White Sox

Start the bus: Sox Royally rolled, 8-2

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Start the bus: Sox Royally rolled, 8-2

Sunday, March 6, 2011
Posted: 4:45 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

GLENDALE, Ariz. Well, at least Matt Thornton started this Chisox Sunday morning off right by signing a contract extension.

From there, the day slipped away from there for the Chicago White Sox, who were dealt a pasting by nobodys World Series favorites, the Kansas City Royals, 8-2 at Camelback Ranch.

It was awesome news, manger Ozzie Guillen said of the extension, adding with a laugh, I hope it makes us forget how we played.

Mark Buehrle was hammered by a K.C. attack that touched him for nine hits and five earned runs in three innings, digging an early 5-1 hole his teamheld to eight hits on the day by the likes of primary pitchers Luke Hochevar and Mike Montgomerycould not climb out of.

Buehrle got his work in, Guillen chortled derisively. He pitched his inning.

The veteran lefty offered no alibis.

I have a couple of these games during spring, a couple during the season, Buehrle said. Its one of those things where you give up a lot of hits, but location-wise, I felt good. I might have missed a couple of spotsjust a couple balls found holes with guys on base, and they hit a couple of them hard.

It was just one of those games I was glad to get out of down here.

Reliever Tony Pena was cut almost as deeply as Buehrle in two relief innings, surrendering six hits (including a home run) and two earned runs.

All in all, White Sox pitchers surrendered 17 hits to last years 95-game losers.

One bright spot for the White Sox included two hits from Adam Dunn, including his first RBI as a member of the team. Catcher Tyler Flowers continued ripping up Cactus League pitching, going 2-for-2 and raising his average to .500 on the spring. Brent Lillibridge continued his up-and-down spring with a nice hustle play, scoring from third on a wild pitch the Royals fell asleep on. On the mound, Will Ohman tossed his third straight perfect inning of relief.

Perhaps the best news of the day was that the blowout merely completed the first week of play for the White Sox, who now stand at 1-6. Buehrle had the proper perspective on the dayor at least the best one you could take from such a doleful drubbing.

Well, I dont know how many times the regulars have played as a group, Buehrle said by way of explaining todays monkeyshines. There are a couple of times weve been out there for four or five innings, and then Ozzie brings other guys inIm not worried about it; once the team starts getting cut down and we have our main guys in there, we will start playing better.

The bus is running

Guillen stayed true to his word and patient against his nature in staying cool despite being on the wrong end through a second straight laugher.

I am not going to say anything until Tuesday, he said. That's when I expect them to pick it up a notch. That's when we try to get the team together.

I dont see anybody stepping up into last bullpen or bench spots. Thats not too bright. Were going to give guys a chance to make the team. At the end of the day, they will make the team for you or they will cut their own throats.

On the other hand, Guillen mentioned reliever Shane Lindsay (0.00 ERA so far this spring) as a dark horse candidate to fill the last bullpen spot: The kid Lindsay, he threw the ball pretty well.

Closing time

No decisions have been made through Week One of Cactus League play with regard to the biggest open position on the roster, White Sox closer.

Pitching coach Don Cooper repeated the popular company line that if you pitch in the sixth, youre closing the sixth. Same with the seventh, eighth and ninth. You media get wrapped up sometimes in whos our 2-starter, 3-starter, 4-starterwhoever is out there that day is our No. 1 starter. Every games important. Whos pitching in playoff game 1, 2, 3, thats when numbers become important.

Whoever we put in we feel were getting the job done in that inning.

Meanwhile, Guillen also was noncommittal on specifically naming a closer, although he again made it clear that hed optimally like just one pitcher filling the closers role.

We have to sit down and talk as a staff, he said. Sometimes the eighth inning is more important than the ninth. We have to look at it that way. Right now, its still openI dont think we should just hand the job to anybody to have a closer for closers sake, but it helps everyone to see what kind of role theyre going to get.

But the decision, we should make it and move on with it. Thornton or Sale or whoever its going to be, make sure everybody knows what kind of roles theyre going to have.

Endless spring
Weve got twenty-something games left, Guillen said in context of determining his 2011 closer. It feels like weve got 100 games left.

Rainy days
Both young White Sox bullpen fireballers, Chris Sale and Sergio Santos, praised Thornton at length, as both a mentor and hard-worker. But both hurlers also made note of how the towering lefthander had overcome adversity in his career. Thornton, a former first-rounder, was a virtual discard of the Seattle Mariners in 2006, having compiled a career mark of 1-6 with a 4.82 ERA and 1.68 WHIP in the Pacific Northwest.

