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: 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.”