Sox Drawer: Humber's long road back

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Sox Drawer: Humber's long road back

Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Posted: 10:43 a.m.

By Chuck Garfien
CSNChicago.com

If everything in life went exactly in a straight line, Phil Humber would not have been flirting with a no-hitter against the New York Yankees on Monday night. He would have been doing it for them.

Drafted by the Yankees in the 29th round of the 2001 MLB draft, the Texas native chose to play college ball at Rice University instead.

It would be the first of many twists and turns in the baseball career for Humber, once a cant-miss prospect thought to be a Porsche, who would soon find himself treated like a Pinto.

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Hed help Rice win its first national championship in 2003. Hed be drafted by the Mets in 2004 as the third overall pick, one selection behind Justin Verlander, nine ahead of Cy Young frontrunner Jered Weaver.

He was making baseball look easy. Way too easy.

When I got drafted by the Mets, I kind of just assumed Id make a few starts in the minor leagues and just get my 10-15 year career in the big leagues, Humber said by phone Tuesday. I didnt realize how hard it is to actually get here, and on top of that how much harder it is to stay.

He wouldnt stay long.

Thrown into the fire of a late-September pennant race in 2007, Humber made his first major league start against the Nationals, and gave up five runs in four-plus innings. Humber didnt lose the game, but the Mets eventually did, not to mention a seven-game lead in the final three weeks of the season to the Phillies.

That winter, the Mets lost something else: their faith in their former No. 1 pick.

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Humber was shipped off to Minnesota in the blockbuster trade for Johan Santana. The hot shot prospect who didnt seem to have a ceiling would soon be headed towards baseballs basement.

The Twins would designate him for assignment after one season. The Royals waived him next, followed by the Athletics.

I wasnt having fun with baseball, Humber recalled.

But while pitching winter ball in Puerto Rico in 2009, the light went on for Humber when he finally decided to turn the spotlight off.

I just wanted to go forward and play for me and not think about expectations of being traded for a big-name pitcher or for being a first-round pick that hasnt panned out. I just wanted to play for the fun of the game.

Throwing a no-hitter against the Yankees for six innings? That sounds like fun. But watching the stone-faced Humber coast through one of the toughest lineups in baseball, you wouldnt know it. He looked like a guy spacing out in math class, not throwing a no-no at Yankee Stadium against Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano.

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I wasnt thinking about who was at the plate and how many hits they had in their careers, Humber said. I was focused on making my pitches and as the game went on, I got more and more confident. When youre confident out there, youre able to really let your ability work. So I think that was the difference.

There was also the advice he received as a 12-year-old from Robert Ellis, a former major-league pitcher (and White Sox draft pick in 1990).

He would tell me, If I walk up and youre pitching, I dont want to be able to tell by looking at you if youre up by 10 runs or down by 10 runs. Thats kind of what Ive always tried to keep in mind. And I think it helps because the other team doesnt know if youre having a good day or bad day by looking at your body language.

Humbers spot in the White Sox rotation is currently a rental. Hes holding down the fort until Jake Peavy is healthy enough to return. But when Humber gets sent to the bullpen or even back down to the minors again, he won't be the shiny new car in the front of the showroom getting all the attention. He'll be the stronger, wiser 28-year-old who got knocked down and battled back.

Now I have a much greater appreciation for where Im at," Humber said. "I dont try to predict the future anymore. I dont try to say, If I do well, am I going to stay? Or if I dont, am I going to get sent down? I just go up there and do the best I can and try to remain grateful for the opportunity and concentrate more on the moment.

Moments like Monday night. From favorite to underdog (or is it Humberdog?). Either way, he's showing he's got plenty of bite.

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

What White Sox 'fireman' Anthony Swarzak has done to increase trade value

What White Sox 'fireman' Anthony Swarzak has done to increase trade value

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Anthony Swarzak held a high-leverage audition for a potential contender on Sunday long before the Kansas City Royals walked off the White Sox.

The nonroster invitee to big league camp continued a stellar campaign as he took over in a critical spot midgame and helped the White Sox escape with the lead. The White Sox bullpen ultimately relinquished the lead and Brandon Moss sent them to their ninth straight loss — Kansas City won 5-4 — with an RBI double in the ninth inning.

But Swarzak continues to thrive in the opportunities handed to him and could make for an interesting trade chip before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline.

“He’s been excellent,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said. “He’s become for us, with (Nate Jones) going down and (Jake Petricka) going down he’s actually become a fireman. He’s come in in some of the highest-leverage situations we could possibly get. And then we use him for multiple innings.”