He wanted to get better, and he did get better, Sale said of Thorntons career resurgence in Chicago. Thats the bottom line. You come in day-in and day-out and give it everything youve got. Its easy to come in here and work hard when youre doing well, but when youre not doing well, its another thing to come in here and keep working hard and staying positive. Thats one thing I really want to take from him: Regardless of whether its a great day, bad day, horrible day, you still need to come in here and work as hard as you can, do the things you need to get done.

Hes our go-to guy in more ways than one, Santos said. I can go to him under adversity and ask him how he went through certain things. Now that I know hes going to be here a few more years, I can bounce stuff off him and know that hes open to helping.

Dunnder Mittlin

Adam Dunn, as self-deprecating a first baseman as youll find in the majors, appreciated a cap tip on his digging out of an Omar Vizquel bunny-burning throw to first last week (and the Big Donkey picked clean another dirt-napper from Brent Lillibridge today): Thanks, man. Baby steps, right?

Itching to pitch?

John Danks spoke with pride about the extension for Thornton, one of his closest friends on the team. But as we talked, he was frequently itching his head.

Indeed, his shaved coif (in support of St. Baldricks) was beginning to grow back in. Itchy, John?

A little bit, he said, smiling. Plus, Ive got some sunburn up there now. Gonna be tough for a few more days

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.

Left, right, center: Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Micker Adolfo are dreaming of being the White Sox championship outfield of the future

Left, right, center: Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Micker Adolfo are dreaming of being the White Sox championship outfield of the future

GLENDALE, Ariz. — All that was missing was a dinner bell.

From all over the White Sox spring training complex at Camelback Ranch they came, lined up in front of the third-base dugout and all around the cage to see a trio of future White Sox take batting practice.

This is all it was, batting practice. But everyone wanted to get a glimpse of Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Micker Adolfo swinging the bat. And those three outfield prospects delivered, putting on quite a show and displaying exactly what gets people so darn excited about the White Sox rebuild.

How to sum it up if you weren’t there? Just be happy you weren’t parked behind the left-field fence.

Jimenez and Robert are two of the biggest stars of the White Sox rebuilding effort, with Adolfo flying a bit more under the radar, but all three have big dreams of delivering on the mission general manager Rick Hahn and his front office have undertaken over the past year and change: to turn the South Siders into perennial championship contenders. The offensive capabilities of all three guys have fans and the team alike giddy for the time they hit the big leagues.

And those three guys can’t wait for that day, either.

“Actually, just a few minutes ago when we were taking BP, we were talking about it,” Jimenez said Tuesday. “Micker and Luis said, ‘Can you imagine if we had the opportunity one day to play together in the majors: right, left and center field? The three of us together and having the opportunity to bring a championship to this team?’ I think that’s a dream for us, and we’re trying to work hard for that.”

“We were just talking about how cool it would be to one day all three of us be part of the same outfield,” Adolfo told NBC Sports Chicago. “We were talking about hitting behind each other in the order and just envisioning ourselves winning championships and stuff like that. It’s awesome. I really envision myself in the outfield next to Eloy and Luis Robert.”

How those three would eventually line up in the outfield at Guaranteed Rate Field remains to be seen. Adolfo’s highly touted arm would make him an attractive option in right field. Robert’s speed and range makes him the logical fit in center field. Jimenez will play whichever position allows his big bat to stay in the lineup every day.

Here in Arizona, the focus isn’t necessarily on some far off future but on the present. As intriguing as all three guys are and as anticipated their mere batting practice sessions seem to be, they all potentially have a long way to go to crack the big league roster. Jimenez is the furthest along, but even he has only 73 plate appearances above the Class A level. Adolfo spent his first full season above rookie ball last year. Robert has yet to play a minor league game in the United States.

The group could very well make its way through the minor leagues together, which would obviously be beneficial come the time when the three arrive on the South Side.

“We were talking about (playing in the big leagues), but also we were talking about just to have the first stage of the three of us together in the minor leagues first and then go to the majors all three of us together,” Robert said. “To have the opportunity to play there should be pretty special for us. We were dreaming about that.”

For months now, and likely for months moving forward, the question has been and will be: when?

