White Sox notes: Rios heating up, Keppinger dropped in order

White Sox notes: Rios heating up, Keppinger dropped in order
May 11, 2013, 5:00 pm
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Vinnie Duber

It’s been an up and down season for Alex Rios, but after an extended downswing things are looking up again.

Rios started the year with a 10-game hitting streak. He followed that up with a .164 average over his next 18 games. But in the last five contests, the right fielder is hitting .409 with a .435 on-base percentage, two doubles, two homers, four RBIs and six runs scored.

The most recent turn in the 2013 campaign is obviously better than the last for Rios, and he’s hoping that his current fortunes stick around.

“We’re going to go through rough times as a team and as individuals,” Rios said. “I believe that it’s just a matter of how quickly you can get out of those funks. I really think that I’m where I want to be, and hopefully I can keep that consistency. That’s very important that I can keep it going for long periods of time.”

And Rios’ recent uptick in offense is emblematic of what the rest of the team has done recently. Since April 25, the Sox are averaging 3.77 runs per game, including seven outputs of five or more runs in 13 total games.

“It can be contagious,” Rios said. “When people start hitting well, I think the whole team follows. In the last couple games, you’ve seen it. We got big hits in big innings and big situations, and after big hits we continue to get some more hits and that’s the way it should be. We’ve worked hard for this.”

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Rios acknowledged that the team is starting to hit like they were expected to when the season started. The team has improved of late, hitting .282 with runners in scoring position over its last nine games.

“We’ve had a few good games offensively lately,” Rios said. “I believe that this is the way we’re supposed to be, this is our normal form when we play like this. We went through a rough period where we weren’t getting consecutive hits, we weren’t scoring many runs. We were just running into bad luck. But the last couple of games, that’s the way that it seems to have looked like -- that the team is built to perform like this. I believe that the talent that we have here, it’s capable of doing that. Hopefully we keep this momentum going toward the rest of the season.”

Ventura moves Keppinger down to seventh

Mixing things up, as he put it, White Sox manager Robin Ventura made a lineup switch for Saturday night’s game against the Angels, moving Jeff Keppinger down in the lineup to hit seventh.

Only once so far this season has Keppinger hit in any position other than second. That came back on April 6 -- the team’s fifth game of the season -- against the Mariners.

“I’m just moving it around,” Ventura said before the game. “Just mix it up and see what happens.”

Keppinger has struggled mightily in his first season on the South Side. Through 27 games, he hit just .191 with his on-base percentage lower than that, resting at .188 mainly because Keppinger has yet to take a walk this season.

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Hoping to jumpstart Keppinger to a performance more like the .325 batting average season he posted a year ago, Ventura hoped the lower spot in the order would create more opportunities for the infielder, who has just six RBIs on the year.

“Sometimes there’s big deals made about it,” Ventura said of the move. “Sometimes you can put pressure on yourself and sometimes you can take it off. You know what the track record is, you’re just trying to get it out of him. He fits in a lot of different spots in the lineup with the way he can handle the bat. Hopefully there’ll be some guys on and he can knock some runs in.”

Keppinger was originally slated to hit eighth Saturday, but when Conor Gillaspie was forced out of the lineup with an upper respiratory infection, Keppinger moved up a slot in the batting order and shifted over to play third base for the first time since April 18. Tyler Greene got the start at second base.

De Aza continues to show power from leadoff spot

Alejandro De Aza’s leadoff home run in Friday’s game wasn’t the first time he’s flexed power as the Sox’s first batter of the game.

The solo shot was the seventh of the outfielder’s career and third of this season. All seven have come since the start of last season, the second most in baseball over that stretch, trailing only the eight of Texas’ Ian Kinsler.

“It feels great. It feels nice to start the game with a home run,” De Aza said. “All I have on my mind is, ‘Get on base.’ If I hit a home run, it’s nice.”

He admitted that a leadoff homer can give the rest of the team a boost, but he added that, more importantly, it gives the Sox pitcher an early lead.

“Whenever you start with a run, it gives your pitcher a little more of a break, gives him more confidence because he’s already on top,” De Aza said.

Rios gave a similar assessment, talking about how an early run -- whether it comes via the long ball or not -- helps the game's starter.

“Every time you can score early and score runs early, it’s so much easier for the pitchers,” Rios said. “It just gives them a little more cushion in the game. It’s good when you can score early and then you can add on to those runs.”