August 2009

Peavy exits early

The next time a fifth starter will be needed by the White Sox comes Thursday afternoon at Wrigley Field against the Cubs. This makeup game from a postponement on June 16 looked to be a prime late-season battle between two heated crosstown rivals who were set up for an exciting Sept. postseason push.

And now? The heated rivals still will be present but those postseason pushes have hit a couple of respective bumps in the road. The White Sox sit five games out in the American League Central, and the Cubs have a better chance in the NL Wild Card then the NL Central.

Regardless of the ramifications of the afternoon contest, and by the way, the early forecast for Thursday is 75 and mostly sunny, this date also was being pointed to by White Sox fans because it looked as a possibility for Jake Peavy to make his debut. But judging by Saturday’s results in Peavy’s fourth Minor League rehab start, that trip to the mound is no certainty.

Peavy had a target of 100 pitches and possibly six innings in another start with Triple-A Charlotte at Norfolk, a Minor League start primarily brought about because of tightness he felt after taking a line drive off of his pitching elbow during a scoreless effort this past Monday. The right-hander worked only 3 1/3 innings against Norfolk, giving up two runs on four hits, striking out four and throwing just 68 pitches, and according to the Chicago Tribune, Peavy left the game due to a recurrence of the tightness in his right elbow brought about by the Wes Timmons’ line drive.

So, where does this leave Peavy? Well, there was some doubt as to whether he would start in a National League ballpark from the outset. The partially torn tendon in his right ankle, which has sidelined him for close to three months, came about through Peavy running the bases and is more likely to be bothered by baserunning than anything pitching-releated. For that reason, White Sox general manager Ken Williams ruled out Peavy from that Cubs game a few weeks ago.

Manager Ozzie Guillen said during this road trip that if he needs Peavy Thursday and if Peavy is ready, then it shouldn’t matter if it’s at Wrigley. Guillen joked that he would tell the umpires the White Sox have an automatic out every time Peavy was due to hit, without even letting him get in the batter’s box.

One thing is for certain: Peavy wants to get back out to pitch– at Wrigley, at U.S. Cellular Field or on the West Coast. During an interview at Fenway Park, Peavy characterized this whole extended rehab process as a tougher period for him than all of the offseason trade rumors he had to deal with swirling around

“No, this is tougher–simply because I want to play,” Peavy said. “Being hurt is never fun and trying to get back into this and speeding it up has been frustrating at times. I think I’m starting to see the other side and looking forward to the day I can get out and help.”

Contreras gets the call

It’s a manager’s prerogative to change his mind, but in the case of Saturday’s starting pitcher for the White Sox in an afternoon contest at Yankee Stadium, Ozzie Guillen really had no choice.

He said as much late Friday night when Jose Contreras was named to face the Yankees, while Jake Peavy makes his fourth Minor League rehab start for Triple-A Charlotte in Norfolk after taking a line drive off of his pitching elbow on Monday.

“I don’t have any choices,” Guillen said. “Our choices in the Minor Leagues were not that good.”

Guillen could have turned to Carlos Torres or Daniel Hudson from Triple-A Charlotte, but the White Sox didn’t want to make a roster move to correspond with their addition. D.J. Carrasco, who talked to MLB.com as far back as Spring Training about his desire to start, also was a possibility. But Carrasco’s problem, which is a good one, is that he has made himself too valuable as one of the more consistent arms out of a shaky bullpen of late.

This whole discussion might be a moot point, as rain is called for during most of Saturday in New York. But Contreras will get at least one opportunity to give the team a much needed boost. I guarantee you everyone within the White Sox is rooting for him because of the outstanding, hard-working person that Contreras is and the fact that the White Sox are dropping in the American League Central, now sitting five out.

–I asked Mark Buehrle after Friday’s loss if these walk-off defeats knock down a team more than a regular loss. After all, the White Sox have been walked-off twice this week. Buehrle didn’t think the ending mattered as much as the result.

“Any time you lose, I don’t care which way it is,” Buehrle said. “It’s tough.”

Still waiting on Saturday

There still is no official decision as to Saturday’s starter for the White Sox, although something more concrete should come after Friday’s game. Ozzie Guillen basically ruled out a Minor League callup when addressing the media.

