White Sox walking right out of contention

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White Sox walking right out of contention

Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011
Posted: 9:56 p.m. Updated: 11:29 p.m.

By BrettBallantini
CSNChicago.com White SoxInsiderFollow@CSNChi_Beatnik
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MINNEAPOLIS The White Sox season long inability to muster up a knockout punch was manifest in two plays that low lighted Chicagos sloppy, 5-4 loss to the Minnesota Twins in the series finale on Wednesday night.

Both gaffes were borne of walks. The first came when Pale Hose starter John Danks issued a free pass to Drew Butera, of the .298 on-base and .435 OPS Buteras. That free pass set a four-run third inning in motion.

The walk to Butera I dont say Butera is a bad hitter, but hes only hitting .164, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. When you walk the guy batting ninth, youre looking at trouble. Thats what Danks did. He hit Joe Mauer and got in trouble in that inning, but thats the only bad inning he had. After that he battled back. You take that inning away, its a pretty good game. Those two walks killed him. That inning killed him, with a walk and a hit batter. That started a big problem.

Obviously, you dont want to walk Butera there but I made some good pitches to him, too, Danks said. Him and Jason Repko especially, it seems like they had tough at-bats, couldnt put them away. But you see enough pitches and foul off enough good pitches, eventually youre going to work the count back in your favor, and they did.

The second gaffe came on a pickoff attempt of Luke HughesDankss only other walk of the gamewhich turned into a clown car of all clown-car plays, Paul Konerko throwing well wide of Alexei Ramirez covering second to tag Hughes out, then the soft-tossing arms of Juan Pierre in left and Omar Vizquel as the cutoff man allowing Hughes to come all the way around to score with ease.

Its been a sh---y year, no doubt, Danks said of falling to 6-11 and seeing his ERA climb back over four at 4.09. I dont know how many starts I have left, but Ill be ready to throw in those games. All in all, its been a crappy year. Im looking forward to next year, starting clean. I dont want to sound like I am giving up on the yearIm not. But Im definitely looking forward to starting with a clean slate.

Im not feeling sorry for myself; I put myself in this position. But it seems like this year, whenever anything bad can happen, it has. Baseball: You have to be tough. And this year I learned a lot, learned I can take anything and be ready for next year.

On top of the mound struggles came a return to offensive inefficiency. In the first three games of the series the White Sox stranded just seven runners total, while on Wednesday they left 13.

We played typical White Sox baseballI dont think we lost, I just think we gave this game away, Guillen said. There is no doubt in my mind we gave it away. We had a lot of chances. We didnt get the hitsIm not talking about big hits, we cant even get a hit. When you cant do that, thats the type of game youre going to have.

While A.J. Pierzynski had a rough night in the clutch in stranding eight runners and going 1-for-5, it was Alex Rios who embodied the clubs frustration with runners in scoring position by looking at a called third strike from Glen Perkins with Ramirez on third and breaking his bat over his thigh afterward.

Lets say Im sad about RISP woes because I dont want to say what I really want to say, said Guillen, as all nearby coffee makers and office chairs appeared intact and unscathed. Yeah, Im not going to say this gamesince spring training weve been not good at all with men at third base and less than two outs. Weve had a lot of problems all year long with it, and today was another example.

Yes, the White Sox fought back twice, clawing within 4-3 and 5-4, but in the end, the White Sox were unable to secure their first-ever four-game sweep of the Twins in Minnesota and fell nine games behind the first-place Detroit Tigers. What promised just a week ago to be a crucial series at home vs. the Cleveland Indians now has been reduced to a four-game battle to see who can get a foothold on second place (the 71-70 White Sox are a half-game ahead of the Wahoos entering Thursdays action).

A bright spot

After 167 career games in the minor leagues, Dylan Axelrod made his major league debut in relief of Danks and threw two scoreless innings, striking out two with two walks and a hit. In the seventh inning, he came on and retired his first batter, Butera, when Ramirez made an outstanding diving play on a short pop to center, and his last on a strikeout that froze Repko to end the eighth.

It was just great getting out there for the first time and getting my feet wet, Axelrod said. I had a great time.

