Thome confident Dunn will rebound

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Thome confident Dunn will rebound

For the last nine months, Adam Dunns name has been surrounded by a black cloud of smoke, a player whose stellar 11-year baseball career suddenly crashed to bits in 2011 following one of the worst hitting seasons in baseball history.

And now with spring training a little over a month away, the question being asked is, Can Dunn turn it around and have a comeback year in 2012? A successful White Sox season likely hinges on it.

However, after Dunn hit .159 with 177 strikeouts in his first full go-around in the American League, youll be hard-pressed to find anyone willing to jump on the Dunn bandwagon believing that a major revival could be ahead for the Sox dubious designated hitter. Some might be inclined to dip their toes in the water with a half-hearted endorsement, but to go waist-deep in the lagoon, see through the mud and muck that has plastered itself around his image, and predict a possible monster season for the lefty slugger?

That, I had not heard until Saturday night.

And leave it to another bulky left-hander, the last man to hold Dunns job on a regular basis: Jim Thome.

Im a very similar player as him. If you look at the way both of our styles are, we are very similar, Thome said of Dunn in an interview with Comcast SportsNet. And I will say this, the guy might come out this year and hit 60 home runs. Hes got that potential. And one thing I would think, because hes very driven, whenever you challenge an athlete, the good ones rise, and hes very good, so well see.

When it comes to being a designated hitter, Thome is the current expert among active players, having logged 781 games at that position throughout his career. His first season with the White Sox in 2006 was also his first as a full-time DH, something Dunn had to adapt to in 2011.

How big of an adjustment is it?

Its huge, Thome said. I think the one thing you have to have in your mindset is that this is what I want to do. If theres any hesitation, if theres any doubt in your mind, Well, am I going to play in the field, am I not, am I full-time? And I think what helped me, and I credit Ozzie Guillen for doing this, he told me that I was going to be the DH, and thats what I prepared to do, and I tried to do it the best I could.

Thome quickly adapted to his new role, and batted .288 with 42 homers and 109 RBIs in 2006. Dunn never found a rhythm or comfort zone, and his season quickly slid into the abyss.

As a guy who swings and misses youre going to go through those down times, and I think getting into that routine is the most important thing for sure, Thome said.

After finishing his 21st season in Cleveland, ironically where it all began in 1991, Thome went home accepting the realization that he might have played his final game in a major league uniform.

How close was he to retirement?

Very, very, he said. Ill be honest, I got home and Andrea Jims wife and I talked about it, and I pretty much made my mind up that if I was out there in January, this time of year, unsigned that I would probably just go ahead and retire.

But just two hours after the free agency period began, Thomes agent received a phone call from the Phillies, who signed him to a 1-year, 1.25 million contract.

Theyve put themselves in a position to win a World Series, and lets face it, thats where Im at. I feel like for me, thats the unfinished thing in my career, and I wanted to give that at least another year and try to do that, said Thome, who will mainly be used as a late-inning pinch-hitter, but will also play some first base until Ryan Howard is recovered from his Achilles tendon injury. Easier said than done, but Thome is determined to be physically ready for the challenge.

When the All-in White Sox won only 79 games last season, no one was more surprised than Thome who, while playing in the AL Central with the Twins and Indians, had a front-row seat for many of their struggles.

Ill never forget it. We were in Minnesota, and we watched their Opening Day game. It was in Cleveland, and they scored like 15 or 18 runs.

(For the record it, was 15. The Sox won 15-10. Dunn hit a homer that ricocheted off a satellite.)

And I remember our guys saying, It looks like Chicago is going to be tough to handle. And then as baseball goes, you just never know. I think with their team last year, its hard to predict or say what went wrong. I think its just a part of baseball.

Saturday, Thome was back in his hometown of Peoria hosting the 17th annual Joyce Thome Benefit, in honor of his late mother. The evening raised over 270,000 for Childrens Hospital of Illinois. It was a record turnout, which this year celebrated Thomes 600th home run, which he belted out in Detroit back in August.

