A.J. 'literally one call away' from leaving

331233.jpg

A.J. 'literally one call away' from leaving

Friday, Dec. 3, 2010
7:40 PM

By Jeremy Lynn
CSNChicago.com

Six years ago, A.J. Pierzynski couldn't find a team after being released by the San Francisco Giants.

Now, he'll call Chicago home for at least a couple more seasons - his seventh and eighth on the South Side - after re-signing with the White Sox Friday for 8 million over two years.

"I'm ecstatic, I didn't really think it would work out," Pierzynski said. "I had called my mom and told her I was going to a different team, it was bittersweet. I'm happy a team wanted me as much as (another organization) did, but Rick Hahn called and it was an offer we were looking for."

While it's a happy day for Pierzynski and the White Sox, the veteran backstop was extremely close to adding "former" in front of his current employer.

"When I say we were close, we were literally one phone call away from being done," Pierzynski stated about the negotiation process Thursday night. "At the last second I got a call from Hahn, we were interested and it got done in about 15 minutes.

"I really, really thought it was over. It was hard for me to believe with all we'd been through in Chicago but it worked out and it feels right, which is all I can ask for as a player."

Pierzynski, who turns 34 on Dec. 30, struggled at the plate last season with his impending free agency on his mind, "I was trying to do too much - get five hits every at bat - to show everyone what I was capable of doing instead of just letting it happen."

Five hits surely wasn't happening, Pierzynski was having trouble getting even one in most game early on. He hit .247 in the first half of 2010 before getting hot in the season's final month to finish with a .270 batting average, down from .300 in 2009, with four less home runs (13 in '09 to nine in '10).

"It was my fault, but you live and you learn and I hope to grow from it," reflected Pierzynski on his early-season slump. "I tried too hard and pressed, and we got off to a bad start. You look up and you're hitting .180 in May and you start pressing. I'm going to try not to let it happen again."

Whether or not Pierzynski's hitting can rebound may not matter as much with Friday's signing of left-handed slugger Adam Dunn, a clear signal the team wants to win just as bad as he does.

"Aren't white Sox always in (win now) mode?" Pierzynski pondered. "One thing about the White Sox, they always want to win and it's a very attractive quality about this organization. They do whatever they can to win - signing free agents and making trades - whether it's Jerry (Reinsdorf), Kenny (Williams) or Ozzie (Guillen) they do everything they can to win. That's why I wanted to come back and be a part of it."

Part of that willingness to win included Williams' signing of Pierzynski before the 2005 season, a move that worked out pretty well for both sides, and could help provide another World Series championship.

"I know people say it all the time, but I had more lucrative offers out there," Pierzynski admitted. "Not to toot my own horn, but I took less money to come back, and if it helps the White Sox win and get better it'll be a great decision. I just want to win and any little thing we can do is great."

Pierzynski was specifically referring to the not-so-little act of him and Dunn deferring money to later years of their contracts to aid in the potential re-signing of Paul Konerko. While Pierzynski has no secret information about the future of his longtime teammate and "good friend," he hopes to see Konerko wearing black and white again next year.

"The one thing (the White Sox) have to do is bring Paul Konerko back. He should finish his career as a White Sox. He's done so much for the team and the community on and off the field, it would be unbelievable for me to take the field as a White Sox and not have Paul Konerko on the field with me.

"I'll do whatever I have to do to help being him back."

Whether or not the Sox's captain returns for 2011 and beyond, Pierzynski is happy with the current roster.

"We have strong guys and strong leadership at the top, it starts with Ozzie and works down," Pierzynski said. "Everyone talks about clubhouse this and clubhouse that... if we're winning, the clubhouse will be great, if we're losing it'll be bad."

For his part, Pierzynski wishes he could play "all 162 (games)," - and while knowing that's not possible - he remains happy with Guillen's willingness to run him out there as often as he can. "That's why I love playing for him.

"You all know I'm not a happy camper when I have to take days off, I'm pretty miserable."

With Pierzynski in place, a new source of power in the middle of the lineup and the potential return of Konerko, there may not be many unhappy days over the next two years for the South Sider's field general.

Starting to blossom: White Sox prospect Dane Dunning flourishes behind attacking style

Starting to blossom: White Sox prospect Dane Dunning flourishes behind attacking style

Dane Dunning has begun to cast aside the doubts of some observers who wondered when he was drafted last June if he’s a starting pitcher or a reliever.

The White Sox felt pretty certain Dunning -- the team’s No. 10 prospect according to MLBPipeline.com -- would start even though he pitched out of the bullpen more often in three seasons at the University of Florida. They were absolutely thrilled when they were able to include the Washington Nationals’ 2016 first-round draft pick along with pitchers Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez in the return for Adam Eaton.

Through four starts at Single-A Kannapolis, Dunning has only strengthened the club’s assertion with a scorching hot start that could likely soon lead to a promotion. After six more scoreless innings and seven strikeouts on Wednesday, Dunning is 2-0 with a 0.35 ERA.

“I talked to scouts who really think Giolito and Lopez are relievers and at the time of the trade thought ‘Don’t be surprised if Dunning is the best starting pitcher of those three guys in the long run,’” said MLB.com’s Jim Callis. “He’s got stuff. He’s not going to light up the gun like those guys can. But he’s got a fastball with life and he’s got three pitches. He’s legit. He very well could go from being the third guy in the trade for Eaton to the best guy.”

