Notes: TA 'South Side forever'; Cease sharp

March 15th, 2021

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Is Chicago a Cubs town or now gradually becoming a White Sox town?

White Sox shortstop , who always speaks from an honest place, wants Chicago to be South Side-leaning in the middle of what he terms a competitive baseball rivalry within the city.

“Yeah, yeah, that makes it more fun and makes the fans buy into it,” Anderson told about the Crosstown rivalry during a Monday phone interview. “I’m South Side forever. I love that Sox logo.

“It is a rivalry. It has always been, so why would I say no. It always has been and always will be. Keep it at that competitive level and get the city something. Who runs the city? I definitely want to see a whole lot of White Sox more so than Cubs this year.”

Manager Tony La Russa actually played the final game of his Major League career for the Cubs, pinch-running for Hall of Famer Ron Santo in the ninth inning of a contest at Wrigley Field against the Expos on April 6, 1973, which was Opening Day, eventually scoring the winning run. But he also managed the White Sox from 1979-86 and knows something about the rivalry.

“If you remember, '84 or '85 we had a Crosstown Classic,” La Russa said. “We had fans in Sarasota who said, ‘I don’t care what you do in the season, you can’t lose that game to the Cubs.’ It’s alive. And then I had the second sampling with the Cardinals. The Cubs are a historic franchise, and anything that makes a competition more than the routine is fun to be a part of.”

“It’s that type of competitive level which makes it fun,” Anderson said. “Fun for the fans and fun for the players and cool for the city.”

Cease starts strong
After announcing the first three starters in his rotation, beginning with Lucas Giolito on Opening Day, La Russa mentioned the final two spots remain in competition. During Monday's 4-4 tie with the Cubs, strengthened an already solid case for that No. 4 starter.

Cease’s first 2021 Cactus League start covered three innings, with the right-hander allowing one hit and striking out two without a walk.

“I think that’s a good first start, first game,” Cease aid. “There’s always things that can be improved and work done. Threw my stuff in the zone, no walks. Made them put it in play. I’m happy with that. It’s definitely encouraging.”

La Russa praised Cease’s raw stuff pregame, but he also challenged Cease and referred to his Monday start as a big game for the right-hander. La Russa also spoke highly of Cease’s willingness to learn, with Cease pointing out the rotation nod isn’t earned from just one or two starts but also from the process followed to improve and get stronger.

“He hasn’t taken a bullpen off. Sometimes you will see a guy not quite into it because it’s not a game,” La Russa said. “He competes in the bullpens, during batting practice. He’s really determined to pitch to his potential and he’s trying to hurry that process by relying on good coaching.

“They have a good lineup against him, and this is a test. The comforting thing I know is he is going to compete and try his best. If it’s good, you pat him on the back. If it’s not, you show him where he can get better.”

Kopech K's two, hits 100 in second outing
returned to the mound for the second time this spring and pitched a scoreless eighth inning in relief.

Kopech hit 100 mph on the stadium radar gun and struck out two batters -- both on nasty sliders -- in a scoreless inning. The 24-year-old right-hander, ranked by MLB Pipeline as baseball's No. 39 prospect, sat in the high 90s with his fastball and also dropped in a couple of nice curveballs for called strikes in addition to his slider whiffs.

"I felt comfortable attacking the zone with my secondary pitches, which is something I've really been working on," Kopech said on Zoom after the game. "Coming out of the bullpen, getting loose that way, I'm starting to -- I wouldn't say get used to it, but get a feel for it."

Kopech allowed one hit in his inning and also hit a batter on a 99 mph fastball he yanked across the plate, but his stuff mainly looked sharp. He said his arm strength and stamina feel great, but that he's still learning how to pitch in his new late-inning bullpen role, especially having to get ready quickly to come into a game and recover on shorter rest between outings.

"This position's new, but it's definitely intriguing to me right now," Kopech said.

He said his second outing was actually more challenging than his first, since it was in a late-game situation and against the crosstown rival Cubs.

Kopech was scheduled to pitch Friday, but he got pushed back due to calf tightness. He said Monday that he originally felt a tweak in the calf warming up before his first Spring Training appearance but pitched through it. When it didn't go away, the White Sox training staff delayed his next outing to be cautious, but Kopech said he's not feeling it anymore.

Third to first
• Center fielder Luis Robert was scratched from Monday’s starting lineup for precautionary measures due to a lower abdominal strain. Luis Gonzalez replaced Robert in the lineup.

• La Russa likes that the return of in-game video on Opening Day will be on tablets, keeping players in the dugout so they can review at-bats but also watch the game.

“I'm a big fan of preparing before the game, and I'm not big on having to review what does this guy throw, like a reliever,” La Russa said. “But I do see the value because some of the stuff that goes on is learning from your last at-bat, and I guess it's got some usefulness there. There's something to being in the dugout when you're not hitting, and you get a flavor of the competition.”

He Said It
“He’s such a competitor. He knows if he makes a pitch he’s got a chance for the out. Concentration when there is nobody on and especially with guys on base, it’s special. And it’s a great quality to have.” -- La Russa, on No. 3 starter Lance Lynn