White Sox designate John Danks for assignment

White Sox designate John Danks for assignment

Any questions or doubts one might have about the White Sox and their plans to compete this season should be long gone now.

The first-place White Sox made their intentions for 2016 crystal clear Tuesday as they announced plans to cut ties later this week with starting pitcher John Danks. The longest-tenured player in the organization, Danks, 31, will officially be designated for assignment on Thursday.

In the interim, right-hander Erik Johnson will start Thursday in place of Danks, who was 0-4 with a 7.25 ERA in four starts, general manager Rick Hahn said. But nothing is set in stone beyond that as to how the White Sox will handle the fifth spot in the rotation.

“(Danks) was an important part of some very good White Sox teams,” Hahn said. “This is about putting us in the best position to win ballgames going forward. We feel we have a pretty special thing going on in this clubhouse right now. We have the opportunity to build off some of the momentum we already have created for ourselves, and we wanted to put ourselves in the best position to win games going forward.”

The White Sox -- who will eat roughly $11.75 million of the veteran’s $14.25 million salary with the move -- have been in a dicey spot with Danks. With an American League-best 18 wins, the club is playing its best baseball in four seasons despite the ongoing struggles of Danks, a very popular figure in a clubhouse only seven weeks removed from the Adam LaRoche ordeal.

Hahn said the front office heavily considered how the transaction would play in the clubhouse if they decided to move on from Danks, who was acquired in a December 2006 trade that sent Brandon McCarthy to the Texas Rangers.

While players are sad to see their friend go, several talked about not being surprised.

“It doesn’t matter if he has six days, six years or 10 years,” starting pitcher Chris Sale said. “You never want to see it happen, especially a guy like him. He was a big part of the chemistry we had going on in here. He was a personality. He was a character.

“But we need to keep moving. This game stops for nobody. It’s the greatest job in the world. I’ll be the first to tell you. But it can be cutthroat at well.”

Sale has been in constant contact with Danks, who learned of the team’s plans several days ago. The four-time All-Star said he convinced Danks to stop by the White Sox clubhouse early Tuesday to see his teammates one last time.

“Saying goodbye to him was tough for all of us, but like I said it's part of the game,” outfielder Adam Eaton said. “It's sad to see him go.”

Danks was an integral piece on the 2008 AL Central champions, pitching the White Sox into the postseason with eight scoreless innings in the Sept. 30 “Blackout Game” in which they topped the Minnesota Twins, 1-0.

From 2008-10, Danks went 40-31 with a 3.61 ERA in 97 starts and looked as if he’d develop into a front-of-the rotation starter. Danks’ performance led to him receiving a five-year, $65-million extension from the club in December 2011.

But his shoulder started to bother him in 2012 and by August Danks required shoulder surgery, from which his performance never fully recovered. He went 22-44 with a 4.84 ERA in 88 starts since he returned in 2013.

Danks’ struggles weren’t for a lack of effort, however. He and the White Sox worked tirelessly to reinvent the pitcher and this spring they were cautiously optimistic his fastball command and consistency had improved.

“As far as work ethic and just guts, he had all of that,” manager Robin Ventura said. “That was never a question. He’s always been able to do that and there’s a lot of respect for him in the clubhouse for all the things that he did and one of them’s coming back from an injury and trying to gut through it.”

But the results didn’t match the effort.

Because he gave them so many innings -- he averaged 185 2/3 frames the past two seasons -- the White Sox were open to running Danks out to pitch as long as he stayed competitive. But the team went 32-56 in Danks’ starts since 2013, losing all four of this season. Whereas they went 13-17 in Danks’ starts last season, they were only competitive in his April 21 start this season, a 3-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels.

Those poor results led to Tuesday’s decision, one that demonstrates the White Sox willingness to improve even at a great cost. Hahn said the White Sox never really considered a long man role in the bullpen and Danks didn’t want to go to the minor leagues, which left the club in a difficult position.

Ultimately, Hahn acted in a way he feels best suits the club’s current needs.

“We weren’t getting the production we needed out of that spot,” Hahn said. “Given the fact that we feel like this could well be a very special summer around here, there certainly was heightened scrutiny to all the areas where we weren’t performing. But that fifth spot was one where we felt it was imperative we made a move.”

Miguel Gonzalez throws six perfect innings as White Sox take series against Tigers

Miguel Gonzalez throws six perfect innings as White Sox take series against Tigers

For six innings Sunday, Miguel Gonzalez was perfect.

The White Sox right-hander put the baseball world on perfect-game alert and conjured memories of Mark Buehrle and Philip Humber with his dazzling work through six innings. Gonzalez lost his bids for a perfect game, no hitter and shutout in the span of three batters to lead off the seventh inning, but that didn’t take away much from how good he was in a 7-3 win for the South Siders at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“He was dominant,” shortstop Tim Anderson said, providing an accurate if brief summation of the day’s proceedings.

Gonzalez, who entered with a 3-5 record and a 4.55 ERA in nine previous starts this season, set down the first 18 hitters he faced in order, with the visiting Detroit Tigers rarely even coming close to reaching base. That streak of 18 straight hitters retired to start the game was the longest by a White Sox starter since Chris Sale sat down the first 19 he faced back in May 2013.

Of course, whenever a performance nears no-hitter territory, players know it and stay away from the pitcher in the dugout, afraid of jinxing things. And the White Sox weren’t immune to that baseball tradition on Sunday.

“It was getting quiet,” Gonzalez said. “I was just trying to do my thing. Just go out there and make pitches, let them make the plays and that’s how things went.”

