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.