Sox Drawer: Thome close to finish line?

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Sox Drawer: Thome close to finish line?

Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011Posted: 8:12 p.m.
By Chuck Garfien
CSNChicago.com

It's three-and-a-half hours before the first pitch between the White Sox and Indians, and Jim Thome is back in Chicago, all alone in the bowels of U.S. Cellular Field, taking his customary whacks into a baseball net.

With the scent of Bengay surrounding him, Thome is preparing his 41-year-old body for Thursday's game, the 2,745th of his major league career. Thome is one who always lives in the now, playing for the present. However, here in the final month of the season, with his numbers tailing off just like they've done for every baseball great to ever play the game, there's a part of Jim that is starting to see the finish line.

"You can't play baseball forever," said Thome, seated in the Indians dugout, back with the team that drafted him in the 13th round in 1989. "To sit here and answer today, 'Am I going to play next year?' I don't know. That being said, you go out and you enjoy it. If we're not able to get into the playoffs and we go home, I'll enjoy every moment that I was able to come back to Cleveland and be apart of this great organization that drafted me, and look at it being very special."

Since the time he learned how to walk, Thome has basically had a bat in his hand. Baseball is what he knows, and what he does. It's provided Thome with a bright path to follow all these years. But what happens when that journey comes to an end?

"I think that's a challenge, and also something I look forward to, being there everyday with my family and turning to that phase of my life," Thome said. "None of us baseball players have been home everyday, and it's exciting to think about it, and also a little bit scary, because you don't know what the next chapter is. Maybe I will stay in the game, that's kind of the feeling, but I don't think any player really knows until after they retire."

Two weeks ago, the internet nearly exploded in Chicago when rumors spread that the White Sox had attempted to claim Thome off waivers from the Minnesota Twins. It would have brought Thome back to the Southside for one final curtain call. Thome heard the same rumors we did. However, it was the Indians who nabbed him, giving Thome the possibility of ending his career with the team where it all began.

But Chicago still has a special place in Thome's heart. He and his family still live here, and he plans to retire in Chicago when his career is over.

"I think everybody knows my history here in Chicago. I have fond memories. Jerry (Reinsdorf), the organization has treated me great here," Thome said. "That was a very special time in my career, especially with everything that happened with Mom, and coming home and getting the opportunity to play here was very special."

If you'd like to see Thome play again, this might be your last chance. It's the Indians' final trip to Chicago this year, and not knowing what the future holds, it could be the unofficial good-bye for the burly slugger who has belted 602 home runs in a career that should ultimately end at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Thome played only three-and-a-half seasons with the White Sox (2006-2009). Does he wish he could have stayed a little longer? The answer is yes, but....

"I would pick every team that I played for and say, 'Man it would be very special to have played for them a little longer,' absolutely yeah," Thome said. "But that's the business and that's part of it. You don't have any second regrets. You don't look back and go, 'I wish here, I wish there.' It's all been positive and great."

And that's the essence of Jim Thome, a man who seems to live in a world where it's always 75 degrees and sunny with light winds. His carefree demeanor blended with a burning desire to win has made him one of the game's most popular players both on and off the field. When time expires on his career, he'll have decades of memories to look back on. But why wait until then? Thome is soaking it in already.

"As we go through baseball it's a whirlwind, and it goes by so quick that sometimes you need to take a step back and reflect on it and smile."

He smiles. We cheer. He's earned every one of them.

Anthony Ranaudo becomes first White Sox pitcher since Mark Buehrle to hit a home run

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USA Today Sports Images

Anthony Ranaudo becomes first White Sox pitcher since Mark Buehrle to hit a home run

Anthony Ranaudo hadn’t reached base in eight major league plate appearances and hadn’t got a hit since his high school days in New Jersey. He didn't have any at-bats in the minor leagues, and wasn't given an opportunity to hit while playing for college baseball powerhouse LSU. 

