CHICAGO -- The White Sox frustrated Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo through the first two games of the four-game home-and-home series, and not just with stellar pitching.
Rizzo does have two of the Cubs' eight hits, but he also had two singles taken away by second baseman Gordon Beckham because of the White Sox defensive shift. That shift features three infielders between first and second, with Beckham in short right, and third baseman Marcus Semien playing shortstop.
It's a shift the White Sox haven't employed exclusively against the Cubs and Rizzo. Over the weekend in Cleveland, the White Sox did the same against Carlos Santana, Jason Giambi and Nick Swisher hitting from the left side and Ryan Raburn and Yan Gomes hitting from the right side.
"There's so much information out there now to where, you know, I have the information where every ground ball they hit from the beginning of last year until the present day when we go into a series," said White Sox third-base coach Joe McEwing, who also works with the team's infield defense. "So, with all the information that's out there, and the way we are pitching certain guys, we are going to be pretty aggressive on it."
"I think it's the new fad actually," said White Sox designated hitter Adam Dunn, the victim of many shifts. "You can theoretically, if you looked at everybody's charts, pretty much you could probably shift just about everybody."
Dunn pointed out that the shifts are only noticed when you check-swing a grounder down the third-base line, which he has done, to beat the shift or when the shift takes away hits. He pointed to the first inning from Friday's contest against Cleveland, when his grounder up the middle targeted for center field turned into a routine double play because of the shift and the positioning of shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera.
McEwing added the White Sox play Semien in at shortstop to guard against a bunt from someone such as Rizzo, but if he drops it down the third-base line, there's no counter. Rizzo beat the shift with both hits against the White Sox, but it still can be a source of aggravation for opposing hitters.
"You see guys try to alter their swing to go against it and they end up down in the count because they are trying to do something they are not used to doing," McEwing said. "It benefits us for guys to try to get out of their comfort zone.
"We would rather take the percentages of a guy hitting a ground ball there than going outside of it. Sure, you are going to get beat with it once in a while. But we just have to be patient with it and ride out the percentages of it, and I think overall it has benefited us to a large degree."
Hahn believes Johnson will be long-term contributor
CHICAGO -- Erik Johnson made a second straight strong start for Triple-A Charlotte on Wednesday morning, holding Lehigh Valley to two earned runs on five hits over seven innings, striking out four and walking one. He threw 63 of his 95 pitches for strikes.
Johnson had a 6.46 ERA over five starts with the White Sox before being optioned to Charlotte. But it wasn't a sign of the White Sox changing their mind concerning the right-hander.
"Here's the thing, as I told Erik directly when he was sitting on the couch in Robin's office," said White Sox general manager Rick Hahn. "I said, 'Look, Joe Crede and Aaron Rowand sat exactly where you are sitting right now and received similar messages like the one we are giving you.
"'That is: We think you have a very bright future and can be a part of successful White Sox teams for years to come, but where we are at right now, you are not in a position to effectively pitch at the big leagues. You have to go down and work on X, Y and Z and get that done right and you will be back.
Velocity for Johnson had dipped from an average 92 mph in '13 to 89.6 in '14, per fangraphs.com. That issue also is being explored, as Johnson will get another Charlotte start.
"I view it as part of development. Development is not always linear," Hahn said. "And inevitably some part of this young group we are putting together, someone is going to wind up back in the Minors. You never know which one it's going to be, but we know sometimes guys have to take it back half a step to take two steps forward.
"Erik Johnson still has a bright future. But it was important for him to go down to Charlotte and get his things right in a different environment."
Second bullpen session a positive step for Sale
CHICAGO -- Chris Sale threw a second bullpen Wednesday at U.S. Cellular Field as he continues to progress toward a rehab assignment. Sale has been on the disabled list retroactive to April 18 with a flexor strain in his left arm.
"His thing is you see how he kind of reacts to this and then you go from there," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura. "But talking to him and seeing how he feels, he feels confident with how he's progressing.
"Again, you're cautious with him. We've done this in the past. You're probably more patient with him, just his reactions to how he has been feeling every time he goes out. He's eventually going to be back. When it is, we'll wait and see how he does."
Part of that patience comes from the admirable fill-in starts put forth by Scott Carroll, Andre Rienzo and Hector Noesi.
"We'd be patient no matter what," Ventura said. "The way those guys are pitching and filling in, you're letting it play out a little longer and making sure he's 100 percent over the top feeling great when he goes back out there."
Gillaspie back in the fold after rehab assignment
CHICAGO -- Conor Gillaspie returned from his rehabilitation assignment with Triple-A Charlotte and was activated from the disabled list prior to Wednesday's home contest with the Cubs. Gillaspie went 2-for-12 over three games with the Knights, having been on the disabled list retroactive to April 22.
The White Sox third baseman, who was not in the starting lineup against Travis Wood, believed rest would cure the bruise on his left hand that affected his hitting and stemmed from getting jammed repeatedly over a month-long period.
"I'm really excited to be back out there and start playing and start working again," said Gillaspie, adding that his hand feels better than it has for the last month and a half. "It's been kind of a long two weeks, so it's definitely good to be back here and see everybody.
"Offensively, there might be a few hiccups. Obviously, facing pitchers up here is a lot different than facing them down there. Defensively, I tried to get my work in every day. I spent a lot of time doing that, spent a lot of time strengthening my arm, things that I could do. I'm ready to go now and am very excited to be back."
To make room for Gillaspie, outfielder Jordan Danks was optioned to Charlotte. The White Sox starting outfield figures to feature Moises Sierra, Alejandro De Aza and Dayan Viciedo until Adam Eaton returns from the disabled list, although manager Robin Ventura mentioned Adam Dunn also could play in left from time to time.
This move also means that Marcus Semien, who started Wednesday at third, stays with the White Sox and takes his late-inning clutch hitting into more of a part-time role.
"There's enough for him to be in the mix and get him some opportunities to still be up here and get at-bats and help us win," said Ventura of Semien. "He deserves to be up here the way he's been playing. We'll find a way to play him."
Third to first
• Courtney Hawkins, the organization's No. 5 prospect per MLB.com, continues to lead the Carolina League with 30 RBIs. He has a .971 OPS to go with seven homers and six doubles.
• Since Sunday, April 27, the White Sox have faced past Cy Young winners in David Price, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, not to mention starters with great stuff in Jeff Samardzija, Justin Masterson and Corey Kluber. The White Sox split those six games.
"We've been blessed to have faced everyone's best at their best," said Dunn with a smile.
"It's good for us though," Semien said. "You've got to beat the best to be the best."
• Entering Wednesday's contest, White Sox closer Matt Lindstrom had thrown 25 career scoreless innings against the Cubs over 25 appearances.
• White Sox pregame stretch started about 20 minutes early Wednesday so the team could run through drills focused on fundamentals as well as pitchers' fielding practice.
"When you have a day like today, you bring it back out just as a refresher course, stuff that you haven't been able to work on for a while," Ventura said. "You want to be able to work on it and stay sharp at it."