After hitting No. 500 with the White Sox in 2007, Jim and his father Chuck brought the ball to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. He plans on doing the same with No. 600 after the season, but this time hell bring along his wife and two kids.

It will be yet another chapter in Thomes memory bank of incredible moments. Like Saturday night.

How do you imagine starting out in the big leagues, growing up in Peoria, getting an opportunity to fulfill a dream, and then you get a call from a hospital back in 1994. And Ill never forget my mom said, The hospital called. Lets go visit the kids. And on that day, day one, it touched me.

In his three-plus seasons with the White Sox, Thome touched the lives of many White Sox fans, some of whom were in attendance at the Thome gala.

Jim foresees a possible renaissance for Dunn in 2012. How about the entire White Sox team?

I do. I think Robin is a great man. I think hes going to do great things. Hes a great baseball guy. I think a guy like Gordon Beckham is going to have a great year.

Then Thome paused and smiled.

And then, who knows, maybe well see you in Chicago in the World Series. That would be fun.

Or unlikely, depending on your point-of-view.

But like Thome said, with baseball, you just never know.

Anyone who says they do know doesnt. Ask the St. Louis Cardinals.

Or ask the heavens. Somewhere theres a ball that Dunn hit there once upon a time. Itll eventually come back.

What happens if his swing does too?

Preview: White Sox return home to battle Blue Jays on CSN+

Preview: White Sox return home to battle Blue Jays on CSN+

The White Sox return to U.S. Cellular Field to battle the Blue Jays tonight, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet Plus. 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.

Starting pitching matchup: Aaron Sanchez (7-1, 3.35 ERA) vs. Carlos Rodon (2-6, 4.16 ERA) 

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

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James Shields takes step in right direction, but White Sox still need more

James Shields takes step in right direction, but White Sox still need more

BOSTON — James Shields took a step toward turning his season around, though there’s still plenty of room to improve. 

The 34-year-old right-hander, who entered the day with a 21.81 ERA in three starts since being acquired from the San Diego Padres, allowed three runs over five innings in the White Sox 8-7 extra-innings loss to the Boston Red Sox Thursday afternoon at Fenway Park. 

While it wasn’t an unmitigated disaster like his previous starts against the Washington Nationals, Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians, Shields only lasted five innings and issued more walks (four) than he had strikeouts (three). Still, he was able to keep the White Sox in the game — and left with a lead — which represents a step in the right direction. 

“Obviously my last three outings weren’t very good, so it’s definitely a positive,” Shields said. “I’ve been around the game a while, I’ve got a lot more in the tank. Body feels great, so we’ll move forward.”

Shields’ abbreviated outing, though, forced the White Sox to burn relievers Matt Albers (who hit a batter and gave up two hits) and Dan Jennings (who threw a scoreless inning) early. And with those two guys used, and reliable right-handers Jake Petricka and Zach Putnam on the disabled list, manager Robin Ventura turned to rookie Chris Beck in the seventh. 

Beck avoided a meltdown but allowed a run. While Nate Jones ultimately gave up the game-tying run in the eighth, having to cover a dozen outs proved to be a difficult task. 

“We were getting a little short today,” manager Robin Ventura said. “We didn’t have (Zach) Duke out there to be able to come in. We were trying to patch it together. These guys have been used a lot, so we knew we couldn’t necessarily go four outs with Jonesy or (David) Robertson. We were a little thin.”

Shields was generally better at getting ahead in the count, and held Boston scoreless through his first four innings. But after striking out Christian Vasquez and getting Marco Hernandez to ground out to begin the fifth, the Red Sox lineup turned over to face Shields for the third time. Mookie Betts’ single was followed by a Dustin Pedroia RBI double, though Xander Bogaerts popped out to end the inning. 

Shields issued walks to David Ortiz — he thought his 1-2 slow curveball was a strike, though — and Ryan LaMarre before being pulled with no outs in the sixth. 