The hurler, who Baseball America said had the best control in the White Sox organization entering the 2011 season, fought a bit with nerves as well.

The first inning, I was a little juiced up and excited, he said. The second inning I felt good, normal It was fun getting that first strikeout. The first out, Alexei made a great play on. And B-Mo making a diving play to end the inning, just all a lot of highlights for me.

Jake Peavy, whose time with the San Diego Padres overlapped that of Axelrod and is represented by the young hurlers uncle, was thrilled to see the righthander fly through his debut. And Axelrod impressed the man who matters mosthis manager.

I was very surprised, Guillen said of Axelrods debut. He threw strikes. If you throw strikes you can pitch for me, I dont care if you get lit up. You throw strikes and youre around the plate and make people make contact, thats a good thing. Its a great chance for him. Coming all the way from where he came from to be in the big leagues is a nice thing to see, and he had a good game today.

Axelrod, who credited bullpen coach Juan Nieves for advice in treating the game as a normal one, was please to know that he earned kudos from his feisty skipper.

Thats good to hear, the hurler said if Ozzies praise. Thats what Ive always done, and plan to continue that in the majors.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox information.

Jose Berrios gave the Twins exactly what the White Sox could use most right now

Jose Berrios gave the Twins exactly what the White Sox could use most right now

MINNEAPOLIS — Jose Berrios gave the Minnesota Twins exactly what the White Sox could use most right now on Wednesday night: a deep, dominant outing.

The young Twins pitcher overcame a slow start to deliver eight sharp innings as the struggling White Sox fell 4-2 in front of 33,316 at Target Field. Starter David Holmberg lasted only 3 1/3 innings for the White Sox, losers of three straight. It was the 23rd time in 28 games a White Sox starter has failed to deliver a quality start.

“These guys are trying to give us length,” manager Rick Renteria said. “It just hasn’t happened. I get it. I don’t anticipate that’s what’s going to continue to happen as we move forward. I don’t think anybody could sustain over a long haul using your starters for three or four innings. It’s impossible. You would wear out your arms in the pen. Today we were fortunate in that we just used two guys for quite a few innings and outs. … They did a very nice job. That type of work is unsustainable.”  

There are many reasons why the White Sox rotation has struggled through the first 70 games of the season. Injuries to four starters is the most significant factor, the biggest being to Carlos Rodon. The White Sox were hopeful their third-year starter would step into the rotation and deliver 33 starts and 200 innings. But Rodon is only now nearing a potential return to the majors and his first start of the season after he went on the disabled list in March with bursitis in his left shoulder. James Shields, Miguel Gonzalez and Dylan Covey, who originally replaced Rodon, have also been placed on the DL.

While replacements Mike Pelfrey and Holmberg have pitched well enough, neither starter has gone deep into games. The pair is averaging 5 1/3 innings in 16 starts with two six-inning performances by Pelfrey marking the longest efforts to date.

Combine those figures with the inconsistent performances of Derek Holland and Jose Quintana and you have a White Sox bullpen working overtime.

Holmberg limited the Twins to a run through the first two innings. But a combination of hard-hit balls — four straight registered at 95 mph or better to start the inning — and shoddy defense helped Minnesota pull ahead for good in the third.

Miguel Sano blasted a game-tying solo shot, Max Kepler singled in a run and Ehire Adrianza’s fielder’s choice brought in another as the Twins made it 4-2. Mixed in was a Tim Anderson error, a liner that Jose Abreu didn’t catch and a bobbled turn of a potential inning-ending double play by Anderson.

Holmberg recorded only 10 outs before he gave way to Gregory Infante and Michael Ynoa, who pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings.

“Feel like I got behind a couple guys, had to make a pitch a few times,” Holmberg said. “Labored through some innings. I would have like to get some quick outs and gone a little deeper into the game.

“Ultimately it’s up to Ricky. He’s going to do what’s best for the team. But that goes hand in hand with performance. We get some quick outs, quicker through the order, that’ll tie in.”

The White Sox scored in the first and third innings against Berrios before he began to find a rhythm. In the first, Avisail Garcia singled in Alen Hanson, who led off the game with a walk, to give the White Sox a 1-0 lead. Then in the third, Melky Cabrera grounded into a double play to score Adam Engel, who started the inning with a double.

