Cut-fastball key to Miguel Gonzalez's improvement with White Sox

Cut-fastball key to Miguel Gonzalez's improvement with White Sox

Miguel Gonzalez has thrown his cut-fastball more in July than ever before.

The White Sox pitcher thinks the way its complements his repertoire has been critical to his most consistent month in the majors since 2014.

Not only is he 1-2 with a 2.76 ERA in five starts in July, but Gonzalez has increased his strikeout rate by three percent with 26 strikeouts in 32 2/3 innings.

The improvement has helped Gonzalez, who next starts Saturday at Minneapolis, develop into either a good back-end rotation option for the White Sox and perhaps even a trade chip. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported that the Miami Marlins scouted Gonzalez on Monday when he outpitched Jake Arrieta.

“It has been helping me this year,” Gonzalez said. “Hitters see a fastball out of the hand and at the end it’s already on them. That’s been a big change for me and it’s helping a lot. I’ve been seeing better results.”

His catchers have seen a dramatic increase in the number of cutters Gonzalez has thrown. In four seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, Gonzalez threw 19 cutters. The pitch is a staple for White Sox hurlers under Don Cooper and Gonzalez took his regular slider and started to throw it harder once he signed a minor-league deal with them in April.

So far this month, Gonzalez has thrown the cutter 119 times, which accounts for 24.59 percent of his pitches, according to brooksbaseball.net. Batters have hit .188 and are slugging just .313.

“It made sense to where if I throw a fastball inside, located, and then I throw that cutter, it’s going to make it a lot harder for a lefty, or a righty, to react on,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve seen swings where they get jammed or break a bat or they swing and miss because they think it’s a fastball and it’s three or four miles an hour slower.”

Always more of a contact pitcher, the addition has -- in the short term -- increased Gonzalez’s strikeout rate to near league average. Before July, Gonzalez struck out 17.1 percent of the batters he had faced in his career. This month, the rate is 20.2 percent.   

Cooper is pleased with the development of Gonzalez. He’s also not surprised to find that Gonzalez’s name has appeared in recent Hot Stove chatter along with James Shields, Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, among others.

“Every year this comes up,” Cooper said. “It’s not the first time. People come and go. Trades do happen. Heck, when (Mark) Buehrle left that was a tough one because that was 10 years there. So if Buehrle can leave,anybody can leave. I’ve always said the names change, but the job doesn’t.”

Gonzalez is happy with his current location. He didn’t know what to expect with the White Sox when he signed in April. Suffice it to say, the experience has been better than he could have hoped.

“When you have a free mind, stress free, and you’re on a new team, new environment, things tend to change a little bit and in a good way,” Gonzalez said. “That’s how I feel. I feel comfortable with the team. They welcomed me and now it’s paying off. Hopefully we can get into a nice little stretch and win, a little streak going. That’s what we need right now.”

Bears make front office changes

Bears make front office changes

The Bears announced in a press release on Wednesday that the team has made numerous changes in their front office this offseason.

One such move included the hiring of Brandon Faber as the VP of Communications. Faber was with the Blackhawks communications department since 2008, where his most recent position was Senior Director of Communications and Community relations. 

"The club created a new executive layer of SVP’s to better lead and develop various areas of business with a focus on innovation & strategy," the release detailed. "The club promoted Scott Hagel, Karen Murphy, Cliff Stein and Lee Twarling to the newly created SVP level. The Bears have also added three new members to the VP level, promoting Doug Carnahan to VP of Corporate Partnerships and Jake Jones to VP of Finance and hiring Brandon Faber as the VP of Communications."

Hagel has been promoted to SVP, Marketing and Communications after 20 years with the Bears. Murphy has been promoted to SVP, Business Strategy and CFO. She has been with the Bears for 17 years.

Stein has been with the Bears for 14 years and has been promoted to SVP and General Counsel. He is the legal advisor for all of the club.

Twarling, who has been with the club for 12 years, has been promoted to SVP, Sales and Customer Relations. 

Cubs keeping the faith with Jason Heyward despite season-long struggles

Cubs keeping the faith with Jason Heyward despite season-long struggles

The calendar is about to flip into August and the narrative around high-priced outfielder Jason Heyward is still the same.

The Cubs entered play Wednesday night with the best record in baseball despite their $184 million prize of the winter suffering through the worst offensive season of his career.

Among qualified MLB players entering Wednesday night, Heyward had the lowest slugging percentage in the game (.315). His OPS (.630) was the seventh-lowest among qualified hitters.

Those numbers have gotten significantly worse as Heyward has been mired in a major slump over the last two-plus weeks in which he's gone just 4-for-42 (.095 AVG) with only one extra base hit, zero RBI and a .275 OPS. 

Before Wednesday's game at Wrigley Field, Heyward was out on the field working with Cubs hitting coach John Mallee.

"It's pretty much what they've been working on for a while," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "Again, like I've said, this guy's hit into some bad luck. Yeah there's been some ground balls, but he's had a lot of well-struck balls that have been caught.

"And with that goes your confidence. But they have a definite plan they're sticking with."

Maddon said the Cubs wanted Heyward to get to see the results of his work out on the field of play instead of just watching baseballs jump off his bat into a netting in the cage.

One of the main things the Cubs are working on with Heyward is making a conscious effort to get the ball in the air. 

They're also focused on his mindset through these struggles, trying to keep his spirits up.

"He's probably struggling a little bit," Maddon admitted. "It's not easy to go through what he's going through right now. But like I said, I'm certain he's going to come out the other side.

"I've seen a lot of good stuff work-wise recently. And I'm telling you, man, the new-fangled defenses have got him on ground balls up the middle a lot. He's been victimized by defense a bit."

Maddon has talked a lot this season about Heyward hitting into some tough luck — whether on line drives or just ground balls directly into the opposition's defensive shifts.

But it's not just luck. Heyward's batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is .273, which is 26 points below his career mark (.298), but there are 24 other qualified big-league hitter with lower BABIPs, including White Sox slugger Todd Frazier and his .200 mark entering play Wednesday.

Compared to last season — when Heyward hit .293 with a .797 OPS with the St. Louis Cardinals — Heyward's line drive percentage is up slightly and his groundball percentage is down significantly. 

But his soft-hit percentage is way up and his hard-hit percentage is down quite a bit.

All of the fancy stats can make the casual fan's head spin, but the gist is simple: Heyward has not been making enough solid contact. 

And he has not been making enough solid contact for four months now. 

Still, Maddon refuses to let any worry show publicly, even as he penciled Heyward seventh in the Cubs' lineup Wednesday, the lowest the 26-year-old has hit all season.

"I've been through this before with some really good players," Maddon said. "He'll come out the other side because he's good and he's working at it. I really like the plan of attack him and John have going right now.

"I'm very patient. I've done this for a bit. I was a hitting instructor myself. I know what it takes. You don't always get overnight results when you're trying to make some dramatic adjustments and that's exactly what's going on. 

"I know people are going to get less patient with it than I will or he will. But the biggest thing is that Jason doesn't get impatient. With the actual player himself, you never want him to be the guy to give up on what he's doing. If he doesn't, he's gonna break through.

"I have a lot of faith in him."