Peavy sharp as Sox down Tigers in home opener

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Peavy sharp as Sox down Tigers in home opener

Jake Peavy will tell you his first concern is all about winning. But the righty also admitted he doesn't want to give fans any reason to dislike him.

He certainly didn't do that Friday, throwing 6 23 solid innings to help lead the White Sox past Detroit in a 5-2 home opener victory. Peavy struck out eight, only issuing one walk and allowing two runs on two hits. This coming against a Tigers lineup that entered Friday averaging nearly seven runs per game.

"It just seemed like from the first pitch, he was more intense and more aggressive," A.J. Pierzynski said. "Sometimes in the past he's waited until he got into trouble and then went. But today he went from pitch one and you see the results."

The results were that Peavy never really got in any trouble. He allowed a two-out, two-run home run to Delmon Young in the seventh, but that was it. Peavy cruised through the powerful Detroit lineup, working his fastball and off speed pitches in perfectly.

"I struck probably as many guys out on a fastball today as I did on a breaking ball, and that's an encouraging sign when you can get guys out with your fastball," Peavy explained. "Obviously, you'd like to see the numbers creep up to what they once were, but at the same time if you can throw fastballs by somebody, keep guys off balance, that's what you're trying to do."

Peavy actually generated five swings and misses on his fastball and seven on other offerings -- slider, change up, curveball, cutter. His fastball averaged about 91 miles per hour, although he frequently touched 92 and 93 with it. And with his location and command of his breaking stuff, that was all he needed.

"He's got that extra little jump on his fastball," Paul Konerko said. "He'd be the first to tell you he's not throwing 95, 96 like he was with San Diego, but he's throwing 92, 93 -- that's enough in this league velocity's not everything, but if you can hit spots like he can and have the breaking ball he has, it makes a world of difference when you can rush it up there a couple more miles per hour."

Things easily could've unraveled early for Peavy when the game was paused in the top of the first for about 10 minutes after Miguel Cabrera voiced a complaint about the batter's box. Peavy didn't throw during that break -- although Pierzynski broached the idea -- and ultimately wasn't worse off for it.

"Next time it's like that we're going to stop the game and re-do the boxes for us," laughed Pierzynski.

Peavy's effort was buoyed by an odd offensive combination in the seventh inning. After Konerko delivered a two-out RBI single to put the Sox up 2-0, Pierzynski laced a line drive into the right field corner. Brennan Boesch had a bit of trouble with the ball in the corner, and third base coach Joe McEwing decided to get aggressive, sending Konerko around third. He just barely slid in under Alex Avila's tag to put the Sox up 3-0.

"Usually I'm getting the stop sign for sure -- when Joe McEwing was wheeling me around I was a little bit, uh, curious about that, wondering what the heck was going on," Konerko said dryly. "And the play at the plate, I don't know if I was safe or out, but it seems like most times I slide like that into a play, the guy usually calls me out, so I was kinda surprised he called me safe. As an umpire, I gotta believe it's hard to not to anticipate me being out. I think he made a great call, I just slid underneath it."

That last run was all the Sox needed, although Detroit battled back in the seventh and eighth innings. But stellar defensive plays by Dayan Viciedo and Alexei Ramirez stopped both Detroit scoring threats, and a pair of insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth put the game out of reach, even for the powerful Tigers offense.

"You're playing against that team, with that lineup and that pitching staff, you have to try to keep pressure on them because when they get to hammer on us, they're going to put pressure and do everything they can to be aggressive and do everything to stomp on us," Pierzynski said. "You have to do that, and that's the right way to go about it every day. It doesn't matter if you're playing Detroit or anybody.

"We've been playing well, and we said all along if we can keep guys healthy and guys have their years, then we should be okay."

Jose Abreu ready for 2017 after season full of 'different challenges'

Jose Abreu ready for 2017 after season full of 'different challenges'

GLENDALE, Ariz. — A torrid two months at the plate helped Jose Abreu end what he found to be an extremely trying 2016 season with numbers close to his career norms.

But even though he finished with an .820 OPS and 100 RBIs for a third straight season, Abreu admits that 2016 was a season unlike any other he'd faced.

While he didn't disclose any theories for the cause of his lengthy struggles, the White Sox first baseman said Sunday he's pleased to have finished on a positive note and thinks that rebounding from those difficulties will only make him stronger. Abreu — who hit .293/.353/.468 with 25 home runs and 100 RBIs in 695 plate appearances — is also a fan of new White Sox manager Rick Renteria and is equally impressed with the prospects the club acquired this winter.

"Yes, those were different challenges, especially in my mind," Abreu said through an interpreter. "I never in my life experienced some of the kind of struggles like I did last year. But that put me in a better position as a player, as a person too. I'm in a better position now for this season because I learned from the experience."