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But that was all the White Sox would get against Berrios, who has allowed 34 hits in 54 innings this season. Berrios retired 14 of 15 hitters after Hanson singled in the third inning. The only man to reach was Garcia on an error in the fourth inning.

Berrios didn’t allow another hit until Omar Narvaez singled to start the eighth inning. He allowed two runs and four hits in eight innings with eight strikeouts and one walk.

It was a performance of which the White Sox are desperately in need. Through 70 games, the team’s rotation has also only had a pitcher go at least seven innings eight times. Jose Quintana was the last to do so on Friday. Before that it was Gonzalez on May 28. Over their last 28 games, White Sox starters are averaging a tick over 4 2/3 innings.  

Renteria is confident the trend will turn. Quintana starts on Thursday and has been good in two of his last three outings. Shields just returned from the DL and Rodon is right around the corner, if he stays on track. But Renteria also knows his bullpen can’t keep this up and hope to remain effective.

“It’s not sustainable,” Renteria said. “It just isn’t.”

What Avisail Garcia has learned from watching Jose Abreu, Miguel Cabrera

What Avisail Garcia has learned from watching Jose Abreu, Miguel Cabrera

Avisail Garcia likes to observe teammate Jose Abreu whether it’s in the batting cage, on the field or in the clubhouse.

Having played with Miguel Cabrera in Detroit, the White Sox outfielder knows firsthand what a great hitter looks like. He sees in Abreu a perfect model from which to learn. And while he likes to see how the opposition pitches Abreu to get a sense for how they may attack him and has viewed the first baseman’s daily preparation, perhaps the most critical aspect for Garcia is seeing how his veteran teammate handles himself in good times or bad. Rebounding quickly has been one of the most prominent traits this season for Garcia, who hasn’t gone more than three full games without a hit in all of 2017.

“His routine,” Garcia said. “He works hard every day and he never gives up. Whatever happens happens and he’s always going to do his best.”

Garcia has been one of the best in the American League so far this season, even better than his teammate. Entering Wednesday, Garcia is among the AL leaders in average (first at .339), three-hit games (first, 11), multi-hit games (third, 27), RBIs (fourth, 50), hits (fourth, 87). He’s also top 10 in total bases, OPS and slugging.

But it’s the lack of a lengthy slump — something previously unavoidable for Garcia — that truly has stood out.

Whereas in past seasons Garcia could go weeks at a time without a good game, now it’s days. Last month, Garcia went 13 at-bats without a hit from May 21-26, a stretch that ended with a 3-for-5 effort against the Detroit Tigers. Following a 1-for-11 series in Toronto this weekend, Garcia bounced back on Tuesday night by reaching base four times, including a monster two-run home run, his 11th.

“He’s a totally different person than last year hitting-wise,” Abreu said through an interpreter. “It’s fun what he’s doing right now and I’m very glad he’s with us.

“You can see he has the confidence as the results have (come in).”

Successful or not, Garcia has learned how to take each day for what it is and move on to prepare for the next. He’s experienced good stretches and is even more familiar with the bad times. Perhaps that’s where watching Abreu has helped the most. Last year, Abreu struggled for four months before he took off in August. Seeing a hitter he thinks as highly of as he does of Cabrera struggle seems to have registered.

“You that know those days are going to come, are going to happen,” Garcia said. “That’s normal in this sport. I think in all of sports everybody has a bad day. We’ve got to keep working.”

Abreu said Garcia is a “good person, he’s been working hard.”

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Garcia is appreciative he has Abreu to learn from. He feels fortunate to have played with both Abreu and Cabrera and doesn’t see a whole lot of separation between their hitting abilities.

He just hopes to incorporate a little of what each does well into his own game.

This season he has.

“I feel grateful and thankful,” Garcia said. “I’m just trying to do my part, trying to do my best and trying to learn from the best.

“I’m happy to be with him here and trying to share what we can fix and what we can get better.

“I always (watch his at-bats). I see how they attack Abreu and I know they’re going to do the same or something close to that to me and try to be ready, try to be focus and try to be positive.”