Yoan Moncada

Why White Sox prospect Lucas Giolito feels as good as he has all season

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USA TODAY

Why White Sox prospect Lucas Giolito feels as good as he has all season

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Though many of his Charlotte teammates are in the majors and his own prospects for a promotion are promising, Lucas Giolito doesn’t want to get ahead of himself.

The Triple-A Charlotte pitcher is absolutely thrilled for teammates Yoan Moncada, Aaron Bummer, Nicky Delmonico and Reynaldo Lopez. He hopes to be there in Chicago to join them soon, too. But given all the effort he’s put in to reach this place, a spot in which he’s produced the consistency he desires, Giolito wants to keep his focus.

His overall numbers aren’t what he’d like, but Giolito -- who is 5-10 with a 4.70 ERA in 23 starts -- feels comfortable with what he has accomplished in 2017. The right-hander’s curveball is sharp, he’s throwing his offspeed pitches in all types of situations and pitching deeper into games.

“It’s super exciting,” Giolito said of teammates’ promotions. “At the same time, the position I’m in, the stuff I’m trying to work on, I can’t be worried about when am I getting the call. …

“You don’t want to put the GM hat on. I’m here to play. I’m here to go out there every fifth day and win for my team. I’m here in Charlotte and that’s what I’m here to do and I’m going to keep working on that.”

Those fifth days have been much better of late. Giolito pitched fewer than five innings in six of his first 16 starts this season. He had allowed 85 hits in 83 1/3 innings and posted a 5.40 ERA. Opposing hitters produced an .835 OPS against Giolito.

[MORE: Two of White Sox top 10 prospects get minor league promotions

But a curveball he’d been working to command since spring training and throw for called strikes has started to come around. Giolito said the improvement has come from a combination of better mechanics and commitment to throwing and trusting the pitch. He also trusts that the work he puts in with pitching coach Steve McCatty between starts has him in the right place to succeed, which has allowed him to not overthink things.

“There were some games I really just wouldn’t have it, I’d be throwing it in the dirt, it wasn’t a competitive pitch,” Giolito said. “Now I go out there with confidence every outing that I can throw it over for a strike.”

“Early in the season there were a lot of starts where I was thinking about too many things at the same time of trying to get guys out and pitch deep into games. It’s too much. Now I go out there and I’m not worried about the stuff that I’m working on in the four days in between starts.”

Giolito has also continued to throw the slider/cutter that he learned this spring with more success. Between that, his curve and changeup, Giolito said he’s worked to throw all of his pitches in different counts so he can do the same with comfort in the majors.

But spotting the curveball for strikes consistently is a big key. In his last outing, Giolito said he threw roughly 20 curves with confidence.

“He’s just simplified his delivery, simplified his thought process and he’s been able to kind of execute the plan that he has,” White Sox player development director Chris Getz said. “That is commanding his fastball and curveball for strikes. He’s had an effective slider and his changeup has been pretty good. The stuff is good. The delivery can be very good. That’s what’s he has been able to do, just kind of putting it all together

“The combination of all those things will give him a good chance to be effective up here at this level.”

One American League scout said of Giolito that “all the tools are there,” it’s just a matter of consistency. Over his last seven starts, Giolito has pitched into the seventh inning four times and gone at least five innings all but once. He has a 3.20 ERA in that span with 40 strikeouts, 30 hits and 19 walks in 39 1/3 innings.

The performance would appear to have Giolito in line for a September promotion at the least.

He’d love for nothing more than to be back in the same rotation as Lopez, who made his White Sox debut on Friday. But he’s there, Giolito said he intends to stay focused on here where the everyday attention to detail has helped him improve.

“I’m definitely watching a ton of the games and keeping my eye on stat lines like Lopey’s debut,” Giolito said. “I was all over trying to watch as much as I could. I’m super happy for him. At the same time, I look forward to getting that opportunity to go up there and be with those guys.

“While that’s there, there’s still a lot of work to be done here. And I know that as far as all the stuff I’m trying to put together, it’s not perfect, it never will be perfect. But I’m doing everything I can to build up that consistency.”

The pains of the White Sox rebuild: While team of the future develops, team of the present blown out

The pains of the White Sox rebuild: While team of the future develops, team of the present blown out

Mama said there’d be days like this.

In the middle of the rebuild, it’s hard to call an embarrassing blowout loss unexpected. These types of things are going to happen while the team of the future develops down in the minor leagues.

But anyone who was inside Guaranteed Rate Field on Sunday afternoon or watching from home saw just how low the lows can get while that plan plays out.

Derek Holland gave up seven runs and left before an out was recorded in the third inning. The visiting Kansas City Royals poured seven more runs on the White Sox bullpen over the course of another South Side marathon. Errors and mental mistakes were made in the field. And the prized prospect who’s supposed to be the star of the team when the rebuild reaches its apex, he struck out for the 30th and 31st times in his last 19 games.