The only thing that has slowed down Dunning this month is the weather. Originally scheduled to start Sunday, Dunning’s fourth turn was wiped out by rain for three consecutive days. The layoff could explain Dunning’s -- ahem -- rust on Wednesday morning when he threw only 58 of 88 pitches (66 percent) for strikes and limited Hagerstown to two hits and a walk while striking out seven.

All Dunning has done is fill up the strike zone this season. He has thrown strikes on 246 of 354 pitches (69.5 percent). Through 26 innings, Dunning has allowed two runs (one earned), 13 hits and two walks with 33 strikeouts.

“He really commands the fastball well to both sides,” Kannapolis catcher Seby Zavala said. “He doesn’t get behind too many hitters. He attacks with the fastball. And if you can locate that fastball, you’re going to do pretty well, especially at this level.”

Dunning is hopeful his attacking style would work at every level. As he noted, Hall of Fame hitters are successful only three out of 10 times.

“The odds are in my favor 70 percent of the time,” Dunning said. “I’m OK with those odds.

[WHITE SOX TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

“Big leaguers, they miss down the middle at times and they get away with it. They miss up at times and they get away with it. Baseball is a game of failure. A hitter’s going to fail seven out of 10 times. Once you realize those odds, you just pound strikes and if you’re able to locate it, that helps in your favor.”

Despite his approach, many observers weren’t sure if Dunning would start as a pro. A reliever his freshman season at Florida, Dunning made 14 starts in his second year before mostly pitching in relief as a junior. He had the burden of pitching in a Gators rotation that included fellow first-round pick A.J. Puk and second-rounder Logan Shore.

“If I went to really any other SEC school I would have been a Friday night starter,” Dunning said. “But on the other hand, it humbled me a bunch and I learned a lot by starting and going out of the ‘pen.”

Still, Dunning faced a bunch of interview questions during the draft process about whether he wanted to start or relieve. An American League scout who took in Dunning’s April 18 outing at Asheville doesn’t think Florida knew what it had in Dunning, who posted a 3.32 ERA and struck out 170 in 160 collegiate innings.

But amateur scouting director Nick Hostetler said the White Sox suspected Dunning would start all along. Hostetler attended one of Dunning’s five starts in 2016 and liked the combination of the right-hander’s 6-foot-3, 190-pound frame and his stuff. The White Sox nearly selected Dunning with the 26th pick in the draft but instead grabbed reliever Zack Burdi as they believed they might need a big arm out of the bullpen in the majors later that season. Washington took Dunning 29th overall.

“He showed three pitches, the ability to command all three pitches, physical build, strength,” Hostetler said. “And when he did start last year he showed the ability to go deeper into games. He maintained his stuff through it. And I felt with not only the physical size, but the stuff, that was going to translate and he was going to start.

“He’s pretty aggressive, he’s always been that way. He’s a pretty dialed in kid. He’s in the game, the whole game. There’s no distracting him. He kind of looks like what we expected him to be.”

Though he is more comfortable in the five-day routine for starters, Dunning jokes that he gets jealous of position players being on the field every day. Still, he doesn’t find the uncertainty that comes with relieving as appealing but appreciates the experience. Dunning knows that experience could supply him with a fallback plan. But if he’s given the choice, Dunning prefers to be a starting pitcher.

“I can get in more of a groove,” Dunning said. “Mainly, it’s just to help the team get wins and that’s my ultimate goal out there if I’m starting or coming out of the bullpen. If I’m starting, just put on a good performance for my team, get the game going. If I’m coming out of the ‘pen, it’s hold the lead and get my team W’s.”

CSN will televise eight Charlotte Knights games this summer

knights.png
Laura Wolff

CSN will televise eight Charlotte Knights games this summer

Good news, White Sox fans.

CSN is going to televise eight games this summer of the Charlotte Knights, the White Sox Triple-A affiliate.

“The White Sox have sent us an outstanding roster of prospects this season,” said Charlotte Knights Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer Dan Rajkowski. “We’re thrilled that CSN Chicago will be airing several of our games to showcase that talent while also giving viewers an extended look at BB&T Ballpark and the city of Charlotte.”

It's no secret by now that the White Sox have one of the best farm systems in baseball, much of where their talent plays for Charlotte.

The Knights feature an elite group of young stars such as Zack Burdi, Carson Fulmer, Lucas Giolito, Yoan Moncada, and Reynaldo Lopez.

Below is the full TV list:

Wednesday, May 3 10:00 a.m. vs Norfolk (Orioles) LIVE
Thursday, May 4 6:00 p.m. vs Norfolk (Orioles) LIVE
Sunday, May 7 1:00 p.m. vs Gwinnett (Braves) SDD-7p on CSN
Saturday, May 27 6:00 p.m. vs Buffalo (Blue Jays) LIVE
Sunday, May 28 6:00 p.m. vs Buffalo (Blue Jays) SDD-7p on CSN
Thursday, June 15 6:00 p.m. vs Louisville (Reds) LIVE
Saturday, June 17 6:00 p.m. vs Indianapolis (Pirates) LIVE on CSN+HD
Sunday, June 18 1:00 p.m. vs Indianapolis (Pirates) SDD-7p on CSN

The announcers for the games are still to be determined.

[VIVID SEATS: Buy White Sox tickets right here]

Our CSN White Sox Insider Dan Hayes went on a minor league tour last week to check in with the team's farm system.

Check out the latest news from the White Sox minor league system:

White Sox prospect Zack Collins takes a major step toward making it as a big-league catcher

Fun and fluid: Drill sharpens White Sox prospect Yoan Moncada's defensive skills

White Sox prospect Carson Fulmer: 'Our time is coming soon'

White Sox think Michael Kopech's maturity will help him overcome early fastball command issues