“It has to be between Jose (Contreras) and (D.J.) Carrasco,” Guillen said. “Who is it going to be? I don’t know yet. Depends who we don’t use today.

“We don’t have another options at all. We don’t want to move anyone off the roster and we’ll see how it works.”

Contreras was dropped from the rotation after Monday’s rough start, and Carrasco, the team’s valuable middle reliever, said before the game that he hadn’t heard anything one way or another concerning his Saturday role. Guillen was asked if Jake Peavy was ready to start for Triple-A Charlotte on Saturday, then why couldn’t he start for the White Sox.

Guillen deferred to his general manager for the response.

“That’s Kenny Williams and Peavy’s call,” Guillen said. “I just talk about the guys I have available, and I have only two guys available. I say it before, that kind of shots are called from Kenny and Peavy personal, and then when he’s ready to go, I pencil him in.”

Peavy was in the clubhouse before Friday’s game but was scheduled to leave for Norfolk later Friday.

Harold Baines to be honored by Orioles

Harold Baines will be inducted into the Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame this weekend, forcing him to be away from the White Sox on Friday and Saturday while the team is in New York. But for those who won’t be in attendance for this special honor, the White Sox first-base coach and legend provided a sneak peek at his speech to go with the tribute.

“The first words will be ‘Don’t go to the bathroom’ because it won’t be that long,” said Baines with a smile.

Baines played parts of seven seasons with Baltimore, after growing up in Easton, Maryland. During his time with the hometown team, Baines batted .301 with 107 home runs and 378 RBIs.

An even more amazing statistic is that in 2,121 at-bats for the Orioles, Baines walked 275 times and struck out just 278. Surprisingly enough, the Orioles were not exactly Baines’ team of choice as he was growing up.

“It wasn’t my hometown team. I never followed the Orioles. I never followed any team, to be honest. I just played the game,” Baines said. “It’s a great honor. I come from a small town where there were definitely Orioles fans there. They’re very happy and proud of what I’ve done.
 
“To see me play in my hometown, so-called hometown team, the five years I was there, I had a great time. And they treated me as if I was from there, even as a visitor. That’s what I’ll always remember.”

Whenever Baines returns with the White Sox to Camden Yards, the Orioles always pay tribute and Baines receives a rousing ovation from the Baltimore faithful. There are numerous individuals following the game who believe Baines and his 384 home runs, 1,628 RBIs and .289 career average should be in Baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

For now, Baines can treasure his jersey No. 3 being retired by the White Sox, his statue at U.S. Cellular Field and now the Orioles’ tribute.

“I always look at it as that I did just as much stuff off the field as on the field and the honor by the Orioles Advocates, which is an organization that works with the Orioles community,” said Baines, who will attend a luncheon on Friday and then participate in the ceremonies on Saturday. “So I’m pretty proud that they thought enough of me for the short amount of time that I played there, that I was deserving of going to their Hall of Fame.

“If I hit .125, I wouldn’t be there. But I didn’t do it by myself. My teammates helped me, the community helped, and I had a great time while I was there.”
 
 

The life of a third base coach

Jeff Cox understands that second-guessing comes with the territory as the White Sox third base coach.

“It’s the hot seat, but we are all human,” said Cox, sitting in the White Sox dugout, prior to Wednesday’s series finale with the Royals.

Cox became the temporary center of attention following Kansas City’s 5-4 victory on Tuesday night, primarily because of one specific instance coming in the fifth inning.

Kansas City had grabbed a one-run lead in the top of the fifth, but the White Sox had runners on first and third with nobody out courtesy of a Carlos Quentin walk and Alex Rios’ hit-and run single to right. Alexei Ramirez followed with a fly ball to Willie Bloomquist in medium deep right field, and Cox decided to send Quentin home in an attempt to score the tying run.

Bloomquist’s throw was a little up the third-base line but still right on target for catcher John Buck to put the tag on Quentin and end the rally. The White Sox had exactly two baserunners over the remainder of the game.

Strong cases could be presented for both sending Quentin or holding him. Quentin has battled plantar fasciitis in his left foot and a sore right knee throughout the season, plus the White Sox had Kansas City starter Gil Meche on the ropes all game. But then again, Bloomquist is far from a prototypical right fielder.