“He was playing more in the strike zone early on in the at-bat than in previous starts,” Avila said. “Throughout the innings that he pitched there were times where he kinda got out of himself a little bit and rushed a little bit but he was able to make the adjustment much quicker than he did in his previous outings. A good start for him, pitched well, used everything. Was able to go both sides of the plate with a good mix of his pitches. Those are the types of starts that I’ve seen quite a bit of him make and would expect to make.”

Anything better than a figurative fireworks show would’ve been an improvement, and while Thursday wasn’t vintage Shields, it did represent a step in the right direction. 

“Overall it was just me trying to relax and not trying to do too much for my new team,” Shields said. “I felt okay today. But there’s always room for improvement and I’m going to try to get better next time.” 

White Sox can’t complete sweep, but looking at positives leaving Boston

White Sox can’t complete sweep, but looking at positives leaving Boston

BOSTON — The White Sox couldn’t hold two leads and couldn’t come through with the bases loaded twice late in the game, but head back to Chicago looking at the positives from taking three of four games from the Boston Red Sox. 

Xander Bogaerts’ walk-off single off Matt Purke dealt the White Sox an 8-7 loss in Thursday afternoon’s series finale at Fenway Park, ending a four hour, 25 minute slog. The bigger-picture view of things was full of optimism, though, for a team that hasn’t had many reasons to take a glass-half-full approach over the last few weeks. 

“The quality of baseball we played this series was probably the best baseball we played all year, including the nice start that we had,” catcher Alex Avila, who had four hits Thursday, said. “We played well with the lead, we played well when we were behind. (We) made some big pitches when we had to, got some big time hits when we needed to, which is something that’s been lacking past few weeks.” 

A narrow view of Thursday’s game, though, has a more frustrating tone. The White Sox squandered a 4-1 lead, got it back on Jose Abreu’s go-ahead three-run homer in the top of the seventh, then gave that two-run advantage back in bottom of the seventh and eighth innings. 

The White Sox loaded the bases with nobody out in the top of the eighth but failed to score when J.B Shuck flied out to left (it wasn’t deep enough for Brett Lawrie to be sent home, even with natural third baseman Travis Shaw having to play left field), Tim Anderson struck out and Adam Eaton grounded out. 

The same scenario played out in the top of the 10th, with Lawrie, Avila and Avisail Garcia again loading the bases but Shuck (popout), Anderson (strikeout) and Eaton (strikeout) failing to plate the go-ahead run against Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel. 

Bogaerts delivered his walk-off single in the bottom of the 10th. 

“We won three out of four — you look at it that way,” manager Robin Ventura said. “You could look at a lot of things negatively, but the way it’s been going for us, you win a series and get ready for tomorrow.”

The White Sox pulled off an impressive bases-loaded escape on Monday and won in extra innings, then cruised to a victory behind Chris Sale on Tuesday. Wednesday saw Todd Frazier, Melky Cabrera and Brett Lawrie blast home runs in a rare spate of run support for Jose Quintana in a comeback win. And while the final three innings Thursday were certainly disappointing, starter James Shields exited the game with a lead and Abreu momentarily picked up for a strung-out bullpen in the seventh. 

“This was a good series,” Shields said. “We got swept in Cleveland, coming in here to Boston, one of the best hitting teams in the league and to do what we did three out of four is pretty good.”

Where Avila saw the greatest benefit to this series — outside of winning three games in a row for the first time since early May, of course — was getting some high-leverage experience for a handful of players. Michael Ynoa held on to a one-run lead in the eighth inning Wednesday, while Chris Beck — with an assist from a strange decision to bunt by Jackie Bradley Jr. — limited the Red Sox damage to just one run in a shaky seventh inning Thursday. 

Whether the experience of this series pays off as the White Sox look to remain within striking distance for the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2008 remains to be seen. But for a team starved of positive morsels since early May, there was plenty to like about these four days in Boston. 

“We need to graduate a little bit because we’re going to need everybody,” Avila said. “But overall we had a really good series, played really good baseball. It just shows you how tough it is to beat a team four days in a row.”