Chicago White Sox

Sox Drawer: Alive and kicking

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Sox Drawer: Alive and kicking

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

By Chuck Garfien
CSNChicago.com

They were down and out. Dead and buried. A baseball team whose obituary had already been written. It went something like this:

Here lies the 2010 Chicago White Sox, who died in early June of massive underachievement. An autopsy found that their hearts were in the right place, but their brains often failed to produce enough confidence to win more than one game in a row. They are survived by a fan base mourning the teams unrealized expectations. In lieu of flowers, please send extra shovels and something for Bill Melton, Frank Thomas and Chuck Garfien to talk about on White Sox Postgame Live for the next three months.
It was looking like a very long summer.

A thorough investigation would reveal that the Sox officially flat-lined on June 8. Nursing a 2-1 lead in the seventh inning against the Tigers, Matt Thornton, who had given up only six runs all season, got tagged for five in one-third of an inning. The Sox lost, 7-2. They were embarrassed at home to one of their main rivals. It dropped them a season-low nine games under .500. They trailed the Twins by 9 12 games in the American League Central. And the next day, White Sox general managerfuneral director Kenny Williams delivered the grave news to the assembled media:

Some changes need to take place," he said. "I dont know what and I dont know when, but some changes need to take place. Things arent happening the way that we envisioned, and when they dont happen the way you envision, youve got to make an adjustment. It is what it is. I have to listen to trade offers. Its not that I want to, but Im not blind.

Trouble was, the Sox often played like they were.

But suddenly, later that same evening, against those same Tigers who humiliated the Sox the day before, something strange took place. A spiritual phenomenon that would compel priests, rabbis and ministers to call U.S. Cellular Field, inquiring about a certain celestial event.

A mere two hours after Williams made that grim diagnosis about his struggling team, a miracle occurred at 35th and Shields, and it wasnt just because Brent Lillibridge hit a pinch-hit, three-run homer.

After two months of mediocre, inconsistent, uninspiring baseball, everything just magically clicked.

And I mean everything.

Besides the Lillibridge home run (which was hit so far, Frank Thomas shouted, He hit that to Hurtville!), backup catcher Ramon Castro homered and drove in four. Immediately after Castro went deep, Gordon Beckham hit a double off the wall -- his first extra-base hit in 112 at-bats.

Every single player in the Sox lineup got a hit that night. They scored seven runs in the fourth inning and seven more in the eighth, batting around twice in the same game for the first time since 1981.

Want more?

Five-foot-nothing Juan Pierre leaped over the fence to rob Brennan Boesch of a home run. He then made a spectacular diving catch to end the same inning. The Sox went 10-for-12 with runners in scoring position.

Omar Vizquel came THIS close to hitting a grand slam.

Apparently there was a cap on miracles that night, but no problem. The 43-year-old homered the very next day, just his second since 2007. He also drove in a run on a suicide squeeze.

I hope they check his bat, joked manager Ozzie Guillen.

Overnight, the Sox were no longer a joke. Now it was their turn to deliver the punchline. Detroit would be their first victim, something that seems to have been forgotten. The Sox crushed the Tigers, 15-3, then blanked them, 3-0. That was followed by their historic road trip (yes, historic), going 8-1, the Sox seventh-best road trip ever.

But on every sidewalk along the way there were skeptics who looked at the competition (the Cubs, Pirates and Nationals, who are a combined 34 games under .500) and questioned whether the Sox could match up with a team thats actually good.

The Atlanta Braves are good. Potentially great. They came into Tuesday with the best record in the National League and they sent to the mound their best pitcher, Tommy Hanson, who in his previous four interleague starts was 4-0 with a 0.75 ERA.

Who did he beat in those games? Just the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays and Orioles.

However on this night, he would receive one serious beatdown. The white hot White Sox torched Hanson, who gave up nine runs on 13 hits, both career highs, in just 3 23 innings.

And just like that, the Sox are suddenly back in it. One game over .500 for the first time since beating Cleveland on Opening Day.

Am I surprised it happened this fast? Um, yeah. But Im hardly the only one.

I didnt expect us to be back to .500 so quickly, Williams said before Tuesdays victory. This team has responded and showed some resiliency. At this time, those efforts should be commended and acknowledged in the form that, OK, they are going to keep pushing. We have to see what possibilities are out there to help them out.

Yep, the Sox went from sellers to buyers about as fast as a Stephen Strasburg fastball. Two weeks ago, the Sox GM warned that his team had about 24 hours to live. Now, they appear saved, thanks to a special elixir the whole team is drinking by the keg-load. Its a remedy for all that ails you.

Winning. It cures everything.

Now if only it continues ...

Chuck Garfien hosts White Sox Pregame and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet with former Sox slugger Bill Melton. Follow Chuck @ChuckGarfien on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox news and views.

How Nicky Delmonico's ability to bunt for a hit has played a role in his hot start

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USA TODAY

How Nicky Delmonico's ability to bunt for a hit has played a role in his hot start

Put the shift on against Nicky Delmonico and he’s going to drop down a bunt to beat you.

The White Sox rookie has tried his solution for shift-happy defenses already three times this season and it’s worked in each instance.

And while its undoubtedly the long ball -- he’s hit five home runs -- that has caught everyone’s attention during the White Sox rookie’s unbelievable start, don’t overlook the little things, especially Delmonico’s ability to bunt for a hit and the impact it’s had on opposing defenses.

