January 30, 2023

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Rookie Martin shows moxie after rocky start

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ST. PETERSBURG — The White Sox slide continued Friday night. It’s now a four-game losing streak after a 6-3 defeat to the Rays at Tropicana Field.

In such trying circumstances, it’s often difficult to identify positives. But manager Tony La Russa found some encouraging signs.

Right-hander Davis Martin, called up from Triple-A Charlotte and starting in a pinch after Vince Velasquez went on the injured list with a left groin strain, saved the bullpen by pitching into the sixth inning, an admirable effort considering how he was battered during the Rays’ four-run first.

Meanwhile, the White Sox kept battling and brought the potential go-ahead run to the plate in the ninth inning. That’s when the Rays turned to Colin Poche, their fifth pitcher, who struck out Luis Robert with the bases loaded.

“Everybody sees the game differently,’’ La Russa said. “I saw our pitcher [Martin] hanging in there and shutting them out [after the first]. We got to 4-2, had a couple of chances to make it even and got the go-ahead run up in the top of the ninth. That’s the game I saw.’’

But it was also a result the White Sox have seen way too much lately — a loss — while dropping seven of their past nine games. It’s nothing that a few well-timed hits can’t solve. But those hits didn’t come against the Rays.

The White Sox left 11 runners on base — including seven in the last three innings.

Meanwhile, the Rays dealt a crushing blow in the seventh on Ji-Man Choi’s two-out, two-run double that made it 6-2. Reliever Bennett Sousa got the first two outs, then Yandy Díaz walked and Manuel Margot singled. Both runners moved up a base on Yasmani Grandal’s passed ball. La Russa, with an open base, said he didn’t consider a walk to Choi because hot-hitting Harold Ramirez was on deck.

Choi slammed Sousa’s 1-1 offering into the right-field corner.

“We were going to go after him [Choi],’’ La Russa said. “It was a decent pitch and a nice piece of hitting.’’

The White Sox had trouble with Rays left-hander Shane McClanahan, who allowed two runs over six innings with eight strikeouts and no walks. McClanahan was touched for a Statcast-projected 446-foot home run by José Abreu, making it 4-2 in the sixth.

From there, it was mostly an exercise in frustration. The White Sox got another run home on Yoán Moncada’s two-out RBI single in the ninth, and the bases were filled when an 0-2 pitch from reliever Shawn Armstrong hit Abreu. But Poche, quickly summoned, took care of Robert.

The low point was Martin allowing four runs in the first, including a two-run homer by Randy Arozarena. But that led to the biggest positive. Martin, Chicago’s No. 15 prospect per MLB. Pipeline, wasn’t overwhelmed by that adversity. A second-inning mound visit by pitching coach Ethan Katz helped him make an adjustment.

“I started off slow, then kind of settled in,’’ Martin said. “I was yanking a lot of fastballs, then got back in the zone and it got better. Statistically, it wasn’t a great outing. But I learned a lot about how to pitch today, some adjustments that will help down the road. I need to keep that mindset.’’

“It was very impressive that he didn’t fall apart and gave us the shutout innings after the first,’’ La Russa said. “He’s going to pitch [regularly] in the big leagues soon.’’

Rays manager Kevin Cash was equally impressed.

“We didn’t know anything about their pitcher,’’ Cash said. “He did a nice job. He settled in after [the first inning] and got them probably a lot deeper than I would have guessed with the way the first inning started.’’

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