Sox finish strong road trip with loss
Chicago pitching ineffective as Richard allows four runs
KANSAS CITY -- Travel back one week to the U.S. Cellular Field Conference and Learning Center, just moments after the White Sox second successive victory over the Cubs, and pose the following question to Ozzie Guillen at his postgame press conference.
Would a 5-2 record on the upcoming road trip to Cleveland and Kansas City exemplify success for a team trying to fight to the top of the American League Central? The answer would have been a resounding yes, with maybe a colorful word or two in front of the response to emphasize the point.
So, there's the good news for the White Sox, who return to Chicago on the heels of this strong road showing, following Sunday's 6-3 loss to the Royals at Kauffman Stadium. But the bad news is that the White Sox (42-40) won the first five games of this excursion and then dropped the last two to the Royals (35-46).
This mini-skid still didn't dampen the spirits of the White Sox manager.
"I told you guys early how this road trip will be very important and we played well," Guillen said. "The last couple of days, we couldn't get anything going offensively. Especially today -- [Kansas City starter Brian] Bannister threw the ball pretty good."
While Bannister (6-6) gave up two runs on five hits over six innings, the outing for White Sox starter Clayton Richard (3-2) was neither as effective or as long as his counterpart. The southpaw was unable to provide a quality start for the seventh consecutive trip to the mound, allowing four runs on eight hits over 3 2/3 innings.
That innings total means Richard has worked at least five innings in just three of these last seven starts. But Sunday's numbers against Richard didn't tell the whole story.
Kansas City made use of well-placed hits down the third-base line or grounded in between third baseman Gordon Beckham and shortstop Alexei Ramirez to take control with a three-run fourth. The hardest-hit ball by the Royals came off the bat of Miguel Olivo, with the one-time White Sox catcher launching his 13th home run off of reliever D.J. Carrasco in the fifth.
Losing in this fashion was a bit more unnerving for Richard than simply getting hit around during his given turn in the rotation.
"It's hard to describe the feeling when you think you make good pitches and they get hit," said Richard, who threw 51 of his 80 pitches for strikes. "It's something that's out of your control.
"There were things that I could control. A couple of hits to [Willie] Bloomquist, the hit to [Brayan] Pena [which was a run-scoring double in the fourth], when I missed over the plate. Those are the things I need to concentrate on and fix those mistakes, as opposed to worrying about the little hits they got off of good pitches."
Guillen has frequently talked about the White Sox commitment to Richard as part of the rotation. He also spoke again about the patience in developing this 25-year-old hurler, whom the White Sox project out in the style of Gavin Floyd or John Danks, as Richard learns the ropes as a Major League starter.
On a team with postseason designs, though, this patience isn't always an easy virtue to live by for Richard.
"Everyone in this clubhouse is competitive and we all want to win. That's the last thing we want, is someone out there who is going to compromise winning," said Richard, who picked up all three of his strikeouts Sunday when he fanned the side in the second. "I want to get out there and put our team in the best position to win. When that doesn't happen, I feel bad and I feel bad for our team not giving them that chance."
"We trust him," said Guillen of Richard. "He has great stuff to pitch at the big league level. But every time he goes out there, we have to be patient and realize he's a kid and we try to get him better every time."
Bannister gave up single runs to the White Sox in the third and the fourth, with Ramirez and Josh Fields picking up the respective RBIs. But the White Sox didn't do much with the bats after the fourth, until Jermaine Dye's 20th home run with two outs in the eighth. Bannister, Jamey Wright, John Bale and Joakim Soria (12th save) held the White Sox to three hits over the last five innings, helping the Royals earn the split.
"They got base hits in the clutch, and they seemed to find the spot to lay the ball," said Guillen of the Royals.
"For us to get the last two games of this series, it's a big confidence booster," Royals manager Trey Hillman said. "They were just about as hot as they've been all season, and they were climbing."
Maybe the White Sox have fallen ever so slightly, slipping into third place, one-half game behind the Twins. They certainly will be able to get up, and soon, with the last-place Indians coming to town Tuesday for a three-game set.
And remember, the White Sox trailed Detroit by five games when they left Chicago last Sunday night. They come home only 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Tigers. It's truly a silver lining in the cloud housing back-to-back losses.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.