The Tigers — who trailed big after the White Sox gave Gonzalez a 7-0 lead — finally broke through to start the seventh. Austin Romine reached on an infield single, Alex Avila singled through the right side of the infield, and Miguel Cabrera dumped an RBI base hit into right field.

Detroit added two more runs on three extra-base hits in the eighth, but Gonzalez still finished with a great line, yielding just three runs on six hits in 7.2 innings of work.

Gonzalez’s gem snapped a streak of rough outings that started, coincidentally enough, against this Tigers team, when he was crushed for seven runs on 14 hits in an April 30 loss in Detroit. Entering Sunday’s game, Gonzalez was a nasty 0-5 with a 6.99 ERA in his previous five starts. He hadn’t made it out of the sixth inning in any of his previous three starts.

“I started off really good. I was struggling for a couple outings, and all you can do is keep working hard and things are going to happen,” Gonzalez said. “I think if you work hard in between your starts you have a pretty good chance of getting back on track and that’s how I felt today.”

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That seventh-inning blip by the Tigers ended the day’s only drama, as the White Sox offense put the result of the game out of question earlier, tagging opposing starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann for seven runs in his five innings of work.

Zimmermann entered the day struggling on the 2017 campaign, and that didn’t change Sunday. Willy Garcia tripled in Omar Narvaez for the game’s first run in the third and scored on the same play thanks to a throwing error. Two hitters later, Melky Cabrera hit a solo home run to make it 3-0.

Matt Davidson led off the bottom of the fourth with his 10th home run of the season, and Narvaez drove in Yolmer Sanchez to make it 5-0. Todd Frazier tacked on two more in the fifth with a two-run shot that also scored Jose Abreu.

“As an offense, we’re trying to give that (big cushion) every night. That’d be nice,” Davidson said. “And it really relaxes them. And you can see what happens when they’ve got a lead and you let them do their thing.”

The White Sox took three of four from the Tigers in this weekend series that featured a doubleheader split Saturday. It’s a positive start to this home stand — which continues with a three-game series against the Boston Red Sox — after going 3-7 on a recent 10-game road trip.

“I'm very happy with it, but again I'm not surprised by it, simply because I think they come out every single day to try to play good baseball and do what they need to help each other out and win ballgames,” manager Rick Renteria said. “It's just their character, the way they're put together. They keep battling.”

Jose Abreu relishing opportunity to help mentor Luis Robert, White Sox newest Cuban addition

Jose Abreu relishing opportunity to help mentor Luis Robert, White Sox newest Cuban addition

Call it the White Sox latest Cuban connection.

When news came out of the team pursuing 19-year-old Cuban outfielder Luis Robert, it was pretty easy to guess that Jose Abreu, the franchise’s previous big-time, free-agent signing from Cuba, would be involved.

But not only was Abreu involved in the White Sox courting of Robert, sending a personalized message as part of the team’s video pitch, he’s been a willing participant. And now that Robert is officially signed after Saturday’s much-hyped introduction, Abreu is ready to take on a mentorship role, much like he has with another one of the organization’s Cuban prospects, Yoan Moncada.

In the lead up to Saturday’s press conference, it was Abreu touring Robert around Guaranteed Rate Field, chatting with him in the dugout and taking pictures on the infield.

“I was very excited to have him here, and I’m very happy right now because he’s signing with the team,” Abreu said through a translator ahead of Sunday’s series finale with the visiting Detroit Tigers. “He’s a very good player. I just told him that he has to keep working hard and keep doing the things to get here as soon as he can. He’s a nice guy.

“I’m excited to have that opportunity (to be a mentor). That’s something that I like to do. I like to advise the guys and tell them what to do for their best like I am doing right now with Moncada. I’m just waiting for that opportunity to happen with (Robert).”

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While Abreu arrived on the South Side an older, more experienced player who was ready for the big leagues, Robert’s journey to the majors will be a much different, much longer one. Abreu recognizes that and talked about how tough the transition will be. He also has confidence Robert, who has received glowing scouting reports comparing him to perennial All Stars, can succeed.

“It’s not an easy thing to do to come here straight to play in the majors because this is a very high level and a tough one to play,” Abreu said. “I think the best for him is the decision that he’s making for him, to have some games in the minors and let him develop there. He’s had a long time without playing baseball. Baseball in Cuba is good, but it’s not as good as baseball here in the U.S. and you have to adjust. I think that process for him is going to be perfect in the minors.”

Saturday, Robert talked about the White Sox tradition of Cuban players, mentioning how it helped motivate him to sign with the team. Abreu has been one of the franchise’s most successful Cuban players, a list that includes the legendary Minnie Minoso as well as more recent players like Alexei Ramirez and Dayan Viciedo and Moncada in the minor leagues.

While that tradition might not be the entire or even main reason Robert is now a part of the organization, general manager Rick Hahn talked about how it’s created an environment that will help Robert develop. Banners featuring Minoso, Abreu, Ramirez and Moncada flanked the table where Robert signed his contract.

Abreu said it’s a tradition he’s very proud to be a part of.

“That made me feel happy and proud. Not just for this organization that I’m a part of, but also for my heritage because I know that this is a very good organization and they are trying to take care of the Cuban players,” Abreu said. “I also feel a huge respect for Minnie Minoso because he was the first one who opened this door here with the White Sox.”

Through his mentoring, Abreu could keep that tradition going into the future. Robert and Moncada are huge pieces of the White Sox rebuilding puzzle, and Abreu is helping put those pieces together for the White Sox.