In previous years, when the White Sox went to the bench for a broadcaster to spell Hawk Harrelson or Steve Stone, most of the replacements had to be graded on a heavy curve. Guys like Jack McDowell, Frank Thomas, Mike Huff and Aaron Rowand came to the air with little experience, and while they had varying degrees of acumen, they had to be excused for the lack of reps.
So it was odd hearing Jason Benetti come in and immediately work a thoroughly professional broadcast with Steve Stone. It shouldn't surprise since Benetti is a professional, but the White Sox have largely steered clear of that mold, both on TV and radio.
Benetti sounded relaxed in his White Sox debut. Maybe a little too casual in the start to the in-game interview with Robin Ventura:
But there was no mistaking that speaking was Benetti's job, and that the Sox had chosen a different direction, from the Len Kasper-y diction, the continuous pleasant banter with Stone, and the first reference to WAR that did not involve a halting tutorial beforehand. It happened when Anthony Rizzo came to the plate in the first inning:
Benetti: They're loaded now for Anthony Rizzo, who's got four hits, three for extra bases, this spring. By the statistical measurement of Wins Above Replacement -- WAR, they call it -- he was the most valuable batter for the Cubs last year, adding six wins.
Stone: Well, you take that, along with what they get at third base with Kris Bryant, and they probably have as powerful a corner twosome as anybody in baseball...
For those that understand, that's cool. For those who aren't sabermetrically oriented, it's a passing comment that doesn't take up too much airtime. An explanation of the stat may be needed if they're going to devote minutes to it, but I'll gladly take these little nods, especially when they're not followed by dismissive comments.
Unfortunately, Benetti didn't get a lot of highlights to show his range. The White Sox fell behind 3-0 as fast as they could thanks to a rough day for Erik Johnson, and the Cubs kept adding on afterward. He did get a home run call for Avisail Garcia, at least:
That's where I think we'll miss Harrelson the most -- there's nothing wrong with the call, and I imagine he'll get bigger as the stakes get higher, but Harrelson at his best is a master of the huge moment. I suppose that's a trade-off for having a broadcast booth that doesn't sulk after plays like this:
In reference to the videos above, there's good news and bad news. The bad news first:
Erik Johnson: He was hard to watch, and the numbers back it up (3 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 1 HR). Unlike after his previous start, when he said the ball was "exploding" out of his hand, the self-confidence was far more subdued:
Johnson allowed five runs on seven hits in three innings against the Cubs at Sloan Park, and had his fastball sit between 85 and 89 miles per hour, according to a scout. He gave up a solo home run to Dexter Fowler on a fastball low in the zone, and said he’s still working on building up strength in his arm.
"I know I’m not there yet," Johnson said. "Pitch count-wise I’m getting to where I need to be but as far as innings go, I’d like to achieve more than that. I know the stuff is there. I’m throwing strikes with all of my pitches. The arm strength will come along."
At this precarious point in his career, he really can't afford extended periods of time where he reminds everybody of 2014. The baserunners are especially problematic since his throwing to bases appears to have degenerated since the last time we saw him.
Avisail Garcia: He went "just" 1-for-3, but the "1" was that laser blast to left on a hanging Jean Machi slider. The longer he hits, the more we hear about his new approach, which includes a different viewing angle:
"Because I’m seeing the pitcher and watching the ball with two eyes now,’’ he said. "Last year I was watching like this (with one). It’s helping a lot.’’
More than a lot.
"I mean, for sure. You guys can’t see it?’’
While Garcia focused on his vision, Robin Ventura emphasized Garcia's more active lower body in a postgame interview:
"Part of it is he's longer in the zone. I think before, he was making contact like he was just trying to make contact, and he was pretty much a ground-ball hitter. If you do get leverage and you can learn how to use your legs a little bit more -- I think as he's grown up and understanding things, he's using his legs a little bit better, and, in connection with that, his hands are getting better. I think he's shorter to the ball. The barrel's in there a lot longer than it's been the last couple of years."
The usual caveat is "we'll see if it sticks," but it's probably valuable for Garcia to see immediate results, if only to make it easier to adhere to the offseason adjustments. It's not like what he had last year worked.
In the process, he's making it a little easier to wait for Austin Jackson to get out of "B" game territory, but that still might happen as soon as today.