A free agent after the season, Swarzak has 50 strikeouts and a 2.30 ERA in 47 innings for the White Sox this season. He also has only allowed nine of 33 inherited runners to score (27.2 percent), including two on Sunday. The American League average for inherited runners scoring entering Sunday was 30 percent, according to baseball-reference.com.

All this has come in a season where Swarzak went to camp with the White Sox with no certainty of making the 25-man roster. The right-hander not only thrived in camp, he came out strong in April with 19 2/3 scoreless innings to start the season. Combined with early injuries to Jones and Zach Putnam, Swarzak’s performance helped him climb the totem pole in the White Sox bullpen from the outset. His stature has grown even more of late with the injury to Petricka as well as the trades of Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson.

“As far personal expectations, I’m right where I want to be,” Swarzak said. “More to accomplish for this year, absolutely. But I like what I’ve done so far and I like the opportunity that I have to accomplish even more.

“That’s the situation we all work so hard. That’s the situation we want and it’s why we all work so hard in the offseason in general is for situations like that.”

Swarzak took over for starter Derek Holland in the fifth inning with the White Sox ahead 4-3 and runners on the corners. He threw three straight sliders to Jorge Bonifacio and struck him out to strand the pair.

“It was huge, what he did coming in right there,” Holland said.

As significant as it was, it only held off the Royals for the time being. And as much as Swarzak has enjoyed things on a personal level, it isn’t making what the thinned-out White Sox roster is experiencing any easier to handle.

“Everything going on around here right now is pretty hard to swallow,” Swarzak said. “We’re going out there losing 8-0, 6-0, we’re up 6-0 and we end up losing. We lost a 1-0 game against the Dodgers and the next night we lose 10-1. We’re kind of losing all types of ways right now, which is really hard to swallow because as a bullpen guy we take pride in holding the lead and right now it seems like we’re not getting it done at all, any aspect of it, as a group.”

With eight more shopping days left before the deadline, chances are high that Swarzak may not be part of the current group much longer. He has already seen the departures of Robertson and Kahnle and knows his impending free agency could result in a trade elsewhere. But the veteran reliever is doing his best to keep his focus on the mound.

“It all comes back to quality pitches and getting guys out,” Swarzak said. “If you’re getting guys out, you’re going to get some attention from the league and if you’re not they’re going to close the book on you. It’s very straight forward for a pitcher, for a major league baseball player in general: Do better. Get it done and you’re going to play for a long time and you’re going to have the success that goes along with getting it done. That’s really all I’m worried about is continuing to make good pitches and hopefully get the results I’m looking for.”

White Sox: The big-picture reasoning behind Rick Renteria and bunting

White Sox: The big-picture reasoning behind Rick Renteria and bunting

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Rick Renteria wants his players to be able to execute a bunt regardless of how much it drives White Sox fans crazy.

The White Sox manager wants to win now, but he’s also looking at the big picture.

Even though he knows how much a team’s chance of scoring decreases when an out is surrendered via the sacrifice bunt, Renteria is using the opportunity to see what abilities his players have. He wants to know what they can do.

Renteria is well aware that his calls for sacrifice bunts aren’t popular with fans (see: Twitter’s reaction to Yoan Moncada’s bunt tries on Saturday). But he also thinks there’s no better time to work on bunts than during a game. So as much fury as it brings, Renteria will continue to ask his players to work on a skill he’d like to see remain part of the game.

“Listen, (Moncada’s) a plus runner,” Renteria said. “He’s going to be able to use that as a part of his arsenal. I see a whole lot of home run hitters dropping bunts right now against shifts and things of that nature. I don’t think that art should disappear. We’re in the era of quote-unquote the long ball, but like I’ve said, sometimes you need to do certain things to kind of put your club in a better position.

"If you think that’s one of the things that’s available to you, you use it. I don’t think you’re necessarily giving it up in terms of an out, because when you’ve got guys who can run anything is possible. You end up loading the bases possibly. I know our guys are very cognizant of just playing the game. If they feel like they want to get two guys in scoring position on their own, they do it. It’s not something I want to take away from them. I think they read the defenses. Sometimes we talk about other ways of dealing with the defenses, but I think they’re understanding that we’re going to want that to be a part of all their abilities.”

As for the team’s execution, Renteria isn’t satisfied with the results. That means you can expect to see more bunts the rest of the way.

“It’s still a work-in-progress,” Renteria said. “I think that would be a falsehood to say we’re at the point where I go, I’m very, very happy with the way we lay down bunts. It’s still a work-in-progress, something that we’re going to continue to emphasize. Something we’re going to continue to work on. And then again, the only opportunities you get in real time are games, and that’s when you need ‘em.”