07/13/2003 7:23 PM ET
Cotts, Ring still trying to adjust
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
Minor Leagues and Prospects at MLB.com
CHICAGO -- It was a regular occurrence in Birmingham, Ala.
Neal Cotts started for the Barons, the White Sox Double-A affiliate in the Southern League, worked seven strong innings and left with a lead for Royce Ring to protect. Ring entered the game in the ninth, sometimes even in the eighth, making it a pretty safe call that Birmingham and Cotts would come away with a victory.
That combination was together again on Sunday, this time, in the White Sox clubhouse at U.S. Cellular Field. But this was not an encouraging sign of things to come for hopeful fans on the South Side.
Instead, it was two friends and teammates reuniting as part of the RadioShack All-Star Futures Game, which Ring saved. Their winning combination was broken apart on July 1, when White Sox general manager Kenny Williams shipped Ring and two other minor leaguers to the New York Mets for second baseman Roberto Alomar.
"It's definitely weird," said Cotts, the only White Sox representative in the Futures Game following the Cotts' trade. "Two weeks ago, he was our closer. It's kind of funny, but it's good for [Ring], hopefully."
"I didn't think I would get traded this year, but that's how baseball is," the gregarious Ring added. "I'm happy to be playing and healthy and doing pretty well."
The past two weeks for Ring have been all about getting to know new teammates, coaches and managers. First, the left-hander moved from Birmingham to Binghamton (New York) of the Eastern League. On Sunday, it was meeting his fellow squad members on the U.S. Team.
In this weekend's instance, Ring knew one player before entering the clubhouse doors.
"Neal is a phenomenal pitcher, and a really good guy," Ring said. "He throws all his pitches for strikes, and locates them well. He will do well for the White Sox for years to come.
"It's nice to see a familiar face on this team. I'm going through getting to know new people right now with the Mets. I wasn't sure if I could still take part in this game after the trade, but they let me come and have some fun."
Cotts, 23, continued to put up amazing numbers at Birmingham even without his friend's presence. The left-hander has a comparable pitching style to Josh Stewart, currently at Triple-A Charlotte after starting the season with the White Sox. But his statistics are much more overpowering.
In 15 starts, Cotts has an 8-3 record with a 1.97 ERA. He has worked 73 innings, allowing 45 hits and 45 walks, while striking out 99. Cotts throws a fastball in the low 90s, a curve and a changeup very similar to Ring's pitching approach.
But Cotts points to his command as the key for success.
"As long as I'm getting ahead of the hitters, I'm do pretty well," said the soft-spoken Cotts, who is from the tiny downstate city of Lebanon. "I have no clue what the future holds, as far as pitching here some day. To be honest, I don't want to know.
"I just want to go out there and pitch, and when they call me up, I'll go," Cotts added.
Ring finished the Birmingham stint with a 2.52 ERA and 19 saves. Since going to Binghamton, Ring has a 1-0 record, 2.70 ERA and one save in 3 1/3 innings.
The trade was a surprise for the White Sox's first-round selection out of San Diego State in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft. All Ring had to do was turn to Cotts for a little advice.
Cotts was traded with Billy Koch from Oakland in the December, 2002 trade for White Sox closer Keith Foulke. The move followed 178 strikeouts in 137 2/3 innings in the Class A California League for the A's.
With Koch's first-half struggles, Cotts appears to be the best part of the deal.
"It was different," said Cotts of his trade. "You walk into the clubhouse for the first time and you have no clue who anyone was. I talked to a few [White Sox] people on the phone but I couldn't put faces with names. It's a very big adjustment.
"You get mixed feelings being part of a trade. One side didn't want me. The other side really wanted me."
The White Sox really wanted to keep Ring, who was named to the Southern League All-Star team along with Cotts. But even the second-year pitcher knows the old baseball adage that 'To get something, you have to give up something.' Ring hopes to prosper with his new team, much as Cotts has with the White Sox.
Coming from a town of 200 people, Cotts could have brought the whole city of Lebanon to watch him work the first inning Sunday. He certainly could have brought the entire graduating class of 49.
Instead, it was Cotts' family, including his girlfriend from the Chicagoland area, in attendance. Cotts allowed a leadoff double to Ramon Nivar (Texas), and after two consecutive strikeouts, walked Pete LaForest (Tampa Bay). Franklin Gutierrez (Los Angeles) singled home a run before Cotts pitched out of the inning.
That strikeout had to bring a smile to the face of Williams. The two spoke briefly before the game, and Cotts also spoke with Carlton Fisk, the Hall of Fame catcher managing the U.S. team.
"We talked a little about handling the first inning," Cotts said. "Most of the rest wasn't really baseball stuff."
Ring has not spoken with Williams or anyone else in the White Sox organization since his trade. But he harbors no ill feelings.
He immediately changed his focus to the Mets and the National League style of baseball. But on Sunday, Ring was there to have fun and catch up with an old friend.
"I asked him how Birmingham was doing and stuff like that," Ring said of his talk with Cotts.
"When he first got traded, Royce didn't know what to do," Cotts added. "I just told him to keep pitching the way he had been and work his up the Mets' system, like he did with the White Sox."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.