“In that situation right there, Bloomquist is an infielder playing the outfield,” said Cox, explaining his decision. “Most of the time in that instance, you error on the side of assertiveness. It turns out he made a perfect throw and I thought it was deep enough that Carlos could score on the play and he threw him out.

“This is not a foolproof position. If the throw is offline, he’s safe.”

Ozzie Guillen certainly understands Cox’s plight as a third-base coach, having previously held that position for the Expos and Marlins. Guillen knows that the only time a third-base coach draws any attention is when something goes wrong.

“It’s easier to manage than it is to coach,” Guillen said. “The only thing is, I have to make the decisions as a manger, I have to take the blame and I have to take the glory.

“When you coach third base, sometimes you’re going to make plays people disagree with or people will be happy with him. You will be second guessed a lot, but in the meanwhile, I want him to be consistent.

“He’s there for a reason,” Guillen said. “I think he’s doing a good job. Some people don’t like what they see. Yesterday, Bloomquist was playing the outfield. I’m going to take that chance. He’s not an outfielder. In the meanwhile, I let everybody do their job.”

Guillen added that the blame should fall on him if people are unhappy with Cox because he hired Cox. Meanwhile, Cox comes infinitely prepared to this job and has done far more good than harm to the team since he’s been here.

The criticism comes with the job. But so should a little perspective from the people who don’t have Cox’s responsibilities.

“It’s the nature of the position and I love the position. I’m very good,” Cox said. “There is a lot more to coaching third base then just sending runners and things of that nature. If it was easy, everybody would do it. Ozzie can relate and (White Sox bench coach) Joey (Cora) can relate.”

“In this game, he’s had more success than failure,” said Guillen of Cox. “As long as he doesn’t panic and stay the same way, I’m behind him. When he panics, then we have a problem. I’m behind him 100 percent and hopefully, those people out there that are disappointed about it, it’s not an easy job.”

The World According to Beckham

As Gordon Beckham stood in front of his locker and waited for the postgame media barrage to move toward him following Sunday’s 8-4 loss to the Indians, one highly educated White Sox observer put forth the following observation.

“The new Paul Konerko,” the observer said with a smile.

That point wasn’t made to compare Beckham, who has been up in the Majors for about the amount of time it takes to prepare three or four deep dish pizzas, to the highly accomplished career of Konerko. All that was being pointed out is that Beckham, much like the White Sox team captain, has become a go-to interview before and after the game.

To use a phrase invoked many times previously in this blog and on MLB.com, Beckham gets it–he gets all aspects of being a big leaguer.

There was one especially funny moment on Beckham’s part Sunday, though, dealing with a question from ESPN 1000 ace-reporter Bryan Dolgin. The inquiry was about the White Sox last road trip, a 1-6 showing in Detroit and Minneapolis, and how the South Siders clearly need to be better in Seattle and Oakland.

Certainly, a fair enough and appropriate question. Here’s Beckham’s comedic response.

“You know, the funny thing is I don’t even remember the last road trip. Until you brought that up, I didn’t even remember it,” Beckham said. “So, if we lose, it’s your fault.”

Of course, everyone circled around Beckham let out a good laugh. The kid has the talent to be a superstar, with the leadership qualities and easy-going approach to the game built in.

So, remember, if the White Sox struggle on the West Coast, despite their combined 17-49 record in Seattle and Oakland since 2001, it’s on Dolgin’s shoulders now by Beckham’s decree.

“It’s sometimes good to change scenery and get on the road and get away from distractions,” added Beckham, taking a more serious tone about the upcoming trip.
 
 

Jenks back on track

Bobby Jenks does not want to rehash the pain he went through during the past week while dealing with kidney stones. And when you think about it, who can blame him?

“We are talking baseball,” said Jenks, politely but directly with a smile, when asked after Saturday’s 8-5 victory over the Indians, during which he recorded the final two outs, to describe what this last week was like for him.

But here’s the important piece of information to come out of Saturday’s solid performance by one of the game’s best closers, aside from the fact that he’s pitching at 80 or 90 percent healthy. This kidney stone issue began while the White Sox were on their seven game road trip to Detroit and Minneapolis and messed with his mechanics, which could account, in part, for his recent mound woes. That problem was resolved through the passing of one and a procedure to blast the other one away.

