Ballantini: Dunn worrying? Good chance hes not

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Ballantini: Dunn worrying? Good chance hes not

Friday, March 25, 2011
Posted: 1:20 p.m.
By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com
The Chicago White Sox, All-In yet wheezing toward another pallid month of training wheels baseball, have just a week to turn cans into can-do.

Over the course of this prickly Cactus League season, in which the White Sox have clinched the distinction of being the final spring training team to reach double-digit wins, several worries have come and gone.

Mark Buehrles batting-practice fastballs melded with awful location to find the crafty lefty bruised and battered midway through spring, yet hes bounced back from four figures to hold a not-unbearable ERA of 5.54 heading into his final spring start.

Carlos Quentin was looking as lost in the batters box as he did in right field, taking enough sideline BP to slowly corkscrew himself into Glendales crusty earth, when hellfire met hulk-mania and he embarked on a 12-17 tear that included four doubles, three homers, and seven RBI.

Paul Konerko took an extra warm-up lap out of spring training, shooting for team honors in strikeouts, Mendoza Line tripping, and accidental standup triples, before regaining his stroke last week and easing his OPS to a more plausible .823.

Even young gun Chris Sale, sporting an ERA this spring (5.23) that would find him falling freely out of Rookie of the Year contention, nonetheless has maintained a future closerace rate of 6.5 strikeouts per walk.

But Adam Dunn, the Big Donkey turned Brawny lumberjack courtesy of a beard borne of boredom, has yet to give a slip to his spring training yips, slogging through a .616 OPS spring and a batting average still short of spitting distance of Mendoza (.190). While hes pocketed eight walks, hes whiffed an astounding 25 times in 18 games, with very modest run production numbers (one jack, three RBI).

Worry about Dunn is twofold. First, its that K-.431 this spring compared with an already-healthy .328 in his career. Second, its come with a power outage; in Dunns career, hes tapped out a round-tripper once every 14.1 at-bats, while this spring hes stuck at one per 58, and counting.

And yet, is anyone on the White Sox worried? Not really.

The great thing about Dunn is that, unlike Sale or even Quentin, hes a veteran whos been through countless slow starts in his career, so hes well inoculated against over thinking the process.

If I stressed out about it, Id have been out of this game years ago, Dunn said. The beginning of the season is always toughwell, I say always, Im going to try this year to change that, gol-lyIm not going to set myself up and say Im going to start slow, but whispers good chance.

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen is a bit jumpier in nature than Dunn, but is likewise unworried.

He reminds me a little bit of Jim Thome, Guillen said. This guy strikes out 100-plus, walks 100-plus, thats 250 times up without putting the ball in play, and still puts up a lot
of numbers. How they do it, I dont know.

Fans eyes pop out over home runs, but ask Dunn, and he could care less about the long ball.

Its not so much the homers; getting on base is No. 1 with me, Dunn says. If I can keep my on-base average .380-plus, thats my No. 1 goal of the year. Getting on base is going to equal runs. If I get on 40 of the time, were going to score some runs.

Thats exactly the way Guillen says it, although the manager has penned a quiet wish for 50 homers from Dunn this season.

I dont expect anything different from Adam, Guillen said. You get on base, youre going to give the team a chance to win. Thats why Im putting him at the top of the order, to give him more at bats and get him on base.

Dunn admits that last year, the Washington Nationals anemic offense forced him to change up his strategy. Tired of being stranded at second base, the slugger turned on his aggressivenessand wasnt much pleased with the results.

Last year was the first year I tried to swing a lot, and everything was about the same except my on-base, Dunn said. I feel like I wasnt on base last year. We needed to score runs in Washington. I dont know whats going to happen this year, but Im just going to let it freaking rip.

The numbers bear that out. Dunn isnt a slow starter, historically (his .982 OPS in 214 career MarchApril games is his highest of any month), but last year, the bookends of his season were miserable. In MarchApril he put up an .823 OPS, and wheezed to a .765 in SeptemberOctober. In 49 games over those two month, the Nats masher pushed across just 24 RBI.

It was locker mate Matt Thornton who offered an explanation for Dunns poor finish.

Its called being 25 games out in July, Thornton said. I went through it in 2007. Youre that far out that early, and its hard to keep your mind from drifting to the offseason. Theres nothing worse than struggling to find something to play for.

Clearly, Dunn wants results, and his inability to get untracked this March indicates some similar pressing. A cool customer who was granted automatic respect from teammates the minute he walked through the clubhouse door, the slugger is no different from any player on the fieldhe wants to fit in and not disappoint.

I put a lot of pressure on myself, but I know I have struggled early in the past, so I dont panic and say holy expletive, Im hitting .150 in April. It sucks, but that only means theres some damage coming in May, June, July, and August. Its hard to be patient when everybodys panicking, but it just takes five good months, so you can have a bad one.

