Block out the noise: Starlin Castro gives credit to Aramis Ramirez

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Block out the noise: Starlin Castro gives credit to Aramis Ramirez

PHOENIX Aramis Ramirez wasnt the first guy in the clubhouse and the last to leave the ballpark. He liked to plug in his headphones and spend time on his laptop.

Ramirez has a reserved personality and isnt a natural leader, but he could make people listen, especially the Latin players. That usually got lost in all the talk about his body language, but Starlin Castro picked it up right away, a few pieces to the education of an All-Star shortstop.

As Castro recalled: He told me: If you do something wrong, the fans will say something to you. Dont worry about it. Take that out of your mind and play baseball.'

Its OK, dont worry, that happened to me a lot of times, too.

The Cubs returned to Maryvale Baseball Park on Saturday, one year after Ramirez had to be separated from Carlos Silva in the dugout. Ramirez, Castro and Koyie Hill had each committed errors in a six-run first inning and it almost exploded into a fight. It became a billboard for dysfunction, but Ramirez showed some fire and stuck up for Castro.

It was an incident thats not supposed to happen, Ramirez said. (Silva said) something hes not supposed to. Nobody wants to make errors. I stood up and it wasnt pretty.

The Cubs have moved on and Ramirez is wearing a Milwaukee Brewers uniform. Dale Sveum a former Brewers player, coach and interim manager is running the show now, trying to get Castro to attack the ball and be on alert every play.

Castro drilled his first home run this spring during a 6-1 victory over the Brewers, but says that his individual goals revolve around getting better on defense.

Hes got another year under his belt, Ramirez said. Hes young, but hes real talented and hes smart. The only downside for him last year was his focus. Thats why he made a lot of errors, but hes going to get better.

Castros got all the tools. Hes got good hands, good feet. He moves well. Hes just got to concentrate a little better and hes going to get the job done. Offensively, hes one of the best hitters right now. He got 200 hits at (age) 21, so hes only going to get better. Defensively, hes got to work a bit.

Ramirez got to the big leagues one month before his 20th birthday, and believes he knows what it takes at this level. Thats why Ramirez told Darwin Barney in 2010 to work out hard in the offseason, because he could take the job at second base. Barney had never really heard that before from anyone else in the organization.

Yes, teammates didnt always appreciate the personal considerations that Ramirez received. He had trouble staying healthy and in the lineup, but was still among the most productive third basemen in the game.

Remember that Castro committed three errors and got booed during his Wrigley Field debut in 2010 and could have wilted. The talking heads debated whether he should be moved to another position, and Bobby Valentine wouldnt let his mental lapses go during an ESPN Sunday night broadcast last season.

Castro led the league with 29 errors last year, but it was in Chicago and not Double-A Tennessee. Ramirez tried to help Castro through his first two seasons, and maybe now some of it will sink in.

If you ask him, hed be the first one to tell you, Ramirez said. Yeah, we talked a lot. Thats why I say hes smart, because he asks a lot of questions. He wants to get better. He works hard. Theres a lot of stuff that the fans or the media dont see. Hes out there taking groundballs early almost every day. Im sure its going to pay off.

Its too late to rewrite the legacy of Ramirez on the North Side, but national perceptions might change if he wins a World Series in Milwaukee. And if Castro really does mature into a franchise player, Ramirez will have to get a little bit of credit.

Its tough to see your teammate play for another team, Castro said. Thats baseball. You dont know where youre going to finish your career. Hes a good guy. I learned from him a lot.

If you did something wrong or you did something good, hed tell you.

Former White Sox slugger Jim Thome taking his talents to MLB Network

Former White Sox slugger Jim Thome taking his talents to MLB Network

White Sox fans who miss Jim Thome will get to see the ex-slugger’s mug a whole lot more soon.

Thome won’t be rejoining the White Sox lineup, but he is adding television analyst to his job description, supplementing his gig in the White Sox front office with regular appearances on MLB Network.

“I’m excited,” Thome told reporters Wednesday at Guaranteed Rate Field. “The opportunity came up of maybe doing it, and then the first thing I thought of was my job with the White Sox. But it all worked out.

“I love baseball. I think being around baseball and talking hitting and maybe sharing some of the stuff that I learned over a 22-year-career, maybe to help kids, coaches, just in general maybe share a little input. Learn a lot of stuff from a lot of great people: Hall of Famers that are on the show, players that I played with, players that I competed with. And to me the biggest thing, when you leave the game, you miss that teammate camaraderie atmosphere that I think this gives you.”

Thome doesn’t know what his schedule will be or which of the network’s many shows he’ll be appearing on. He won’t be a full-time analyst, but he will be sharing his expertise on the art of hitting alongside his fellow players like Sean Casey, Al Leiter, Billy Ripken, Dan Plesac and plenty of others.

Per MLB Network, Thome’s first appearance will be May 1.

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Thome, who works with the White Sox as a special assistant to general manager Rick Hahn, is most looking forward to doing a little teaching on the show that he hopes gets through to some younger players.

“I’ve got a lot of drills I did when I played. So if I can teach that to the game, but also maybe to our youth side of the sport and also the college side,” he said. “Maybe you say something that helps a player and he goes out and does well. And that’s what it’s all about.”