Whether it’s Jimenez or top pitching prospect Michael Kopech or any other of the large number of prospects who have become household names, fans and observers are dying to see the stars of this rebuilding project hit the major leagues. Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez made their respective jumps last season. Hahn, who has said repeatedly this offseason that the front office needs to practice patience as much as the fan base, has also mentioned that a good developmental season for these guys might involve no big league appearances at all.

And it’s worth remembering that could be the case considering the lack of experience at the upper levels of the minor leagues for all three of these guys.

“In my mind, I don’t try to set a date for when I'm going to be in the majors,” Jimenez said. “That is something I can’t control. I always talk with my dad and we share opinions, and he says, ‘You know what? Just control the things that you can control. Work hard and do the things that you need to do to get better.’ And that’s my key. That’s probably why I stay patient.”

But staying patient is sometimes easier said than done. The big crowd watching Jimenez, Robert and Adolfo send baseballs into a to-this-point-in-camp rare cloudless Arizona sky proved that.

Dreaming of the future has now become the official pastime of the South Side. And that applies to fans and players all the same.

“I’m very, very excited,” Jimenez said, “because I know from the time we have here, that when the moment comes, when we can all be in the majors, the ones that can finally reach that level, we’re going to be good, we’re going to be terrific. I know that.”

Strikeout machine Alec Hansen wants to be the best ... OK, one of the best

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AP

Strikeout machine Alec Hansen wants to be the best ... OK, one of the best

GLENDALE, Ariz. — On a day when Jose Abreu and Yoan Moncada took live batting practice for the first time this spring, off in the distance was a lanky White Sox prospect standing in the outfield grass.

But Alec Hansen was doing more than shagging flies. He was watching both hitters very closely.

“I was looking to see how much pop they had,” Hansen said of Abreu and Moncada. “I kind of look at that to see the difference in power between minor league ball and the major leagues. It’s nice to see it’s not a huge difference. That makes me feel a bit more comfortable.”

At 6-foot-8 — actually 6-foot-8-and-a-half, according to his spring training physical — Hansen is a big man with big plans for his baseball career. He might be quiet on the outside, but he has booming expectations for himself on the inside.

“I want to be the best,” Hansen said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago.

The best? The very best?

That’s what Hansen aspires to become, though later in our conversation, he did dial back a notch, settling for becoming “one of the best.”

Either is fine with manager Ricky Renteria, who is overseeing these uber-confident White Sox prospects and accepts their lofty expectations.

“I think their mindset is where it’s supposed to be,” Renteria said. “None of these kids are concerned or consumed with the possibility of failure. Much more they’re consuming themselves with the understanding that they might hit some stumbling blocks, but they’re going to have a way to avoid overcoming them and push forward and be the best that they can be.”

In his first full season in the White Sox organization, Hansen led the minor leagues with 191 strikeouts. He’s proud of that accomplishment but admitted something: He’s not that impressed because he didn’t do it where it really matters — in the major leagues.

When you watch Hansen pitch, it’s easy to see that the talent is there. His coaches and teammates rave about his ability. With his enormous size and power arm, he is loaded with strengths.  

Though there is one weakness that Hansen acknowledges he needs to work on.

“Sometimes I have a tendency to think too much and worry. I think worrying is the worst thing that I do just because I want to be perfect,” Hansen said. “I think everyone wants to be perfect, some more than others, and I worry about things getting in the way of achieving perfection.”

To Hansen, that doesn’t mean throwing a perfect game. He actually takes it one step further.

He wants to strikeout every single hitter he faces.

“I love striking people out,” Hansen said. “Not having to rely on anyone else and just getting the job done myself and knowing that the hitter can’t get a hit off me. That’s a great feeling. That they can’t put it in play. Like a line drive out. That’s terrible.”

At some point, Hansen will have to lower these impossible expectations for himself. This is an imperfect game. There’s no place for nine-inning, 27-strikeout performances. Players end up in the Hall of Fame because they learn how to succeed with failure.

In the meantime, Hansen is here in big league camp watching and learning anything and everything.

“I’m a good observer. I listen. I don’t really talk too much. I’m a pretty quiet guy. I like to sit back and observe and see how these guys go about their business. Just trying to be at their level, hopefully one day surpass them.”

Surpass?

“It’s kind of hard to surpass some of these guys. I mean, they’re at the tip-top, like the pinnacle of the sport,” Hansen said. “I guess you could say, to get on that level and then be one of the best in the league.”

He might be on his way.