Dunns forgetfulness about his past prowess out of the gate could just be a smart strategy against overreacting to the deep freeze slump that seems to plague every one of the Chicago 9 on a yearly basis. Theres a fair chance that in spite of some insipid spring numbers, Dunn will pile some of the smaller Hose on his shoulders early and slug the Chisox to some wins all on his own. Not that the Big Donkey is braying on it.

If I start out on fire, Ill freak, said the genial slugger. I dont know whatll happen--.400, here I come.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnikon Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.

White Sox crush four homers to support Jose Quintana in win over Mariners

White Sox crush four homers to support Jose Quintana in win over Mariners

Fireworks Night started early for the White Sox on Saturday night.

The White Sox homered four times to support Jose Quintana in their 9-3 win over the Seattle Mariners at U.S. Cellular Field in front of 27,318 fans. Quintana, who set a career high in season wins last week, notched his 11th victory of the season.

"This year is special for me," Quintana said. "Now we have momentum. (We have to) try to keep (it) going to get more for my team. It’s really good. I’m trying to do my job."

Quintana was on point again right from the get-go. After allowing a double to the first batter of the game, the 27-year-old southpaw retired the next 11 batters.

Quintana pitched 7.2 innings with eight strikeouts and two runs on five hits and a walk. He lowered his ERA to 2.77 on the year.

"He's pretty consistent," said manager Robin Ventura. "I think that's the biggest thing for him. Mentality wise and just focus, just his attitude and everything that goes with him is pretty consistent. You're never going to really tell what's going on with him on the game.

"He's had so many games that were close or tied or even behind that he never changes. I think that's what endears him to a lot of guys. He's consistent."

While Quintana has been consistent all year, the offense hasn't been. But on Saturday, the team gave their starter a healthy dose of run support.

"What was really impressive was the offense tonight was really good for us and for me," Quintana said. "It’s fun when you’re throwing when a lot of runs are scored."

The Mariners opened up the scoring with a sac fly from Robinson Cano in the first. But the White Sox answered back right away.

Melky Cabrera drove in Tim Anderson, who tripled in the previous at-bat, with a sac fly. The next batter, Jose Abreu, crushed his 18th homer of the year to put the White Sox in front. Cabrera was the only White Sox who didn’t record a hit in the game.

The White Sox offense began to heat up in the fourth after a quiet second and third from both sides.

After the first two batters of the inning were retired, the next four White Sox got on. It cleared the path for Tyler Saladino’s RBI single, which put the Sox up 3-1. Saladino finished the night with one homer and three RBI.

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The White Sox added four more in the fifth inning.

The scoring started with an RBI triple from Justin Morneau — the team’s second three-bagger of the night.

Back-to-back homers from Avisail Garcia and Alex Avila made it 7-1. It was the fifth time the White Sox hit two consecutive homers this season.

"I think Q's probably the happiest guy of anybody. He was great," Ventura said. "Any time you swing the bat as well as we did tonight and you get some add ons with the homers, you like seeing that kind of offense and you like seeing balls over the fence.

"Guys had a good night of just being patient and being able to cash in."

The Mariners added a run in the sixth from an RBI single by Guillermo Heredia and a sac-fly Franklin Gutierrez in the ninth.

Avila went 1-for-3 with a solo homer and walk in his first game since July 5.

Garcia, who had five extra base hits in June and July, had three on Friday night.

After missing nearly two months, Alex Avila happy to be back with White Sox

After missing nearly two months, Alex Avila happy to be back with White Sox

Alex Avila is ready to play baseball again after being out of action for almost two months with a right hamstring injury.

The White Sox catcher was activated from the disabled list on Friday and started behind the plate and bat eighth during Saturday's contest against the Seattle Mariners.

“I feel like it’s opening day for me right now,” Avila said.

The 29-year-old had been on the disabled list with a right hamstring injury since July 6. He thought his return was going to be a lot sooner, but a setback negated that during his first rehab assignment on July 20.

Avila said that he “probably tried to rush back a little too quick and wasn’t ready,” so this time around, he was being extra cautious.

“It definitely took longer than I expected it to,” Avila said of his recovery process. “But at the same time I couldn’t jeopardize coming back and reinjuring it again. At this point in the season I feel like I’m definitely ready to play and can get through the last few games.

“It’s been a rough few weeks, personally, but sometimes there’s things you can’t control and you gotta make sure you let mother nature take its course and play that out. It can be difficult when you’re on the DL because at times you feel a little disconnected. Stuff like that. But you have to really worry about yourself and getting healthy, then once you are you can get back to being a team player.”

Avila is .236/.362/.358 on the season with three homers and six RBI in 41 games played.

“It’s been awhile. I know it’s been tough on him to be able to do that,” manager Robin Ventura said. “He has worked hard to get back where he was. Even when he came back, to have an injury happen fairly quickly. He was swinging it great. That’s the part of baseball that’s tough. You get back, and something like that happens. You don’t really plan for it. It’s nice to have him back.”