In spite of his struggles, Abreu was still a league average player through the first four months of the season. But the 2014 All-Star hardly resembled the player who produced a 153 OPS-plus over his first two seasons. His timing was off and Abreu — hitting .269/.325/.413 with 11 homers and 56 RBIs through July 30 — wasn't driving the ball as he typically had in his first two seasons, when he smacked 66 homers.

Abreu was lost at the plate and nobody could figure out why.

But after the arrival of his son, Dariel, who visited him for the first time since he moved to the United States, Abreu took off. He hit .338/.402/.568 the rest of the season with 14 homers and 44 RBIs in 249 trips to the plate.

"Right after last season ended, I had my meeting at my house with my family, just to explain to them how the season was because they know about baseball," Abreu said. "But sometimes they can't register how the process is in a season as long as the major league season is. We talked about it. I explained to them all of the challenges, the problems I had during that season. Once we ended with that meeting, last season was in the past. We moved on and we were trying just to figure out things and how can I do better for this season."

Now in his fourth season in the majors, Abreu has a firm grasp on how the White Sox operate and likes some of the team's modifications. He likes how Renteria thoroughly communicates what he has in mind for the club. Abreu also enjoys being seen as one of the team's leaders and wouldn't mind being a mentor to prized prospect Yoan Moncada.

Now he hopes to carry over his strong finish to the start of the 2017 campaign.

"I'm working on it," Abreu said. "That's one of my goals. Everybody knows that at the beginning of last season, I wasn't performing good. It was kind of a surprise for me, too. But I'm in good shape right now and I believe I will be able to succeed."

After playoff bullpen issues, Cubs again see Pedro Strop as a late-game force

After playoff bullpen issues, Cubs again see Pedro Strop as a late-game force

MESA, Ariz. – Inside Wrigley Field’s state-of-the-art clubhouse, the Cubs posted a blown-up image of the 2015 Sports Illustrated cover where Pedro Strop is high-stepping next to Kris Bryant down the third-base line, the mosh pit awaiting at home plate.

Between his tilted-hat look, chest-pounding celebrations and overall joy for the game, Strop sets an example for the younger guys in the bullpen and the Latin players in the clubhouse. Strop has been so valuable that Jake Arrieta could have never thrown a pitch in a Cubs uniform and Theo Epstein’s front office still would have considered the Scott Feldman trade with the Baltimore Orioles an absolute success.  

Yet when the long rebuild reached its apex – and manager Joe Maddon searched for World Series answers – Strop had already been marginalized in the bullpen. A freak injury – Strop heard a pop and tore the meniscus in his left knee while trying to slide and field a groundball in August – bumped him from his role as the seventh- or eighth-inning stopper.  

“It was a little difficult,” Strop said. “After I came back from my surgery, it was a different situation. But it’s something that you got to get used to and understand the situation, understand how deep our bullpen is and just go and fight whenever they ask you to.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal.”  

During Sunday’s media session, Maddon dismissed any issues with Strop (2.85 ERA) or Hector Rondon, the former 30-save closer who strained his right triceps last summer and didn’t quite get his timing down for the playoffs. Down 3-1 in the World Series, Maddon summoned Aroldis Chapman to throw 97 pitches combined in Games 5, 6 and 7 against the Cleveland Indians.

“Listen, it’s not a lack of trust,” Maddon said. “(Strop) just got hurt. And when you get hurt like that at that time of the year, it’s hard to play catch-up. When guys get injured in-season and you get to the moment where you’re trying to win a championship, you got to put like personal feelings aside on both sides of it, whether you’re managing it or playing.

“I have nothing but trust. My God, the threat is when you have him, you want to use him too much, always. And the same thing with Ronnie. I talked to Ronnie about that – I don’t want to put him in a position. I think Rondon got hurt last year because part of it was my greediness on using him too much in the early part of the season.

“You really have to battle against that when you get guys that good. You want to use them all the time. (I have) a tremendous amount of trust in both of those guys. It’s just a matter of utilizing them properly and keeping them healthy.”

[MORE: What Joe Maddon wants to see next from Javier Baez]

Since the middle of the 2013 season, Strop has notched 84 holds for the Cubs, putting up a 2.68 ERA and a 0.984 WHIP to go with 254 strikeouts in 211-plus innings. At a time when a $10 billion industry is reassessing the value of high-leverage relievers, Strop will make $5.5 million this year before hitting the open market.

“You never know,” Strop said. “I would love to repeat the championship season and win another one here before I hit free agency. Hopefully, they want to bring me back. I really like the city of Chicago. I love the fans and I love my team and the coaches.

“After this season, it’s going to become business, so hopefully we can put something together.”