Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011
Posted 11:31 a.m. Updated 12:40 p.m.
By Brett Ballantini
GLENDALE, Ariz The first day with a full squad at spring training bore a strong resemblance to the triumphant Chicago White Sox offseason: no drama, big smiles, optimism oozing from every corner of the clubhouse.
Lastings Milledge was nestled into a locker stall next to White Sox veteran Juan Pierre, where the outfield leader had already embarked on mentoring the teams fourth outfielder hopeful.
Mark Buehrle pedaled laps on a stationary bike with a smile, having fully swayed from offseason uncertainty over being traded to his potential to start his franchise-most ninth Opening Day game.
Manager Ozzie Guillen held court loudly, jostling with Tony Pena with his custom blend of loud talk and wild gesture.
After letting on that he has something on Paul Konerko that will serve him handily during the course of the season, when teasing can turn to blackmail, Buehrle addressed the possibility of making a ninth Opening Day start, which would extend his team record.
Ozzie hasnt mentioned it to me, no, Buehrle said. But what will I do, tell him no?
Buehrle theorized that it would be between me and John Danks as to who should be the Opening Day starter, but with a bit of smirk acknowledged that for the last couple of years, hes been better than me. The lefthander was gracious enough to admit that if consulted, hed recommend Danksie for the Opening Day assignment.
The chances of Buehrle failing to start the season opener on the hill, of course, is virtually nil. Guillen as much as confirmed that on the opening day of an eerily tranquil camp.
Right now, Buehrle is my Opening Day starter, Guillen said. I might get the rotation drawn up in the next couple of days to see. We face Cleveland, and hes always pitched good against the Indians early in the season. So I dont see why Buehrle wont start on Opening Day.
Ill save that news for when were boring and nobody is talking about the White Sox. Then Ill say Buehrle is my Opening Day starter.
Buehrle went 13-13 in 2010, with a 4.28 ERA and Buehrle went 13-13 in 2010, with a 4.28 ERA and 3.90 FIP, bringing in 15.2 million in value on the third year of his four-year, 56 million contract. His Opening Day, 6-0 shutout of the Cleveland Indians a year ago both set a team record for most Opening Day starts and saw the two-time Gold Glove winner author the most spectacular fielding play of his career, a hockey kick-save, football-hike assist on a Lou Marson slap through the box.
Buehrle has been a preposterously consistent pitcher, never falling short of 30 starts as a rotation member, winning double-figure games in 10 straight seasons, and falling short of a .500 record just once (12-13 in 2006). While many players might see a dramatic rise in their numbers in a contract year, Guillen dismisses such a notion in Buehrles case.
A lot of managers like to manage a guy in the last year of a deal because they think theyre going to get their best playing for the next contract, he said. But youre going to see the same Buehrle, no matter what. Hes not going to changehell be the same with a 10-year deal or a two-month deal.
Few White Sox have been as hyper-speculated over as mercurial rightfielder Carlos Quentin, who has pledged to bring a lighter attitude tothe 2011 campaign.
Quentins intensity, which is held in awe bordering on apprehension bythe teams administrators, was in traditional seriousity in his firstmedia address of the season, with a dry admission he was absolutelythrilled at the White Soxs offseason additions.
As for what hes done to re-channel his infamous intensity for 2011,the slugger was coy: Just worked on some things to come backstrong, knock on wood, and enjoy this game a little better.
For Quentin and the White Sox, its been somewhat of a slow descentsince his near-MVP season of 2008, when a temper flare at the plateresulted in a broken wrist and being sidelined for the last month ofthe season. After slugging 36 homers and driving in 100 runs in justfive months in that shocking breakout campaign, hes averaged just 115games over the past two seasons.
Despite hitting 47 home runs over his past two seasons, Quentin understands his production has been disappointing.
Any time you go out and perform like I did in 2008, you thinktheres more out there, he said. You had the opportunity to build onthat, and you feel like you didnt, you feel a little disappointed.
At the end of 2010, both Guillen and GM Ken Williams underscored toQuentin that while they adored his intensitysingling him out as aninspirational team leader by exampleboth advised the outfielder toease up on himself. From the sound of things, Q has listened.
To succeed in the future, youve got to learn from some things youvedone and make them right, Quentin said. I would be foolish not tolearn from some negative things that have been consistently repeatedin my life.
With a burgeoning salary and legitimate questions about his durability,the White Sox brain trust has yet to seriously entertain swappingQuentin away. Williams has mentioned, with a knock on wood, he hasnttraded away many SportsCenter guysplayers he fears hell have to seeon highlight reels nightly, wearing other than a White Sox uniform.Clearly, the GM feels Quentin in one such guy. Guillen hasnt betenbashful about the esteem with which he holds Quentin, and the feelingis mutual.
I talked with Ozzie a lot last year about things Ive done, thingsto be accountable for, Quentin said. Pressure is always somethingthats been self-inflicted by myself, its something Ive worked on tolighten up and enjoy this game.
The slugger got a little short when pressed about the self-inflictedpressure problems hes dealt with in the past: Of course, the effortis there when you work on things, you just never know how theyllturn out, always knowing every day is a grind, not just physically butmentally, and keeping myself in the right place.
Quentin did smile when asked about the status of his knee, which wasbanged up in multiple instances in 2010, contributing mightily to hisroutine, ice-wrapped, Michelin Man appearance postgame. In addition tosome healing time, the rightfielder reported putting in a lot of workto stabilize his hip and a high volume of explosive lifting.
I responded very well, he said. Im excited with my weight rightnow. I feel like Im in a good place mentally, and ready to go.
Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.coms White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.