MLB: Chicago White Sox at Kansas City Royals

South Side Morning 5: How Did Miguel Gonzalez Do That?

1. Miguel Gonzalez’s efficiency in Tuesday’s 4-1 win over the Yankees — 8.1 innings, 4 hits, 1 walk, 4 strikeouts on just 88 pitches — showed what the White Sox can get when he’s at his best. Gonzalez is never going to blow away hitters or get them to chase his off-speed stuff with regularity, but his ability to pound the lower-half of the strike zone induced weak contact all night from the swing-happy Yankees.

When you’re throwing strikes down in the zone, particularly with the sinking fastball, you’re more than likely going to induce weak contact. Even the Yankees’ four base hits were of the weaker variety, and only one of them came on pitches in the upper half of the strike zone. Gonzalez threw 64.7 percent of his pitches on the night for strikes, which is exactly his career average, but what made this pitches successful is that he rarely left the ball up. More than half of his 88 pitches — 53 percent — came in that lower half, and when he missed, even that seemed to have a purpose, as he pounded left-handed hitters inside or swept a curve or slider far outside to the righties.

As was the case last season, for Gonzalez to be effective he needs to locate, something that’s becoming an increasingly familiar theme this season with fellow veteran junk-ballers James Shields and Derek Holland on the staff. For pitchers without swing-and-miss stuff to find success, they have to be deceptive enough to keep hitters off-balance with both location and speed, and on Tuesday, Gonzalez did as such with the 76-mph curveball and 80-mph slider, mixing and matching that with his fastball-sinker combo in the low 90s.

It’s a fine balance to strike. That type of repertoire rarely allows a day of lost command without suffering a number of walks or a few dingers. But for one day, at least, Gonzalez had it all working.

2. We’re not yet to the point of the season where Avisail Garcia’s hot start can be considered more than a hot start, but every day in which he produces is a step toward him shutting everyone up, present company included.

Nine days ago when he was hitting .474 five games into the season, I looked back through five-game samples from a year ago and it didn’t even take me until the end of April to find a streak similar to the one he was on then. I did the same thing following Tuesday’s game and, well, it still didn’t take me until the end of April to find one similar. From April 25 through May 10 of last season, Garcia slashed .439/.489/.732 with two home runs, four walks, and five strikeouts in 47 plate appearances.

What Garcia has shown during this stretch, though, has been impressive. On Tuesday, he yanked one of Luis Severino’s few mistakes, a hanging slider, into the left field seats for a three-run homer that ended up being the difference in the win.

Garcia should get credit for crushing a pitch he should crush — good hitters do that to mistake pitches — but also for selling out and showing off good pull power, something he’s been unable to do with regularity throughout his career.

We’re taking baby steps with Garcia. I don’t know how long it will take for me, personally, to believe his hot streak is going to translate into a full season of success. But any progress is a good thing.

3. Jacob May didn’t play Tuesday, but is now 27 plate appearances into his major league career — 24 at-bats — without a base hit. The streak is the 12th longest hitless streak to start a career in major league history, excluding pitchers. For what it’s worth, May has seemed to be keeping a level head and is saying all the right things despite his struggles.

“If you keep looking at it as a negative, then it’s going to be a negative,” May said. “If you feel like there is no such thing as a negative, you can learn from any experience you are going through. It’s going to make me a better person, a better player, a better teammate. It is what it is. I can’t change those last at-bats. All I can do is show up today, get my work done and give my best effort. At this point, I’m going to keep attacking it.”

The odds of May becoming a major league caliber player were long to begin with, and to say they’ve gotten off to a rough start would be an understatement. In a nut shell, reacting to a 27-plate appearance streak isn’t the wisest decision. But every player is a unique case, and it’s entirely possible May’s lack of success is a sign he can’t hack it as a major leaguer. In fact, one could even say it’s likely that is the case.

4. I’ve repeated it twice in this post alone and many times during the first few weeks, but we’re still several weeks away from individual stats stabilizing to more normal levels, but it’s hard, even now, to ignore the rough starts by Tim Anderson and Jose Abreu.

Abreu went 0-for-4 on Tuesday, including an embarrassing sacrifice bunt attempt he apparently undertook on his own immediately preceding Garcia’s home run, and is now 8-for-51 with one extra-base hit and 14 strikeouts on the season. Anderson, coincidentally, is also 8-for-51 with one extra-base hit, one walk, and 13 strikeouts.

Abreu and Anderson couldn’t be more different in terms of their age, stature, and profile, but each player’s performance is worth monitoring for different reasons. With Abreu, like Garcia, it didn’t take me to the end of April 2016 to find a streak similar to this one, but the fact that he’s an immobile slugger now on the wrong side of 30 and is apparently in his own head enough to attempt something like that bunt provides at least some reason for concern.

Anderson’s case is completely different. The concern for him lies more in the fact that he’s to this point more unproven than proven as a major-league hitter. After a fine rookie season, there remains quite a bit of hope that he’s able to take another step forward in his development with a full season as the team’s starting shortstop, but 430 successful plate appearances does not a star make (Gordon Beckham had one fewer plate appearance than Anderson in his rookie season and a virtually idential OPS+).

Again, not yet time to worry about Abreu nor Anderson, but it’d be pretty cool if either or both broke out of their funks sooner than later.

5. Old friend and compatriot James Fegan has been traipsing about North Carolina all week, getting a first-hand look at the prospects in Winston-Salem and Charlotte. Among his work is a Q&A with Dash manager and the guy who scored the game-winning run in Game 4 of the 2005 World Series, Willie Harris, a look at the progress Zach Collins is making at catcher, and a profile of young outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe. They are worth your time.

Lead Photo Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

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