Chicago White Sox

Why teaching phase of White Sox rebuild has Don Cooper excited

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USA TODAY

Why teaching phase of White Sox rebuild has Don Cooper excited

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Don Cooper has been waiting for this portion of the season to begin after watching the dismantling of the pitching staff piece by piece.

As difficult as the departures of Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and many others has been, the White Sox pitching coach agreed with the organization’s decision to head in this new direction all along. This spring, Cooper said he was excited for the learning environment the team had begun to create for its young prospects and the future they brought with them.

Now that many of the franchise’s young pitchers have graduated to the majors, Cooper is enthralled to have reached the teaching phase. He’s found working with Lucas Giolito, Carson Fulmer and Tuesday’s starter Reynaldo Lopez to be rejuvenating after a trying process in which eight pitchers were traded since December, including seven since mid-July.

“The rebuild is underway,” Cooper said. “It wasn’t underway prior to them getting here. It was still the gutting of the team that was happening. And it’s been fun seeing where they’re at and what we might do to improve and how we improve in those areas.”

Giolito doesn’t mind it, either.

He’s comfortable knowing he’ll be with the White Sox for some time in this final stage of development. Rick Hahn said last December the team intended to first let Giolito work things out at Triple-A Charlotte before he would be promoted. They wouldn’t start Giolito in the majors and send him back for more development if he struggled.

Last season, Giolito bounced around the Washington Nationals organization. The Nationals were in a pennant race and needed the rookie to contribute and he struggled. Giolito liked the motivation offered by the challenge, but also appreciates the comfort he has with the White Sox. He and Cooper like working together to determine how Giolito can improve.

This week they’ve focused again on getting ahead in the count early after Giolito walked four batters in Friday’s loss. Giolito wasn’t pleased with the strike zone (Pitch Tracker made it appear that at least 10 low strikes were called balls) and was ejected. But on Monday, Giolito said he thought he was erratic on the edges and at the top of the zone, which can result in missed strike calls. If he faces that situation again, Giolito plans to attack hitters more often with his fastball.

“The learning experience to take from that is when you’re getting squeezed a little bit you just have to pound the zone to the best of your ability,” Giolito said. “Challenge hitters. Take those opportunities to challenge yourself -- I’m going to throw my fastball in there and see what happens.

“Just to have that comfort of I’m going to go out there and give my 100 percent and whatever happens happens. But I know that I’ll be able to continue to work on things at this level and I’ll get another opportunity.”

As Cooper noted, no bad game or even a rough stretch is going to cost Giolito or Lopez or Fulmer. They’re all a big part of the franchise’s plans and the White Sox will exhaust every effort with each.

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It’s the teaching phase and Cooper is relishing it.

“All of the kids that are coming up, there’s nothing they can do negatively that’s going to get us off of them and stop what we’re trying to do and stop where we’re trying to head because they’re part of the future,” Cooper said.

“It’s refreshing.”

The White Sox made sure Rob Brantly's father celebrated retirement from Air Force in style

The White Sox made sure Rob Brantly's father celebrated retirement from Air Force in style

The surprise that Master Sergeant Robert Brantly received on his final day of work is one he’ll never forget.

The father of White Sox catcher Rob Brantly, the elder Brantly was honored on the field on Monday night as the team’s Hero of the Game and joined by his son, who presented him with an autographed bat. The 37-year Air Force veteran, who also celebrated his 56th birthday, wasn’t informed he would be recognized by the White Sox on the field with his son until late Sunday.

“When I saw my son there and gave him a big hug and he told me I was his hero, it meant the world,” the elder Brantly said. “I can’t express it any other way than just gratitude for this organization, this team and my family putting up with me being away for so many different occasions with the military.

“I will never forget coming here to Chicago.”

The White Sox backstop said he informed the club that his father, an Angels fan, would be in town on his final day of employment in the Air Force. Brantly’s first day as a civilian is Tuesday.

“It’s a pretty emotional moment for me just knowing that my dad in the service he put into this country for almost 40 years fighting for our freedom, but also fighting to give me, his son, every opportunity in the world to succeed and he gave me this opportunity to be here and to be able to play Major League Baseball not only as a service man but as a father teaching me everything to know about baseball and the passion that comes along with the game,” the younger Brantly said.

“He would tell me he puts on that uniform every day so I don’t have to. It carries a lot of weight. To be able to do something like that for him and to finish off his career, his first day of retirement, tipping his cap to a Major League Baseball crowd giving him a standing ovation, it was a special moment for him and our family. I was glad I was able to be there to share that with him.”

Will James Shields stick with 'different' look in 2018?

Will James Shields stick with 'different' look in 2018?

Ever since James Shields dropped down his arm angle, the strikeouts have increased considerably.

The White Sox pitcher struck out eight more batters in Monday night’s 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Angels. Shields, who pitched seven innings to earn a victory, has averaged nearly a strikeout per inning since he began to throw from a three-quarters angle in the middle of an Aug. 5 loss at Boston. While Shields still hasn’t perfected the new look -- he’s not even sure he’ll bring it back in 2018 -- it has caught the attention of opposing hitters.

“That was definitely a different Shields,” Angels outfielder Mike Trout said. “He was moving the ball around tonight.”  

Shields might consider sticking with the lowered angle. The veteran often insists the adjustment is a work in a progress, though his results have continued to improve (he’s got a 3.51 ERA in his past four starts).

Overall, since Shields made the switch he has a 4.33 ERA in 60 1/3 innings, nearly two points below the 6.19 ERA he produced in his first 56 2/3 frames. Shields has also seen a reduction in home runs allowed per nine innings from 2.38 to 1.79.

But the most drastic change has been in strikeouts. Shields has increased his strikeout-rate to 23.5 percent, up from 16.6 percent. He’s whiffed 59 batters since making the adjustment after only 44 prior.

“He already curls, he closes off,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He's got a cross-angle delivery, so you see his back a lot. But I think the variance in velocities, the breaking ball, he'll run the fastball, sink it. He's doing a lot with it, there's a lot of action going on so it's going to both sides of the plate. But the variance of velocity, especially with the breaking ball, sometimes it pops up there as an eephus or something. He's doing a real nice job.”

Shields has one season left on his current deal and seems likely to return to anchor a young White Sox rotation in 2018. Whether or not he’ll stay with the current setup remains to be seen.

“We’ll see,” Shields said “I’ll make some assessments in the offseason, and see how that works out, see how my body is feeling. Over the last month and a half, it seems to be working out. we’ll see how it goes.

“I’m revamping every year man. This being my 12th season, you’re always trying to refine your game every year, no matter what, whether it’s a pitch or mechanical adjustment. The league makes adjustments on you. I’ve faced a lot of these hitters so many times. I think Robbie Cano I’ve had almost 100 at-bats in my career against. But at the end of the day, you always have to make adjustments.”