White Sox

Rios rebounding into form

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Rios rebounding into form

Theres something happening with Alex Rios. You might have noticed. Paul Konerko has noticed too, and the White Sox captain likes what he sees.

A lot.

It wouldnt surprise me if he has a monster season, because of the way hes going about it right now, Konerko said about Rios before Tuesdays game against the Indians.

If there is a hitting professor in the game, someone who studies the art like hes a baseball Michelangelo, its Konerko. So when he heaps praise on a player with those kind of words, its worth taking notice.

Konerkos lecture on Alex Rios 101 continued.

Alex is a big, strong talented guy. Hes a great pull hitter. He can pull the ball with the best of them. So when he starts hitting the ball the other way, it doesnt give fielders an option to just live out there away from him. Thats going to open the door to a lot of great things, Konerko said. The way hes picking up his hits now, and the at-bats hes having even in his outs, hes making really good outs. Its all there.

With the first month of the season in the books, Rios is batting .311. Much better than last year, when Rios finished April hitting .163. It was the start of his season-long downward spiral that ended with Rios batting a career-worst .227 with 13 homers and 44 RBIs in 537 at-bats. Not the kind of numbers the White Sox wanted from a hitter in a power spot in the lineup. But the struggles of 2011 are now in the rear view mirror.

I feel obviously better than last year, Rios said. Im still making progress. Im not quite where I want to be. But its all about work. Im just working hard to get to the point where I feel 100 percent comfortable, and doing what I want to do.

Sometimes baseball is as easy as see ball, hit ball. In theory, thats all you need to do, especially if you have the physical tools of Rios.

But last season, so much was going on inside the outfielders head when he stood in the batters box, his brain was like a pinball machine on tilt. He was thinking about his hands, his legs, his elbows, his feet...

See ball, hit ball sounded like a dream. Rios was living a baseball nightmare in a place called Mechanics Hell.

But this year, everythings different. What exactly? For one, all that clutter that had a permanent spot in his noggin....its all gone.

Im not worrying about mechanics, Rios said. Just have a plan when I go to the plate and stick to it. Sometimes you have a plan, but you dont stick to it during the at-bat. Im just trying to stick to my plan and hopefully everything goes well.

So far it has.

Hes batting .353 vs. right-handers, compared to .204 last year. Hes reached safely in 16 of his last 19 games. He had an 11-game hitting streak in the middle of April. The streak began two days after he belted a game-winning home run in the 9th inning off Texas' Joe Nathan.

Its precisely the kind of start he was hoping for when he arrived in Glendale for spring training.

It gives you a confidence boost, Rios said. You feel good about yourself and you feel like you still have it, and thats a good thing. When you have that confidence, it makes things so much easier to deal with.

Weve noticed.

Avisail Garcia, slated for offseason knee surgery, has been playing hurt since Opening Day

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USA TODAY

Avisail Garcia, slated for offseason knee surgery, has been playing hurt since Opening Day

While some players' seasons have been open for interpretation, it's been an undeniably disappointing one for Avisail Garcia.

Turns out there's a good reason for the big change in his production from 2017 to 2018.

Garcia's battles with injuries this year have been no secret, but the White Sox outfielder revealed Tuesday that it's literally been going on all season long. He said that he felt something in his knee on Opening Day and that he's played hurt throughout the entire season. He also reported that he'll have arthroscopic knee surgery on Oct. 2, two days after the end of the season.

"Opening Day, I feel something in my knee," he said. "I had been feeling something, something, something and then I started feeling my hammy because I think I was favoring it. Especially because it’s my right knee, and that’s where all my power is. It’s crazy, but it is what it is.

"It’s sore. Every time I go home, it’s a little swollen. But I’m going to fix it soon. It’s been a crazy year, not for me, but for the whole team. Thank god we are alive and we are here. We have a chance. Let’s see what happens next year."

Garcia did make two trips to the disabled list this season, both due to an injured hamstring, which he said stemmed from the hurting knee. He played in 88 of the team's first 154 games, with six remaining on the schedule heading into Tuesday night's contest with the visiting Cleveland Indians.

Entering 2018, Garcia had the tall task of repeating his breakout campaign from a season before, when he made his first career All-Star appearance and posted some of the best offensive numbers in the American League with a .330 batting average and a .380 on-base percentage. During this injury-filled season, those numbers plummeted to .238 and .278.

"It’s been difficult. Difficult year," he said. "Nothing that I can do. I’ve been playing like this the whole season. Just gotta play and get after it, so it is what it is. I can’t control that. I can control what I do on the field.

"(The knee injury has) always been there. Everybody knows it’s hard when you get injury and then sit down and then go play and then sit down again. It’s hard to be consistent like that. This game is difficult so you have to be out there every day so you get to used to it and it’s hard to play like this. But it is what it is. It’s not an excuse. Everybody knows that. I’ve been playing like this so I’m trying to do my best."

Obviously, it's tough to judge Garcia's follow up to his All-Star season knowing how much his knee bothered him. But it still leaves unanswered the question of what his place is in the organization's long-term plans. He's under team control for one more season. The White Sox have the flexibility to do one of many things this offseason: keep him for one more season, try to trade him this offseason, hold on to him and try to trade him to a contending club next summer or extend him and keep him in the mix for when rebuilding mode transitions to contention mode. Garcia is just 27 years old.

Garcia said he'll be "100-percent" ready for spring training next year, and should his health be back to normal, his prove-it campaign that was supposed to come in 2018 could come in 2019. But there's also a wave of outfield prospects making its way toward the South Side that includes Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Micker Adolfo and plenty of others. So no matter what statistics Garcia might be shooting for, the pressure will be on to show he's a safer bet than all that young talent.

White Sox Talk Podcast: Daniel Palka on Palkamania and his breakout season

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Daniel Palka on Palkamania and his breakout season

Chuck Garfien speaks with White Sox outfielder Daniel Palka who as a 26-year-old rookie has come out of nowhere to become one of the White Sox most popular players in 2018.  They talk about the time Palka gave a pitcher a black eye in Little League, how he used to be a relief pitcher at Georgia Tech,  why the Twins gave him up on him, the time when Chuck called Palka’s walkoff homer this year, his friendship with Kyle Schwarber and more.   

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: