Cooper says Shields, Gonzalez key to White Sox’ staff

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James Shields, back left, listens to pitching coach Don Cooper during the second inning of a game against the Cubs on Tuesday, July 26, 2016, in Chicago. (AP)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Don’t get White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper started on the subject of leadership.

For all the talk about clubhouse leaders and their value, it’s a simple thing as far as Cooper is concerned.

Go out and perform.

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That’s all Cooper wants to see from the two veterans in his rotation, beginning with James Shields on opening day.

Much has been made of the mentoring qualities of Shields, 36, and Miguel Gonzalez, 33. That’s all well and good and makes for a nice story. But for Cooper, the name of the leadership game is getting the job done.

‘‘I see Shields and Gonzo as the keys to this staff,’’ Cooper said. ‘‘Not for what I hear about ‘leadership’ stuff in the clubhouse, the weight room, the bathroom, the kitchen. It’s not that. They need to go out and represent and get the job done and show these [younger] guys how to get the job done. That’s their value. Anything else is a bonus after that.’’

Cooper was fired up — heated, even — putting that point across. He knows Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Carson Fulmer, the up-and-coming three-fifths of his rotation to start the season, are still in developmental stages of their young careers. And the burden of their jobs and development process would be eased if Shields and Gonzalez are showing the way and pitching six-plus innings rather than four or five.

Shields, the highest-paid player in the clubhouse but one who’s trying to strain the last good juices from an excellent but fading career, gets it.

‘‘First and foremost, I have a job to take care of,’’ Shields said after pitching three scoreless innings in his last appearance of spring training Friday. ‘‘And that’s to post every five days and give this team a chance to win every time I’m on the mound. All the other [mentoring] stuff just kind of comes into play. My main focus is to work hard and pitch well.’’

Cooper doesn’t care about ERAs, victories or any number of statistics as much as a hard day’s work. And a long one, at that.

‘‘I’m not going to say we need this or we need that,’’ Cooper said. ‘‘We need them to fill the same job description as the Sox have always had [for starters]. You’re going six, seven, eight or nine, carrying the bulk of the game and giving us a chance to win. We’re not lowering the bar.’’

Cooper, 62, the Sox’ pitching coach since 2002, says the names on his pitching staffs change, ‘‘but the job doesn’t.’’

In most of Cooper’s seasons, the Sox have left spring training built to win or believing they would. This 2018 staff, in a rebuilding year, has a different feel. But it has components who figure big in future plans.

‘‘This one is unique because we have three guys in the rotation who are younger guys,’’ Cooper said. ‘‘I look forward to them making a nice step forward.’’

Giolito, Lopez and Fulmer began 2017 in the minors. Each had shining moments after being called up.

Giolito has been excellent this spring, Lopez has a toolbox full of velocity and quality secondary pitches but has had sporadic command issues and Fulmer has had only one good start with one more — Saturday — to go. Cooper said he gives little credence to Cactus League performances, which is why Fulmer, who went 2-0 with a 1.56 ERA in his last four starts in 2017, is still the fifth starter.

‘‘I like them all,’’ he said of his pitchers.

And you believe it when he says it.

‘‘I like everyone I have when we get on the plane [leaving spring training],’’ he said.

Follow me on Twitter @CST_soxvan.


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