Is Morel falling back into bad habits?

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Is Morel falling back into bad habits?

In 45 games this spring, Brent Morel is hitting .326 with two doubles and a home run. That's the good news. The bad news is that his on-base percentage is also .326, the product of Morel not taking a single walk in the Cactus League.

It doesn't really matter that Morel is hitting .326. What matters is how he got to that point, and the lack of walks may not bode well for his regular-season outlook.

Through Morel's first 117 plate appearances last year, he didn't take a walk. He had a .237 batting average and a .566 OPS with just one home run. Morel took his first walk of the season on Memorial Day, and then proceeded to walk once in the months of June and July. His OPS wallowed below .600 through the end of August, although he showed signs of improvement toward the end of the month, taking three walks after Aug. 20.

Morel exploded in September, hitting eight home runs with an .893 OPS. More importantly, he focused on driving the ball and being more patient, which led to 15 walks in 103 plate appearances. The formula, while not exact, appears simple: if Morel is taking walks, he's going to be hitting well.

"I was just caught up trying to put the ball in play and just kinda move guys over and do that kind of stuff," Morel said of his April-August approach at SoxFest in January. "Toward the end, I relaxed a little bit and was more selective and patient up there. That helped me out."

Two things to glean from that quote: First, Morel certainly understands that patience will help drive results, and second, maybe it's best for Morel to not be hitting No. 2 in the lineup.

If he's hitting second, Morel would probably go back to concentrating on putting the ball in play and moving runners along instead of being a more productive offensive player. That's how two-hole hitters are viewed across the board in the majors -- as guys who can do the "little things," like handling the bat. Given what he did in September, it may be best for Morel to hit lower in the order, where he doesn't have to think about those things.

And maybe his lack of spring walks is a product of hitting No. 2. Of course, he hasn't taken any walks hitting elsewhere in the order, but maybe it's worth noting he did go 2-3 with a home run Tuesday hitting sixth.

Wherever Morel hits, though, he shouldn't try to just put the ball in play and move runners over. Given he's been tabbed as a breakout star for 2012, doing so would be a waste of potential.

Preview: Chris Sale starts for White Sox against Rays tonight on CSN+

Preview: Chris Sale starts for White Sox against Rays tonight on CSN+

The White Sox take on the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday, and you can catch all the action on CSN+. Coverage begins with White Sox Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Tonight’s starting pitching matchup: Chris Sale (16-9, 3.19 ERA) vs. Alex Cobb (1-1, 6.16 ERA)

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.

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James Shields gets first win in two months as White Sox beat Rays

James Shields gets first win in two months as White Sox beat Rays

James Shields’ time with the White Sox has not gone well. But Monday night was one of the bright spots, and it came against his former team.

Shields allowed just one run in his six innings of work against the visiting Tampa Ray Bays — with whom he spent the first seven seasons of his career — and earned his first win since July 26 as the White Sox opened this four-game set with a 7-1 victory at U.S. Cellular Field.

Shields didn’t exactly keep the Rays off the bases Monday, running into jams with multiple base runners on in four of his six innings. But he did keep them off the scoreboard, for the most part, getting some help from his defense with a couple double plays. He finished allowing just one run on seven hits with six strikeouts over his six innings.

The win was his first in two months after a brutal August — six starts with four losses and an 11.42 ERA — and a couple of rough outings in September. It was Shields’ sixth victory on the season and fourth since joining the White Sox compared to 18 losses on the season, 11 coming with the White Sox.

“I had a few chances my last few starts to get some wins, but sometimes those things happen,” Shields said. “I’m just trying to finish the season strong right now. Body feels good, arm feels good, so hopefully I can get another win on Saturday to end my season and move into next year.”

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With just one more start on his schedule in the season’s final week, Shields won’t lose a visually upsetting 20 games. Avoiding that number might not make losing 18 or 19 much easier for fans and observers to swallow, but teammates understand what Shields has gone through this season.

“I think we’ve all been through it once or maybe even twice in our career. He works his butt off, though,” third baseman Todd Frazier said. “He looks at film. He watches everything he’s doing. To come out with the strong outing today, even in the first inning, getting two runners on and getting out of that jam, it goes to show you his resilience. Whenever he got runners on, he looked relaxed and induced a lot of ground balls which we needed.”

Certainly Shields’ teammates picked him up Monday. The two double plays while he was in the game were just half the infield’s total on the night, two more coming in the seventh and eighth, when Tommy Kahnle and Nate Jones put the first two hitters they faced on in each frame. But the double plays helped end those threats and keep the Rays down.

The White Sox struck first with a run in the first inning, Melky Cabrera scoring on Justin Morneau’s sacrifice fly. After the Rays tied it up in the fourth with an RBI single, the White Sox punched back, Frazier doubling, stealing third base and scoring on Omar Narvaez’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of that inning.

And as Shields and the relief corps danced out of jams, the White Sox added to their score. Jose Abreu singled in a run in the fifth, but it was a pair of two-run homers off the bats of Morneau and Carlos Sanchez in the seventh and eighth innings that provided the real insurance.

The win was the third straight for the White Sox, something that while positive won’t provide much solace in a season where competing for a playoff spot is a distant memory.

But, like Shields finishing his season strong, White Sox players in general can create individual momentum for each of their offseasons and into next year with good finishes to 2016.

“We want to end on a positive note,” Frazier said. “Everybody wants to meet their goals. Baseball is the most individualistic team sport there is. You have to have your individual goals just like your team goals, and our team goals are out the door right now. You don’t want to play for yourself, but at the same time play for your pitcher a little bit and help him out.”