But in his second trip to the plate in the White Sox 8-1 loss to the Cubs Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, Ranaudo lifted a solo home run into the right field bleachers off right-hander Jason Hammel. It was a bizarre (in a good way) moment for a guy who also took a no-hitter into the sixth inning against one of baseball’s best offenses. 

“I figured it was going over Heyward’s head,” Ranaudo said. “I thought it was a double at first. I thought it got stuck in the ivy and I kind of pulled up at second base. I looked back at (the White Sox dugout) and realized it was a home run, from the way everybody was reacting and stuff, and I had to finish out the jog. I think it took me a little longer than I wanted it to, but it was a good experience. It was fun.”

Ranaudo last homered nine years ago as a senior at St. Rose High School (Belmar, N.J.), where he actually once faced White Sox third baseman Todd Frazier (Toms River, N.J.) during a state tournament as a freshman. He also blasted a home run in the New Jersey state championship game as a sophomore in 2005. 

With his fifth-inning solo home run, Ranaudo became the first White Sox pitcher to homer since Mark Buehrle blasted a dinger against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on June 14, 2009. He joined Buehrle and right-hander Jon Garland as the only White Sox pitchers to hit a home run in the designated hitter era (1973-present). 

Ranaudo also became the first pitcher to homer in his White Sox debut since Jack Salveson went deep in a 16-11 loss to the Washington Senators on June 14, 1935. He’s also only the second American League pitcher to homer at Wrigley Field, joining Detroit Tigers left-hander Daniel Norris, who took one out on Aug. 19, 2015. 

Ranaudo, who entered Wednesday with a 17.18 ERA in 2016, had his one-man show spoiled by home runs he allowed to Kris Bryant and Javier Baez. But the former first-round pick out of LSU still won’t forget his White Sox debut thanks to his no-hit bid and mighty wallop. 

“Yeah, that was definitely cool,” Ranaudo said. “Definitely something I’ll remember the rest of my life.”

White Sox pitchers falter late in loss to Cubs

White Sox pitchers falter late in loss to Cubs

That inconsistent White Sox offense has managed to appear at the worst times throughout the 2016 season.

Cubs starter Jason Hammel drew it out on Wednesday night and prevented Anthony Ranaudo from creating his own sterling chapter in Crosstown Cup history.

Hammel stymied the White Sox for seven innings to outpitch Ranaudo, who had a no-hitter for 5 1/3 innings and hit a solo home run in his White Sox debut. But too much Hammel and a bunch of late offense by the Cubs sent the White Sox to an 8-1 loss in front of 41,166 at Wrigley Field. Kris Bryant, Javy Baez and Addison Russell all homered as the Cubs snapped a four-game White Sox winning streak.

“(Hammel) spins it really good,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “His breaking stuff is his bread and butter. Anthony got a fastball, pretty much the only guy to get one really in the zone. You have to be sitting on it, and he can break it both ways.”

Everything was going swimmingly for Ranaudo through five innings.

Not only had he pitched out of a potential first-inning disaster, he hadn’t allowed a hit in two trips through the Cubs lineup. On top of that, Ranaudo’s solo homer off Hammel in the fifth inning gave the White Sox a 1-0 lead. The opposite-field blast was the first career hit for Ranaudo, who was acquired from the Texas Rangers in mid-May.

“He knows how to pitch,” outfielder J.B. Shuck said. “He was mixing up speeds really well. Once he finally settled down here after the first inning, he was locating well and able to throw strikes with all his pitches.”

But Bryant energized the crowd in the sixth inning when he belted a 3-1 curveball from Ranaudo out to left for his 26th homer. Ranaudo rebounded nicely, however, inducing weak fly outs off the bats of Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist to end the sixth.

With the back end of the bullpen still running on fumes, Ranaudo returned for the seventh inning and quickly recorded two outs. But a two-out walk by Jason Heyward set up Baez’s heroics. Baez, who lined out hard to center field in his previous at-bat, worked the count and hammered a 3-2 curveball for a two-run homer to put the Cubs ahead for the first time in three games.