The White Sox aren’t yet at the point when every loss stings the fan base. It’s the middle of August in a last-place season. Heck, losses are even helping the team reach some fans’ goal of the White Sox getting the No. 1 pick in next spring’s draft.

But this one was a stinker. As exciting as it might be to project out the 2020 lineup and follow along with box scores from Charlotte and Winston-Salem, games like this show the most difficult aspects of a rebuild.

“In terms of mistakes, today and yesterday we had some things that didn’t go well and that doesn’t play well or doesn’t look well and we don’t want those things to occur,” manager Rick Renteria said after the game. “But you continue to address them as need be and deal with them. I think as we continue to move along, hopefully they continue to be fewer and far between. But is it to be expected that they might make mistakes like some that have occurred? Yes.”

Leury Garcia had a couple ugly-looking plays in left field, first making an errant throw home that allowed a run to score in the second and then misjudging a ball that flew by him and went for a double in the third. Those plays, along with Tyler Saladino’s first-inning error at third base, made for a batch of fielding mistakes to go along with a couple mistakes on the base paths in Saturday’s loss.

But the fielding woes paled in comparison to those of Holland on the mound. The veteran righty hasn’t had a good year, and Sunday might have been his worst outing yet. He gave up four runs in the second inning and then couldn’t get an out in the third, giving up a leadoff homer before a double and a walk. He left after throwing 67 pitches and recording just six outs, tagged for seven runs, those two he left on for Mike Pelfrey scoring on Whit Merrifield’s three-run homer.

Holland’s season ERA jumped up to 5.68 after Sunday’s outing.

“I don’t even know where to begin,” he said. “Today was just, in my eyes, embarrassing. Not being able to find the strike zone, and then when I did, catching too much plate. These guys are going to do what they did today to you when you can’t not be in the middle of the plate. It’s frustrating. We’ve been working our asses off to do everything right on the field. The thing I’m happy about is obviously being healthy, but I’m past that. I’ve obviously shown I’m healthy, it’s just a matter of executing. It’s frustrating to sit here and work as hard as we do with (pitching coach Don Cooper) and the bullpen and go out there and not be able to do the job I should be doing. It’s just frustrating. I really don’t even know where to begin.”

While much of the campaign has been a rough go for Holland, things have gotten particularly rocky as summer has worn on. He’s made it out of the sixth inning just once since the beginning of July, posting a 8.76 ERA since then. He’s walked a total of 22 batters in his last five starts, including seven in the start prior to Sunday’s.

Sunday was his shortest start of the season but the third since the beginning of June in which he’s failed to get out of the third inning.

“It’s hard,” Renteria said. “When we watch it, we ask ourselves the same thing, ‘What can we possibly do to help him get through this?’ The reality is, tomorrow’s another day and you go back to the drawing board and see if he can put himself back and give himself an opportunity for a good outing the next time out.

“He’s obviously not wanting to go out there to fail. He wants to have success and he wants to have success for his teammates, himself. You feel for him right now, where he’s at. This young man’s working through every possible scenario, and I know he and Coop, they get after it. He’s got a tremendous work routine and ethic, but it just hasn't been working out to this point over the last few outings. I know he's very cognizant of that and he’s wanting to get back on track. The question for all of us, and for him, continues to be, how do we do that?”

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The presence of Holland — as well as other veteran pitchers on the staff like Mike Pelfrey, James Shields and Miguel Gonzalez — are necessities in a rebuilding situation, even as the starting pitchers of the future like Reynaldo Lopez start to slowly make their way to the big league team.

Look across town to the Cubs and the kinds of starting pitchers they were employing during their rebuilding years. Yes, Theo Epstein’s front office turned some sign-and-flip guys into top-tier prospects that ended up playing a huge role on a World Series team. But the likes of Chris Volstad, Justin Germano, Edwin Jackson, Carlos Villanueva and Felix Doubront turned into nothing but high ERAs for those fifth-place Cubs teams.

That’s the reality of a rebuild.

“I’m my own worst critic. And I’m not happy with the way I’m performing,” Holland said. “These guys are out here busting their asses for me, and for me to not do my job is what’s frustrating. I have every right to be upset with myself because these fans deserve better. I should be doing better. And I’m not performing the way that I feel I should be. For me, it’s frustrating, it’s upsetting, it’s very disappointing, and it’s very embarrassing, too.

“I’ve got to keep grinding. I’m not going to throw in the towel. Just because I had a bad outing doesn't mean I quit. We’re going to continue to keep plugging away. Still got the opportunity to be out there, I’ve got to take advantage of it each time like I have been. We all go through tough times, it’s just a matter of the tough times ending.”

