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.

White Sox don't see Harper-type free agent on starting-pitcher market

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USA TODAY

White Sox don't see Harper-type free agent on starting-pitcher market

LAS VEGAS — The White Sox seem to have a very specific set of circumstances when it comes to going after big-name free agents this winter.

Rick Hahn has explained over and over again that a player has to fit in with the team's long-term plans, and he's discussed taking advantage of opportunities to add premium talent to his ongoing rebuilding effort.

And the obvious guys that fall into that category are Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, the two biggest names on the free-agent market, two 26-year-old superstars who are expected to receive some of the biggest contracts in baseball history and change whichever franchise they sign up with.

But there are also some more immediate needs, like the one in the starting rotation. The White Sox filled one of two holes on the starting staff with Tuesday's trade for Ivan Nova, but another remains and there still remain multiple avenues Hahn could travel down to fill it. He could add another one-year fill-in, like Nova, and wait for Michael Kopech to recover from Tommy John surgery and for Dylan Cease to finish his development in the minor leagues. Or he could add a bigger name on a multi-year deal.

But here's the question: Is there a player out there who, like Harper and Machado, is a premium-type, long-term fit and is a starting pitcher?

"At this time, probably not," Hahn said Wednesday. "Perhaps via trade. But if you're talking strictly free agency, I would say probably not."

That's an interesting evaluation, if for no other reason than there's a 30-year-old Cy Young winner on the free-agent market.

Dallas Keuchel isn't exactly a no-brainer, but he looks like a pretty good long-term fit, one of the American League's better starting pitchers in recent seasons who has the experience of going through a rebuild and seeing it end in a World Series championship. He won the 2015 AL Cy Young, is a four-time Gold Glover and in the last five seasons has a 3.28 ERA and 784 strikeouts in 145 starts.

Perhaps the questioned criteria, purposely vague as to avoid hitting on specific free agents, didn't include Keuchel in Hahn's assessment. Or perhaps it most certainly did, revealing the White Sox don't consider Keuchel as a premium talent who fits in with their long-term plans.

Hahn's answer, whether it includes Keuchel or not, could also point to how the White Sox plan to plug that final hole in the rotation: in much the same way they plugged the other one in acquiring Nova. The White Sox have obvious faith in and high hopes for both Kopech and Cease, so giving them every chance to win jobs at the top of the rotation makes plenty of sense.

But if you're expecting a huge signing of a starting pitcher to either go along with or come in place of an addition of Harper or Machado, this winter doesn't look like the time.

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White Sox Talk Podcast: Are the White Sox the 'front runner' for Bryce Harper?

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Are the White Sox the 'front runner' for Bryce Harper?

Former Nationals and Reds GM Jim Bowden made big news at the Winter Meetings, saying on the CBS Sports Network that the White Sox are the "front runner" for Bryce Harper (:35). Should we believe it? (5:06)

Rick Hahn responds to the front runner report (9:53). Are the White Sox out on Dallas Keuchel? (11:43) Harper's agent Scott Boras describes what Harper is looking for in a team, his relationship with Jerry Reinsdorf (15:29) and more.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

White Sox Talk Podcast

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