Ranaudo allowed three runs and two hits with four walks in 6 2/3 innings.

But the Cubs turned into on in the eighth inning, scoring five times off Carson Fulmer and Jacob Turner, including Russell’s grand slam.

“Definitely something I’ll remember the rest of my life,” Ranaudo said. “The way the game kind of turned, that kind of took a bad turn for us. Definitely a great experience. The atmosphere was electric and thought we played really well for most of the game.”

The White Sox offense couldn’t keep pace against Hammel and Co., who struck out the side in his seventh and final inning. The right-hander only allowed more than one batter to reach base in a single inning once. Todd Frazier doubled with one out in the fourth and Shuck walked. But Hammel, who struck out seven, got Dioner Navarro to fly out and struck out Tyler Saladino.

Hammel allowed five hits and walked two in a 103-pich effort.

It was the 48th time in 101 games the White Sox have scored three or fewer runs and second straight day. They’re 13-35 in those contests.

“(Hammel) was down in the zone, mixing speeds really well and just was locating,” Shuck said. “Wasn’t giving us anything to hit today.”

Cut-fastball key to Miguel Gonzalez's improvement with White Sox

Cut-fastball key to Miguel Gonzalez's improvement with White Sox

Miguel Gonzalez has thrown his cut-fastball more in July than ever before.

The White Sox pitcher thinks the way its complements his repertoire has been critical to his most consistent month in the majors since 2014.

Not only is he 1-2 with a 2.76 ERA in five starts in July, but Gonzalez has increased his strikeout rate by three percent with 26 strikeouts in 32 2/3 innings.

The improvement has helped Gonzalez, who next starts Saturday at Minneapolis, develop into either a good back-end rotation option for the White Sox and perhaps even a trade chip. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported that the Miami Marlins scouted Gonzalez on Monday when he outpitched Jake Arrieta.

“It has been helping me this year,” Gonzalez said. “Hitters see a fastball out of the hand and at the end it’s already on them. That’s been a big change for me and it’s helping a lot. I’ve been seeing better results.”

His catchers have seen a dramatic increase in the number of cutters Gonzalez has thrown. In four seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, Gonzalez threw 19 cutters. The pitch is a staple for White Sox hurlers under Don Cooper and Gonzalez took his regular slider and started to throw it harder once he signed a minor-league deal with them in April.

So far this month, Gonzalez has thrown the cutter 119 times, which accounts for 24.59 percent of his pitches, according to brooksbaseball.net. Batters have hit .188 and are slugging just .313.

“It made sense to where if I throw a fastball inside, located, and then I throw that cutter, it’s going to make it a lot harder for a lefty, or a righty, to react on,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve seen swings where they get jammed or break a bat or they swing and miss because they think it’s a fastball and it’s three or four miles an hour slower.”

Always more of a contact pitcher, the addition has -- in the short term -- increased Gonzalez’s strikeout rate to near league average. Before July, Gonzalez struck out 17.1 percent of the batters he had faced in his career. This month, the rate is 20.2 percent.   

Cooper is pleased with the development of Gonzalez. He’s also not surprised to find that Gonzalez’s name has appeared in recent Hot Stove chatter along with James Shields, Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, among others.

“Every year this comes up,” Cooper said. “It’s not the first time. People come and go. Trades do happen. Heck, when (Mark) Buehrle left that was a tough one because that was 10 years there. So if Buehrle can leave,anybody can leave. I’ve always said the names change, but the job doesn’t.”

Gonzalez is happy with his current location. He didn’t know what to expect with the White Sox when he signed in April. Suffice it to say, the experience has been better than he could have hoped.

“When you have a free mind, stress free, and you’re on a new team, new environment, things tend to change a little bit and in a good way,” Gonzalez said. “That’s how I feel. I feel comfortable with the team. They welcomed me and now it’s paying off. Hopefully we can get into a nice little stretch and win, a little streak going. That’s what we need right now.”