“Before when I was having pains, I was off mechanically,” Jenks said. “Now, I’m sound again and healthy. My alignment is right and everything is going toward the plate.

“It carried in here to when we got home. It started three or four outings when I noticed all the back pain. I just associated it with pitching. I didn’t know the difference at the time. Looking back, I can put one and one together. At the time, it was throwing me off a little bit.”

Having Jenks healthy and fresh becomes just another important piece the White Sox need down the stretch to overtake Detroit and hold off Minnesota.

–Here’s a little bit more from Williams on the waiver process and claiming players.

“You’d be hard pressed to find good players that teams put claims on that are just let go for no compensation,” Williams said. “I’m not confirming or denying any interest or any claims or anything, but if these things get out on a daily basis, boy, it’s going to be a heck of an August around here in terms of how many players you claim and how many you don’t claim. It will make your head spin if you follow each report.

“A lot of players get claimed every day. Why is this a big deal?”

Williams was asked about adding a pitcher, such as John Smoltz, who was designated for assignment by Boston this week. But he likes what already is in place for the starting rotation, not to mention Jake Peavy’s arrival at the end of August.

“John Smoltz is one of the best pitchers in baseball history,” Williams said. “He certainly deserves the respect to take a look at, but I’m very cognizant of the makeup we have now and the team chemistry we have now, aside from A.J. (Pierzynski), we’re pretty good.”

That team chemistry idea, with everyone pulling from the same rope, might leave the roster intact as it is now.

“The only thing we need? Quit making errors,” said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen with a laugh.

Do the White Sox have interest in Alex Rios?

According to an ESPN.com report, citing Major League sources, the White Sox are most likely the team that will be awarded the waiver claim on Toronto outfielder Alex Rios.

Teams cannot comment on waiver claims, but the outfielder is a player who has been on the White Sox radar previously. The Blue Jays could work out a trade with the team that reportedly claimed Rios, they could pull him back from waivers and thus keep him for the rest of the season or they could let the team who put in the claim take him. According to the report, Toronto has until Tuesday to make the decision.

Hypothetically adding Rios would also mean the addition of another larger contractual obligation to go with recently acquired hurler Jake Peavy, although the White Sox could be having the contracts of Octavio Dotel, Jose Contreras, Jermaine Dye and Jim Thome coming off of the books for 2010. Remember, White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said he had to be talked into making that Peavy move by general manager Ken Williams and assistant general manager Rick Hahn. Then again, Reinsdorf said part of his hesitation was committing $52 million guaranteed from 2010-12 to a pitcher.

Over the past three years, Rios, 28, has never hit below .291 in a full season. He has plenty of speed and a strong outfield arm, along with more than a little bit of pop in his bat. His statistics have tailed off a bit this season, hitting .261 with 12 home runs and 58 RBIS.

Rios has roughly $2 million left owed to him this year and is guaranteed $59.7 million from 2010 to 2014. Rios would make sense in Williams’ plan to go a bit younger in the present, while also staying highly competitive and aligning the White Sox to stay strong in the future.

The questions that arise from even this possibility are numerous: What would become of Dye, a popular figure among management and within the clubhouse, not to mention a highly productive offensive force? Where does Rios fit this year? And if a trade was discussed, would the White Sox have anything that interests the Blue Jays. They never really seemed to be in play in the pursuit of Roy Halladay, but then again Halladay figures to require a different return than Rios.

And of course, all of this movement, if the White Sox are indeed the team awarded the claim, could be to block the Tigers from going after Rios or to set up possible future trade discussions.

Thursday tidbits

Stop me if you’ve heard this tale before.

Bartolo Colon is out of action, on the disabled list with soreness in his right elbow, this time. And Ozzie Guillen is not really sure where the burly right-hander currently is rehabbing.

“No, he’s not here,” said Guillen with a laugh. “That’s hard to find out. That’s the hardest question you ask me, where is Colon?”

Guillen doesn’t see Colon pitching for the White Sox “in the next 20 days” because he has to go on rehab assignments again. Don’t look for Colon to work for the White Sox again this year, unless Jose Contreras continues to struggle, not with Jake Peavy and Freddy Garcia coming back from injuries, and Minor Leaguer Carlos Torres probably providing the same level of efficiency as the veteran.

