his big league career in the victory.

“This was some electric stuff coming out,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “I would say the first seven hitters were better than (Sunday’s start). He just, it looked like his confidence and end of the year, letting it out. It was definitely the best stuff-wise of having it all -- fastball, slider, mix in a change. I think that’s just a big confidence boost for him of getting to that point where he can do that.”

Where Rodon is now compared with 2 1/ 2 months ago is vastly different. Frustrated by a 2-7 start and a sprained wrist sustained when he fell in the dugout, Rodon was about as low as he’s been in his two seasons in the majors. But the North Carolina State-product vowed to treat the second half like an entirely different season when he returned from his injury and he has done just that.

Featuring a fastball that topped 99-mph, according to brooksbaseball.net, and with his wipeout slider in tow, Rodon quickly looked in control against the Twins. He struck out the side in each of the first two innings. Only two of his first seven strikeouts came via called third strikes.

Rodon’s third-inning whiff of John Ryan Murphy moved him into a tie for the team and AL record with ex-White Sox hurler Joe Cowley, who struck out the first seven he faced in a May 28, 1986 loss at the Texas Rangers. Coupled with the three strikeouts to end Sunday’s start in Cleveland (part of 11 overall), Rodon’s 10 straight strikeouts between the two games matched the most by a major league pitcher since Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Eric Gagne did it in 2003.

“He was throwing a lot of strikes,” Narvaez said. “The slider was perfect today. He was at his best today.”

Rodon was only slowed down by a 31-pitch sixth inning as he allowed three runs (two earned). He yielded three hits, walked three and struck out 10 to improve to 7-3 with a 3.45 ERA since the All-Star break. The left-hander struck out 77 batters in 73 innings from July 31st through the end of the season.

“It’s easy to play behind him because it makes my job a lot easier when he’s striking out people,” Anderson said.

Rodon feels the same about the way Anderson has played since he arrived in the majors in June. The rookie shortstop continues to excel even though he has never played more in a season than he in 2016.  

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

Anderson headed into the eighth inning with a chance to complete the cycle. Needing only a double after he tripled and homered in his first two at-bats, Anderson grounded out and finished 3-for-5.

He turned on his speed when he tripled off the glove of Byron Buxton in the first inning and scored on Melky Cabrera’s RBI double. Anderson flashed his power when he blasted his ninth home run in the third, a two-run shot that traveled 410 feet. And used his glove and arm to turn several nice plays in the field.

“He’s electric,” Rodon said. “Just watching him develop over this few months here, it’s been incredible. Making those plays in the hole and just swinging the bat great. That’s a guy our team can feed off of when he’s in the lineup.”