Chicago White Sox

Rios rebounding into form

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Rios rebounding into form

Theres something happening with Alex Rios. You might have noticed. Paul Konerko has noticed too, and the White Sox captain likes what he sees.

A lot.

It wouldnt surprise me if he has a monster season, because of the way hes going about it right now, Konerko said about Rios before Tuesdays game against the Indians.

If there is a hitting professor in the game, someone who studies the art like hes a baseball Michelangelo, its Konerko. So when he heaps praise on a player with those kind of words, its worth taking notice.

Konerkos lecture on Alex Rios 101 continued.

Alex is a big, strong talented guy. Hes a great pull hitter. He can pull the ball with the best of them. So when he starts hitting the ball the other way, it doesnt give fielders an option to just live out there away from him. Thats going to open the door to a lot of great things, Konerko said. The way hes picking up his hits now, and the at-bats hes having even in his outs, hes making really good outs. Its all there.

With the first month of the season in the books, Rios is batting .311. Much better than last year, when Rios finished April hitting .163. It was the start of his season-long downward spiral that ended with Rios batting a career-worst .227 with 13 homers and 44 RBIs in 537 at-bats. Not the kind of numbers the White Sox wanted from a hitter in a power spot in the lineup. But the struggles of 2011 are now in the rear view mirror.

I feel obviously better than last year, Rios said. Im still making progress. Im not quite where I want to be. But its all about work. Im just working hard to get to the point where I feel 100 percent comfortable, and doing what I want to do.

Sometimes baseball is as easy as see ball, hit ball. In theory, thats all you need to do, especially if you have the physical tools of Rios.

But last season, so much was going on inside the outfielders head when he stood in the batters box, his brain was like a pinball machine on tilt. He was thinking about his hands, his legs, his elbows, his feet...

See ball, hit ball sounded like a dream. Rios was living a baseball nightmare in a place called Mechanics Hell.

But this year, everythings different. What exactly? For one, all that clutter that had a permanent spot in his noggin....its all gone.

Im not worrying about mechanics, Rios said. Just have a plan when I go to the plate and stick to it. Sometimes you have a plan, but you dont stick to it during the at-bat. Im just trying to stick to my plan and hopefully everything goes well.

So far it has.

Hes batting .353 vs. right-handers, compared to .204 last year. Hes reached safely in 16 of his last 19 games. He had an 11-game hitting streak in the middle of April. The streak began two days after he belted a game-winning home run in the 9th inning off Texas' Joe Nathan.

Its precisely the kind of start he was hoping for when he arrived in Glendale for spring training.

It gives you a confidence boost, Rios said. You feel good about yourself and you feel like you still have it, and thats a good thing. When you have that confidence, it makes things so much easier to deal with.

Weve noticed.

Lucas Giolito puts together another strong outing in White Sox loss to Astros

Lucas Giolito puts together another strong outing in White Sox loss to Astros

HOUSTON — He didn’t have his best stuff against baseball’s top offense on Tuesday night, but Lucas Giolito had his changeup.

The young White Sox pitcher showed once again that when he has confidence in an offspeed pitch he’s able to overcome situations where his fastball might not be as good as he’d prefer. Trust in the changeup and a good command of the fastball were more than enough to put together another strong performance.

While Giolito took the decision in a 3-1 White Sox loss to the Houston Astros, he once again earned plaudits for his pitching.

“He was really good,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. “His changeup's very good. He obviously can spin a couple different breaking balls. It looks like a heavy fastball. So, a really impressive young starter to be able to navigate the lineup in different ways and get guys out in different ways and really compete.”

Perhaps no one hitter better demonstrated Giolito’s ability to compete than his sixth-inning showdown with Astros No. 5 hitter Marwin Gonzalez. Having just issued his first walk down 2-1 with two outs and a man on second, Giolito threw both his two- and four-seam fastball, changeup and curveball during a lengthy at-bat. With the count full, Gonzalez fouled off six consecutive fastballs before Giolito threw a changeup in the dirt for the whiff on the 12th pitch of the at-bat.

It was one of 18 changeups Giolito threw, with 11 going for strikes.

