What to watch: Sox try to avoid sweep

What to watch: Sox try to avoid sweep
April 11, 2013, 10:15 am
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Axelrod out-pitched Felix Hernandez last weekend, allowing just an unearned run in his first start filling in for John Danks this season. The right-hander mixed his pitches to perfection: 46 percent fastballs, 22 percent sliders, 14 percent curveballs and 18 percent changeups. That's how Axelrod has success, throwing all four pitches effectively with good command. If he can do the same tonight against Washington, he could have the same level of success he enjoyed against Seattle.

Haren, on the other hand, had about as bad of a first start as anyone has had this year. The right-hander -- who was nearly traded for Carlos Marmol in the offseason before landing in the nation's capitol -- gave up four home runs in four innings against Cincinnati last week.

He struggled in 2012 with the Angels, posting a career-worst 4.33 ERA in 30 starts. His average fastball velocity dipped from 90 miles per hour to 88 last year, and in his first start, his fastball remained in that 88 mph range. For someone who's 32, that drop is concerning -- especially given he threw plenty of pitches up in the zone against Cincinnati.

That's not a recipe for success, and if his command isn't better on Thursday, it'll be great news for White Sox hitters.

Today's storyline: Can White Sox avoid first sweep?

Getting off to a fast start was important for the White Sox given the stretch they entered this week against Washington. Six games against Kansas City and Seattle provided a nice measure of success, but road series against the Nationals, Indians and Blue Jays represent a difficult early-season stint away from home.

[RELATED: White Sox drop second straight to Nationals]

So far, the White Sox have come up empty against Washington, losing 8-7 on Tuesday and 5-2 on Wednesday. It's early into the season and the road trip, but it's still important for the White Sox not to get buried on their first voyage away from U.S. Cellular Field. A win tonight against the Nationals would certainly help that cause.

What else to watch for

Alex Rios didn't hit a home run Wednesday, snapping a four-game longball streak. He did go 2-4 with a double and an RBI, though, and raised his season slash line to .419/.471/.839.

[MORE: WBC may have helped Rios' strong start]

The White Sox went deep 13 times in eight games this year, making the home run a central part of their early-season offense. That could bode well, then, as they go against a starter who served up four home runs last week.

Along those lines, then, it makes sense the White Sox struggled against Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann Wednesday night, who's allowed home runs at a well-below-average rate since 2011.

The last word

Yesterday, we looked at the best and worst pitching performances by a White Sox player against Washington/Montreal, so today, let's look at the best and worst hitting performances.

A White Sox player has collected three or more hits against the Nationals/Expos a dozen times in franchise history, and Rios has done it three times, including on Wednesday night. Alejandro De Aza's three hits Wednesday put him in that club, too, one that also includes Jose Valentin (June 18 and 20, 2004), Juan Uribe (June 19, 2004), Brent Morel (June 25, 2011) and Jamie Burke (June 18, 2004).

Only one White Sox player has ever had four hits in a game against the Nationals/Expos, with that being Carlos Lee -- who went 4-6 with a double, home run and 4 RBIs against Montreal on June 18, 2004.

Uribe drove in seven runs in his three-hit game, which came in an epic 17-14 loss at Olympic Stadium. Magglio Ordonez drove in six runs on June 9, 2002 against Montreal, too, to pace the best run-producing performances by a White Sox player in series history.

On the flip side, Adam Dunn went 0-3 with three strikeouts and 0-4 with four strikeouts in back-to-back games against Washington June 25-26, 2011.