This move to TV isn’t necessarily something that Thome ever expected, though it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to fans and observers who remember his personality from his playing days.

“I didn’t (ever think about doing this). I have to say, I never thought about, ‘Would I ever be an analyst? Would I ever get on the media side?’” Thome said. “I always say in baseball you never say never. If an opportunity comes up that fits your family schedule and then your work schedule — my work schedule is this job with the White Sox. That’s really important to me because I’ve been here now almost five years. To me that’s important.

“So to have them all mix and translate and feed off one or the other, being around here maybe will help me on the other side as well. That was the most important thing for me.”

Of course, White Sox fans might be curious about another part of Thome’s future career: Will he ever return to the dugout?

After Ozzie Guillen and Robin Ventura served as the team’s managers for a combined 13 seasons, speculation over whether some other former White Sox could ever sit in the manager’s chair has been fairly common, and Thome has been part of those “what if” conversations along with guys like A.J. Pierzynski and Paul Konerko.

“Again I answer that kind of the same thing with this, you never say never. If an opportunity comes up and you feel it’s a great opportunity, you know, think about it, getting a manager’s job would be a tremendous opportunity,” Thome said. “So I would definitely have to think about that, yes.”

As White Sox bats heat up, Todd Frazier feeling like himself after bumpy start to 2017

As White Sox bats heat up, Todd Frazier feeling like himself after bumpy start to 2017

Three games do not a comeback make, but Todd Frazier is feeling like his normal self again.

Frazier’s been battling a host of health-related issues since the start of 2017, including injuries to his finger and oblique that hampered him in the spring and most recently a bout with the flu that cost him six of eight games and saw him lose 10 pounds.

But the last three games have been more like it for Frazier, as the White Sox third baseman has gone 4-for-12 with five RBIs, four runs scored, three doubles and a pair of walks. In Tuesday’s win over the visiting Kansas City Royals, Frazier had a pair of doubles, matching his total from his previous 12 games.

“It was weird to start off with the finger on something weird that happened last year and that turned into a cast. And then the oblique. It has been a crazy ride,” Frazier said after Tuesday’s game. “That’s why this game you’ve got to work your butt off in the offseason and be ready now, and I feel like I’m getting back to where I need to be.

“I feel fine. I’m good. I’m trying to lift as much as I can. Maybe a little soreness from lifting trying to gain some muscle and some weight back. Trying to eat as much as I can too as well.”

The time off would be enough to knock someone off their game, but Frazier — who posted career lows with a .225 batting average and .302 on-base percentage last season — was still looking to heat up after struggling to produce through the season’s first few weeks. In his first 10 games, the veteran third baseman slashed just .091/.189/.212 with just three hits and one RBI.

So Frazier has been studying up. The entire White Sox lineup has feasted in the first two games of the current series against the Royals, combining for 22 runs on 29 hits. But Frazier credited his personal success to some of the work he’s been doing.

“Just doing my homework,” he said Wednesday. “I’m just trying to go back and understand what I did in the other years  that made me hit the ball better. Talk to the coaches. At the end of the day, it’s mental, that’s all it is. You’ve been hitting for all these years now, just got to understand to focus.

“We see these pitchers a lot. People always told me, ‘You’ve got the upper hand, you see these guys all the time.’ So let’s start figuring out what they’re throwing.”

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Tuesday night, Frazier served as the White Sox designated hitter, the second time he’s been in the lineup but not in the field this season, matching the number of times he played DH in 2016, his first year with an American League team.

While it presented a change of pace, Frazier had a positive review of something he hasn’t done very often.

“I liked it. Every once and a while I think you need a day like that,” he said. “I think we’ve got a lot of guys that can do it. It was good to get Matt (Davidson) in there at third base, get his body going a little bit out in the field a little bit more. It’s like, ‘You got a day off, you’re DH’ing.’ Not really. You’ve got to keep the body moving, keep staying loose. It worked out well for everybody.

“I did a little heavy lifting in the legs the day before, and Rick (Renteria) didn’t even know about that. I was a little sore, and I was like, ‘Good, I got a little DH spot today,’ which was great for me, and now I can focus on defense, as well.”

In baseball, fortunes can change on a daily basis, so who knows if this will be the start of a surge for Frazier or just a brief spike in a long season. But if the White Sox can get Frazier and the rest of the lineup to keep hitting like they have the past few games, it could mean big things.

“Everybody focused and prepared,” Frazier explained when asked about the big run totals in the last few games. “I think the little things, guys getting here earlier, guys wanting to get out there and take extra work, and the focus and determination that we’ve got going right now is pretty nice. Nobody’s trying to do too much.

“You see our plate approach, you see guys hustling out balls. You watch guys like Avi Garcia, he’s got two big infield singles for him. At the end of the year, you look back at some things like that, a guy hits a one-hopper to second base and beats out a ball. That takes your average from .250 to .260 if you get three or four of those. Examples: Leury Garcia beating out a ground ball, getting a play overturned because of hustle. We don’t lack that this year, and I think that’s something big that we’re working on.

“Win, lose or draw, we’re going to give 100 percent. We know we’ve got Rick Renteria coming in here telling us ‘Nobody’s feeling sorry for you. So pick yourself up. We’re professionals. We’re White Sox.’ I think that’s what we’re going by right now.”