“The changeup was a good pitch for me aside from a few I left up in the zone,” Giolito said. “I had a lot of confidence in it and that was probably the offspeed pitch I was most comfortable going to in situations.”

Given his fastball velo was an average of 92.2 mph, confidence and comfort were critical. Houston entered the game with a team slash line of .282/.345/.479 and averaging 5.47 runs per contest. The American League West champions offer few easy outs and were clearly the sternest test to date for Giolito, who has never pitched more innings in a season than his current 167 between Triple-A Charlotte and the majors.

Even though the velo isn’t where he’s wanted it in the past two outings, Giolito has pitched well enough. Giolito produced his fourth quality start in six outings in the big leagues as he limited the Astros to two earned runs and seven hits in 6 2/3 innings. He walked one and struck out three.

“Felt pretty good about it,” Giolito said. “It was one of those days where I didn’t have my best stuff working. Had a lot of trouble getting the ball to the extension side. That’s something to work on this week going into the next start. But I felt good about how I pitched tonight for sure.”

The White Sox feel pretty good about the production they’ve received from Giolito, who struggled with consistency earlier this season at Triple-A and dropped down in the prospect rankings as a result. The right-hander said he’s pleased with how he’s learned to be more composed on the mound this season. He’s also clearly gained confidence and trust in his stuff.

“Based on everything we saw, the skill set that he would be able to manage his ability on the mound to attack the strike zone,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He’s throwing his breaking ball more effectively now, the changeup as well.”

“All in all he’s doing what he needs to do. He’s kept hitters off balance. His ball has some life. He has angle. We’re happy with how he’s continued to develop.”

Giolito’s offense didn’t do what it needed to earn him a victory despite another big night from Yoan Moncada. Moncada went 3-for-4 with three singles and shortstop Tim Anderson extended his hitting streak to 10 games with a ninth-inning single.

White Sox draft guru Nick Hostetler willing to sacrifice position for player development

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White Sox draft guru Nick Hostetler willing to sacrifice position for player development

HOUSTON — As much as he longs to pick first next June, Nick Hostetler has learned to cope in the name of player development.

The White Sox amateur scouting director sees a deep draft class full of high school and college players awaiting. He’d love if the White Sox didn’t have to sweat out other teams’ decisions in what will be another critical moment in the team’s accumulation process.

But Hostetler said Tuesday he’s learned not to let his own feelings get in the way of what’s best for the franchise. Even if the White Sox end up picking third or fourth next June, Hostetler appreciates that the worse draft position is the result of a hot streak by any number of young players.

“It’s really exciting to see some of these young kids have success,” Hostetler said. “I really do like seeing Tim Anderson hit .400 and Lucas Giolito doing what he’s doing. All of these things are so great for the ultimate plan, which is us winning at the big-league level. I don’t ever want to get so selfish where I’m worrying about one pick or whether we’re three or whether we’re four or whatever it is and to use that than to take away from the greater good.”

There’s no question one pick can make all the difference. Colorado has received good production out of the third overall selection of the 2013 draft, Jon Gray, who has thus far given them 7.1 f-Wins Above Replacement in his brief career. But that pales in comparison to the 21.0 WAR produced by second pick Kris Bryant.

Entering Tuesday, the White Sox boasted the third-worst record in the majors. But their lead over the flailing Detroit Tigers, who are fourth, has slipped down to 1 1/2 games.

While a 100-loss season still appears to be in play for the White Sox, it seems far-fetched they would catch Philadelphia or San Francisco to finish with a top-two selection next June.

No matter where the White Sox pick, Hostetler is excited about the prospects of the class, which has a nice blend of hitters and pitchers from high school and college. Hostetler said earlier this month it’s the best class he can remember since 2010.

Still, Hostetler jokes that he’s conflicted when it comes to September scoreboard watching.

“It’s hard not to sit there and look but I’ve done a really good job,” Hostetler said with a laugh. “I’m proud of myself for this. I’ve kind of removed myself from this point. I root for our guys to succeed and to win, but at the same time knowing ultimately come June and three or four years after we’ll really know if picking third or fourth actually mattered.”