To make room for Avila, the White Sox traded catcher Dioner Navarro to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for 25-year-old pitcher Colton Turner, who the White Sox are hoping can continue to build on his strong season.

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For now, Avila and Omar Narvaez will split the catching duties.

“He’s a very mild-mannered kid. He works hard,” Avila said of Narvaez. “He’s been asking all the right questions as far as how to call games and what to do in certain situations and we’ve talked a little bit. At the same time it’s about him gaining that experience and having those experiences on the field is one thing I’ve told catchers that I’ve come across.

“Coaches and veteran players can say all the right things you need to hear (and) can give you all the advice you want. But it comes down to getting that playing experience on the field with the pitcher, with guys on base, in the sixth inning with two outs and a guy on third. All those experiences mean so much more than any advice I can give him.

“One thing I can do and what coaches can help him do is have an idea going into it. But he’s got a good head on his shoulders and up to this point he’s shown that up here hasn’t overwhelmed him and he’s been playing well."

Narvaez is .325/.426/.375 in 14 games with the White Sox this season.

Miguel Gonzalez is also getting closer to a return.

“I know (Gonzalez and Carson Fulmer) will be in there at some point to get their starts,” Ventura said. “How we do it when they’re in there, we haven’t really nailed that down. It’s an open dialogue at this point of being able to figure out the right spot to get them back in there.”

Chris Sale strikes out 14 but White Sox fall to Mariners

Chris Sale strikes out 14 but White Sox fall to Mariners

Felix Hernandez has proven for years that he doesn’t need much help.

But the White Sox provided him with three free outs on the bases anyway on Friday night.

Those mistakes allowed Hernandez to hold the White Sox in check as they wasted a 14-strikeout performance from Chris Sale in a 3-1 loss to the Seattle Mariners in front of 25,651 at U.S. Cellular Field. Sale retired 16 in a row to end it, but it wasn’t enough as the White Sox dropped back to five games below .500.

“We didn’t run the bases very well tonight,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “That ends up costing you. You’re getting something going against them, and it just takes the wind out of your sails. Both guys pitched great.

“They just executed better than we did when they got the chance. Both guys were going strong. The way we ran the bases, we didn’t deserve to win that game.”

Sale (15-7) deserved much better than to lose for the fifth time in his last six decisions.

[MORE: White Sox trade catcher Dioner Navarro to Blue Jays]

Though he allowed a run in the second, third and fourth innings, Sale got on a roll late.

After Adam Lind’s two-out RBI double in the fourth, Sale found an extra gear and retired the last 16 Mariners to hit, including 10 strikeouts. He struck out the side in the sixth and seventh innings and afforded his teammates a chance to rally.

“Thank God we did it early because as everybody saw, when he gets on a roll it’s like lights out,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “He’s obviously one of the best pitchers in the league for a reason. We had no chance, really, after the fourth and fifth inning. He got into a groove and got all his pitches working.”

Two of Seattle’s three runs off Sale came on opposite-field drives as Lind doubled to left in the fourth and Franklin Gutierrez homered to right in the second inning. Sale walked none and only allowed five hits and three runs in nine innings. He threw strikes on 88 of 120 pitches.

It was the 13th complete game of Sale’s career and his fifth this season.

“I wanted to find a groove and I felt like after the fourth inning I got into a pretty good groove, that cruising speed I was talking about,” Sale said. “I just tried to lengthen it as much as I could, just fill up as many innings as I could. Just give us a chance to win, keep us in the game.”

While Sale kept his team in the game, they repeatedly took themselves out of it.

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The White Sox had plenty of chances against Hernandez, none better than the bottom of the eighth inning. Trailing by two runs, Avisail Garcia and Tyler Saladino singled on both sides of a J.B. Shuck fielder’s choice. Adam Eaton’s one-out walk knocked Hernandez out of the game after 104 pitches.

But closer Edwin Diaz got Tim Anderson to hit into a fielder’s choice as third baseman Shawn O’Malley made a perfect throw home on the slow roller for a force out. Jose Abreu then fouled out to leave the bases loaded. Diaz retired the side in order in the ninth for his 11th save.

Todd Frazier homered in the seventh inning of Hernandez for the team’s only run, but they should have had more. The White Sox had the leadoff man reach base in five of eight innings started by Hernandez, who allowed a run and eight hits in 7 1/3 innings. Hernandez erased two of those five as he picked off Frazier and Shuck in the second and third innings. He also got out of a first-and-third jam in the fifth inning when Shuck lined into a double play and Omar Narvaez was caught leaning.

“That’s the frustrating part,” Ventura said. “You know you’re not really going to have too many opportunities (against Hernandez). You might be able to hit and run or all of a sudden you’re first and third. But if you just take it out of your own hands, that’s where you scratch your head.”