With the Cactus League season in the rearview mirror, the White Sox are beginning the slow transition to real baseball in time for the weekend series against the reigning AL Champions
To ease the transition, The Sox are playing two games against the Houston Astros in Minute Maid Park. Perhaps they're easing the transition too much.
The nighttime broadcast and the major league stadium lent a sense of authenticity to Tuesday night's proceedings, and Minute Maid Park only being only 30% full didn't detract from that feeling too much. It's just like if they were playing them in mid-August!
At the very least, Alexei's defense was season-ready
Chris Sale made the start, and though he had some trouble keeping his fastball down early, he flashed plenty of the effective change-up he'll need to survive against righties, and struck out six batters in four innings. The start had all the elements for an effective first season in the rotation; low-90's heat that topped out over 95, overcoming some inconsistency, dynamite stuff, and no injuries.
Dunn and Konerko went for back-to-back home runs in the 5th, a feat they never accomplished in 2011. Dunn's was a deep fly to dead center field, which is no easy jaunt in Minute Maid, and was a part of a 2 for 4 night where he again did not strike out (he's been steadfast about that this Spring). Konerko ripped an inside fastball over the left field porch for his first blast of the Spring. No one's really been concerned over Konerko's power outage, most likely because he's hit .397.
Viciedo went 1 for 4 with a strikeout, but at least he was caught looking, so as not to indicate some horrible fault with his swing path. However he did look out of sorts fouling back a few pitches to drive, which runs counter to a recent power streak Dayan had to close out the month in Arizona. He's not there yet, but he's closer than he was.
Nate Jones came in for an inning and added two more to the gaudy strikeout total that vaulted him onto the 25-man. The only reliever that looked shaky at all was Hector Santiago, who appeared in the 9th (after Thornton pitched the 8th) and lacked a feel for his screwball before getting out of a jam thanks to a lineout double play. Between Santiago and Sale's 1st inning pickoff, there was plenty of pitcher defense. That should fend off any Buehrle nostalgia for a day or two.
Running through the Spring Training performances:
Alejandro De Aza did a lot to hint that he's not the guy from last year, but still held his own down the stretch to finish with a .282 batting average. His unexpected power and walk totals are what rose him above in 2011, and they haven't been there yet. He also has looked like more of a speedster than a base-stealer.
Brent Lillibridge didn't flash last season's power either this March, and while he hit .328 and even took six walks in 67 PAs, he's going to need some pop to balance out the strikeouts.
It would have been really nice to see Morel take a walk, or flash power, or do anything he did last September this Spring, but maybe he's just one of those guys that takes 5 months to lock into his power stroke every year. You know those guys. A deep drive to the wall Tuesday night was mildly encouraging.
Tyler Flowers will apparently be striking out a lot, and punishing what he does touch.
There's nothing really striking about Gordon Beckham's .273/.347/.409 Spring line that jumps out, other than that if he could repeat it over the full season it'd be a revelation. Absent are any huge raves about an adjusted swing or revamped approach. Tuesday was encouraging; he took two walks (one on a full count), and lined a fastball to right for a single. More, please.
Opening Day prep work
Ventura is now leaning toward batting Pierzynski in the 5th slot, and Morel 2nd, while shifting Adam Dunn to 3rd, and pushing Rios out to God knows how far down the order.
Depending on what sort of attitude you approach your life with, this is either a strong endorsement of Dunn and an expression of some confidence in Morel, or a damning, damning statement against Rios. Or it could be irrelevant, because even if you hide a guy at the 7 spot, he still comes up to bat fairly often.
There's still no word of any decision on the closer role, and Ventura putting Thornton in the 8th and Santiago in the 9th certainly won't do anything to quell the speculation. But we're in luck, because Robin provided a look at what his criteria is:
Ventura said "there's a mentality" to the job and "guys who are going to get behind and walk guys have more trouble than guys who can pound the zone.''
Now, that definition may sound like a guiding principle for all pitchers, but...well, it is. Every pitcher should do that. I guess that means everyone is a candidate. Everyone! Except Nate Jones, that guy is kinda wild.