Whenever opponents try to employ a shift, and they’ve done it more often this season, Delmonico has shown no fear in trying to beat them with a bunt down the third-base line.

He bunted for a single in Sunday’s win when he reached base three times to bring his on-base percentage to .451 through 71 plate appearances. There’s no question that forcing defenses to play him straight up is partly responsible for Delmonico reaching base safely in 15 of 17 games to start his major league career.

“It opens up a hole,” Delmonico said. “There’s been a lot of times in Charlotte where you hit a hard ground ball through the four hole and think it’s a hit, but then there’s a guy deep in right field. You want those (to be hits). Any time you can take advantage of bunting and show you can bunt they’ll move out of the shift.”

Take a look at Delmonico’s spray chart and it’ll tell you he’s pull-happy. He’s pulled 47.9 percent of all balls put in play since reaching the majors, according to Fangraphs.com. Were he to be qualified for a batting title, Delmonico would currently be 15th in pull percentage in baseball, easily within range of leader Salvador Perez’s 54.6 percent.

Either way, Delmonico’s spray chart is the type that often leads defenses to load up three gloves on the right side of the infield no matter the count (teams tend to shift to a hitter’s pull side most often with two strikes).

But Delmonico has made them think twice --- at least early in the count.

“Any time I see them all over that’s when it’s the best time to lay one down,” Delmonico said. “You’ve just got to get it past the pitcher and fair.”

You also have to catch the attention of advance scouts. Based on the way he’s been defended so far, hitting coach Todd Steverson thinks opponents have taken notice of Delmonico’s skills.

“It’s got to be in their notes,” Steverson said. “It’s got to be in their data: “This guy will bunt.” Even just the words “he will bunt” keeps somebody close for a minute before they move to another spot. If you have none, then they don’t have to do nothing.

“They want to play him in the full shift. That’s what they did to him from the get-go. He dropped two bunts down on them and said ‘Ok.’ ”

Delmonico said he’s seen an increased number of shifts since reached Triple-A two years ago.

“But it was all different kinds of shifts,” Delmonico said. “Very rarely I would see them all over until two strikes.”

Delmonico works on bunting the same as anyone else. There’s the round he takes each day at the start of batting practice each day. And every few weeks or so, Charlotte brought out the pitching machine.

But what may make him standout are his confidence and conviction. While Delmonico realizes he may be taking the potential for extra bases out of his hands for one at-bat, he’s knows he’s still giving himself a chance to jumpstart a rally and he’s creating a world of opportunities for the rest of his trips to the plate.

“I feel like they’re pretty good,” Delmonico said. “I’ve worked a lot on it the last two years because I know eventually they will shift and to get that hole open you’ve got to prove to them that you will bunt.

“Overall it helps you out and two, it gives you a chance to get on base and get going. That’s the biggest thing for me.”

White Sox Road Ahead: Lucas Giolito, Carson Fulmer set for first White Sox starts

White Sox Road Ahead: Lucas Giolito, Carson Fulmer set for first White Sox starts

On this week's Honda Road Ahead, sponsored by Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana Honda dealers, Bill Melton and Chuck Garfien talk about the upcoming starts for young pitchers Carson Fulmer and Lucas Giolito.

With the White Sox rebuild sucking up all the attention from fans of the team this year, Lucas Giolito and Carson Fulmer have been names in any conversation about the future of the team.

Fulmer, the first-round pick of the White Sox in 2015, made his big league debut with the White Sox last year, but it was as a reliever. This time Fulmer will get the start in the second game of Monday's doubleheader against the Twins.

In eight relief appearances with the White Sox last season, he walked seven in 11 2/3 innings with 10 strikeouts and an 8.49 ERA. This season Fulmer has returned to starting with Triple-A Charlotte and has a 5.61 ERA with 95 strikeouts and 63 walks in 122 innings.

"I'd like to see Carson Fulmer throw more strikes," Melton said. "Maybe that's all I want to see because I remember when he was here last year he had a tough time coming out of the pen because he was a starter and he wasn't throwing a lot of strikes. So I think the key for me to watch him is, just forget about guys getting hits or hitting balls out of the park, I want to see if he's getting it over the plate, how many times he's ahead of the hitters."

Giolito will make his White Sox debut on Tuesday. Like Fulmer, the 23-year-old has some major league experience. Giolito pitched 21 1/3 innings in four starts and two relief appearances last year with the Nationals. He posted a 6.75 ERA with 11 strikeouts and 12 walks.

The White Sox acquired Giolito in the Adam Eaton trade in the offseason and he hasn't had the smoothest of seasons as a teammate of Fulmer's in Charlotte. The 6-foot-6 right-hander has a 4.48 ERA with 134 strikeouts and 59 walks in 128 2/3 innings for the Knights.

Those numbers aren't going to excite fans, but he has been pitching better lately. In his last five starts, Giolito has a 1.71 ERA (six earned runs in 31 2/3 innings) with 28 strikeouts and 11 walks.

"This is a tall guy, he's a velocity guy, he's a strikeout guy so I'm going to be watching that," Melton said. "And again, nerves. There's nothing wrong with that. First time in front of a Chicago fan base and stuff like that. But a guy that big, I'm more interested in seeing how his breaking ball is. If he starts bouncing it in the dirt, a little nervous. He's got such a good one. I want to see him get ahead of the hitters and see how he puts them away."

Watch the video above to see Garfien and Melton talk about the two White Sox pitching prospects.