But along with all that present-day sorrow comes that hope for the future.

Yoan Moncada had two more strikeouts Sunday, but he also picked up a double. A flash of brilliance for a young player still developing, even if he’s now doing it at the big league level.

He scored on Tim Anderson’s home run, the fourth in the last eight games for the shortstop who’s struggled much of the season but is having himself a very solid August.

Nicky Delmonico reached base for the 12th straight game and picked up a hit in his 10th straight. Look out, DiMaggio. But in all seriousness, he was on base three more times Sunday and might have had a ninth-inning homer if not for Alex Gordon’s highlight-reel leaping snag to end the game.

So this is life in the rebuild. There are going to be some bad days. And if the team on the North Side taught Chicago baseball fans anything, there might even be some bad years. The White Sox are going through one right now, with Sunday’s defeat being the team’s 70th loss of the season.

But there’s also plenty of reason to be hopeful, and these bad days and bad years will have their silver linings, silver linings that will — if everything goes according to Rick Hahn’s plan — blossom into a golden era on the South Side.

Yoan Moncada plays role of hero twice late as White Sox sweep Astros

Yoan Moncada plays role of hero twice late as White Sox sweep Astros

He’d never had a game-winning hit before at any level so Yoan Moncada might have been surprised by what all his White Sox teammates threw at him late Thursday night.

“Everything,” Moncada said through an interpreter. “Gatorade, ice — they ripped my jersey, too.”

The White Sox rookie was all cleaned up by the time he addressed reporters following a 3-2 victory over the Houston Astros in 11 innings. But for a good period of time, Moncada was soaking wet and later likely covered in any usable substance teammates could find after the biggest game of his career. After previously striking out twice with the tying run aboard, Moncada belted a game-tying solo home run in the ninth inning and then singled home the winning run to set off a celebration unlike any he’d ever been at the center of before.

“It was something indescribable,” Moncada said. “I think that my feelings, all my emotions, were to the roof when I hit that ball and then when I was running the bases. It was something unique.”

Having had a chance to scout Moncada when both played at Triple-A Charlotte in June, White Sox starting pitcher Carlos Rodon has a sense that Moncada’s breakthrough moment won’t be his last. Rodon, who earned a no decision with eight sharp innings (two earned runs and nine hits allowed with no walks and four strikeouts), is very impressed with the second baseman’s approach.

While Moncada brought a .688 OPS into Thursday’s game, he carried a .366 on-base percentage thanks in part to 13 walks in his first 71 plate appearances. Rodon and the White Sox figured it would only be a matter of time before Moncada, the top prospect in baseball, started to put the ball in play more often and do some damage.

That moment arrived in the ninth inning against Astros closer Ken Giles, who fell behind Moncada 2-0 in the count. Moncada looked for a fastball and drove the 98.7 mph pitch from Giles out to the opposite-field. It was only the third blown save in 25 tries for Giles.

Two innings later, Moncada came to the plate with Leury Garcia at second and no outs. Garcia singled off Astros reliever Francis Martes and advanced to second on Jake Marisnick’s error in center. Moncada then ripped a 97-mph fastball from Martes past the dive of shortstop Marwin Gonzalez into center to begin the celebration.

“He battles up there and it’s about time,” Rodon said. “He’s got a good bat. Just a special player, man.

“For a young guy, just real patient. He’s aggressive sometimes, but he’ll wait it out and has good at-bats and strings them along and makes the pitcher work.”

[RELATED: Yoan Moncada's son celebrates dad's walk-off hit in adorable fashion]

White Sox manager Rick Renteria hoped any of his young charges would have an opportunity for redemption after their earlier struggles with men in scoring position. Moncada struck out to end the fifth with a man on second base in a 1-0 contest. He also struck out with runners on the corners in the seventh inning and the White Sox trailing by one. Yolmer Sanchez and Tim Anderson also missed out on key opportunities.

But Moncada bounced back, first against Giles and then against Martes. His composure is another reason why Renteria believes Moncada can excel in the big leagues.

“We were just talking about 'OK it's time for them to have an opportunity to redeem themselves in the game of baseball,'” Renteria said. “And see what they take from the previous at-bat in terms of how they were going to approach it. He did a nice job and got a pitch he could handle and hit it pretty hard through the infield to be able to get it out as far as it did.”

Afterward, Moncada was rewarded appropriately. Teammates threw ice at him halfway between first and second base, where Moncada wildly pumped his fist and jumped up and down.

Teammates raced from the dugout bearing gifts. Some brought ice while pitcher Derek Holland delivered a full bottle of Gatorade. They then mobbed Moncada and ripped his jersey, after which only the top button remained fastened.

“This is my first time that I hit a walkoff hit to win a game,” Moncada said. “I feel very excited.”