–Shortstop Alexei Ramirez will return to the lineup on Friday against Cleveland and southpaw starter Jeremy Sowers. Ramirez conceivably could end up hitting ninth against right-handed pitchers, with Guillen not wanting to put the left-handed hitting Chris Getz and Scott Podsednik back-to-back in the lineup.

Gordon Beckham stays in the second spot until further notice.

“Every time we change the lineup, I try to get the guy hot,” Guillen said. “The day I did it with Ramirez was just because he was swinging the bat better, and plus batting second he’s going to see better pitches. That’s why I did it there. Right now, I’m going to give the most at bats to my best hitter.”

–Asked before the game, Guillen found it hard to name a season-long MVP for his team.

“Wow. They’re not playing that good. They’re not playing that bad,” Guillen said. “I think this month, Beckham. I think PK (Paul Konerko) and JD (Jermaine Dye) are playing unbelievable.

“They’re playing well. And the pitching staff, even with Mark Buehrle doing what he did, I think Matt Thornton. Matt has been our savior. There’s no doubt about it. Matt is having a tremendous year.”

–Here’s a couple quotes from Mark Buehrle, who seemingly did his one millionth post perfect game interview today on the Waddle and Silvy show on ESPN 1000 in Chicago.

On the recently concluded Mark Buehrle Appreciation Series:

“To me, it’s kinda weird because you don’t usually get appreciated until you retire,” Buehrle said. “They actually asked me to throw out the first pitch one game. I told them I’d still catch it but I don’t care to throw out a first pitch until I’m retired. It’s hectic and I’ve obviously been doing a lot of stuff. But it’s been well worth it.”

On the ramifications of the Peavy deal:

“Obviously, the (Padres) kept coming up and telling him he had to be moved,” Buehrle said. “But I think (John) Danks and Gavin (Floyd) and I have talked and if not this year then for next year we’re excited when he’s healthy and gets back having us four guys from the start of next season.

“Hopefully, he comes back healthy this year and we can get back in the playoffs and it’ll be a fun run. But we got some good things to look forward to the next couple of years.”

On how he would like his next perfect game celebrated:

“By not talking to the media,” Buehrle said. “Is that possible?”

Buehrle honored

Mark Buehrle was honored once again on Tuesday night at the start of the Mark Buehrle Appreciation Series, during which the White Sox will be playing host to the Angels. Anyone who has interacted with Buehrle or covered the left-hander over the past decade or so understands that the laid-back and unaffected superstar would rather give up five runs in an inning than have this much public attention.

But with his wife, Jamie, son Braden and daughter Brooklyn at his side on Tuesday, not to mention his parents, Buehrle truly seemed to enjoy this classy ceremony to honor the 18th perfect game in Major League history and his new Major League record of 45 straight batters retired.

Dewayne Wise and Ramon Castro also were honored, with two simple words reading ‘The Catch’ now permanently posted on the outfield wall at U.S. Cellular Field above Billy Pierce’s likeness and his retired number. That spot, of course, was where Wise jumped on the dead run to take a home run away from Gabe Kapler to lead off the ninth and preserve the perfect game.

Castro was behind the plate for Buehrle’s perfecto, catching Buehrle for the first time ever. Each player unveiled a photo directly related to their part of the perfect game, with Buehrle’s framed shot being the most grandiose since he was the architect of this gem. But before that moment happened, a video montage showing all 27 outs was played on the Jumbotron.

White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf gave a brief speech, eloquently praising Buehrle’s historic effort. And with Braden standing with him behind home plate, Buehrle also addressed the crowd and thanked his family and his teammates, among others. The pregame ceremony was capped off by Wise throwing out the first pitch to Buehrle, who usually is the man behind the plate for these first pitches when he’s not starting.

The crowd cheered loudly at every step, providing an especially boisterous reaction when the Wise catch was replayed a few times on the center field scoreboard. The crowd’s feelings for Buehrle were summed up rather nicely by one particular sign in the stands, reading, ‘I wanna be like Mike,’ with the Mike portion crossed off and Mark written in next to Mike.

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