Flowers gets his chance -- kind of

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Flowers gets his chance -- kind of

At 26, Tyler Flowers no longer is the big-time prospect that made him the centerpiece of Atlanta's package of prospects sent to the White Sox in exchange for Javier Vazquez following the 2008 season. He's not going to dethrone A.J. Pierzynski behind the plate, at least not in 2012. And while a backup role isn't his ideal job, it's one he certainly can live with.

"I think I'm in a good spot if I'm just backing up and not being able to play as regularly as I'd like," Flowers said. "There's still a lot of education in being up here for a full season, learning from A.J. over the course of a full year to see how a guy like himself prepares everyday. And just getting the experience of being around an entire big-league season, I think it's going to beneficial no matter what my playing time is throughout the year."

Flowers and Pierzynski didn't exactly get along when they first met, though. In a seminar Sunday, Flowers mentioned that he and Pierzynski had some confrontations early on, but now are on good terms and talk quite a bit.

Maybe the tense nature of their nascent relationship was due to the fact that Flowers was penciled in to take Pierzynski's spot on the roster down the road. If all went according to plan, Flowers would've took over as the White Sox starting catcher in 2011. Pierzynski, solidly in his mid-30's, would have his contract expire following the 2010 season, which saw him post a career-low OPS of .688.

But Flowers hit just .220 with a .344 OBP in 2010 with Charlotte with an alarming 121 strikeouts. During that season, Flowers worked on making some tweaks to his swing and plate approach that were handed down by Kenny Williams, Greg Walker and Jeff Gellinger. He initially struggled with those changes, but instead of trying to revert back to his old swing and approach, Flowers worked through his issues and produced at a high clip in Triple-A last year.

"It's becoming more and more normal to me over time," Flowers said. "It's been a couple years now working with that approach and that swing. It's been very consistent this offseason. I'm definitely looking forward to putting it together in spring against live pitching, seeing how it holds up and where the problems come in."

Three years ago, few would've predicted Flowers' offense would be his greatest question mark. His defense earned poor reviews by many who saw him, with his footwork, arm and body type leading to predictions that Flowers' ultimate destination was at first base or designated hitter.

But in his 262 23 innings at the major-league level in 2011, Flowers wasn't a disaster behind the plate. Far from it -- he was, at worst, capable.

He didn't need to prove anything, at least to the White Sox. The front office has been telling him for years how happy they are with his defensive improvements. His teammates have his back, too.

"Tyler's come a long way," said starter Jake Peavy. "Since I got traded over here, I was in the minor leagues with Tyler watching him develop.

"He deserves to be in the big leagues. Obviously, we have A.J. Pierzynski and his track record throughout his career speaks for itself. But we have two very good catchers on this roster."

In filling in for Pierzynski for most of the month of August, Flowers developed a good rapport with the team's pitching staff, which remains largely intact heading into the 2012 season, except for one big name.

"I had a good one with Mark Buehrle," Flowers said with a wry grin. "Too bad he's not here.

"The other guys, we all have good relationships. I felt like we had a lot of success together. It helped solidify the opportunity to be a catcher here in Chicago, to have that good experience, to have some success working with guys and have that carry over into the season, it's definitely a good thing."

Take it from Peavy. Flowers has earned this chance, even if it's just as a backup.

"He's a big-league catcher," Peavy said. "That's the bottom line."

Miguel Gonzalez throws six perfect innings as White Sox take series against Tigers

Miguel Gonzalez throws six perfect innings as White Sox take series against Tigers

For six innings Sunday, Miguel Gonzalez was perfect.

The White Sox right-hander put the baseball world on perfect-game alert and conjured memories of Mark Buehrle and Philip Humber with his dazzling work through six innings. Gonzalez lost his bids for a perfect game, no hitter and shutout in the span of three batters to lead off the seventh inning, but that didn’t take away much from how good he was in a 7-3 win for the South Siders at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“He was dominant,” shortstop Tim Anderson said, providing an accurate if brief summation of the day’s proceedings.

Gonzalez, who entered with a 3-5 record and a 4.55 ERA in nine previous starts this season, set down the first 18 hitters he faced in order, with the visiting Detroit Tigers rarely even coming close to reaching base. That streak of 18 straight hitters retired to start the game was the longest by a White Sox starter since Chris Sale sat down the first 19 he faced back in May 2013.

Of course, whenever a performance nears no-hitter territory, players know it and stay away from the pitcher in the dugout, afraid of jinxing things. And the White Sox weren’t immune to that baseball tradition on Sunday.

“It was getting quiet,” Gonzalez said. “I was just trying to do my thing. Just go out there and make pitches, let them make the plays and that’s how things went.”

The Tigers — who trailed big after the White Sox gave Gonzalez a 7-0 lead — finally broke through to start the seventh. Austin Romine reached on an infield single, Alex Avila singled through the right side of the infield, and Miguel Cabrera dumped an RBI base hit into right field.

Detroit added two more runs on three extra-base hits in the eighth, but Gonzalez still finished with a great line, yielding just three runs on six hits in 7.2 innings of work.

Gonzalez’s gem snapped a streak of rough outings that started, coincidentally enough, against this Tigers team, when he was crushed for seven runs on 14 hits in an April 30 loss in Detroit. Entering Sunday’s game, Gonzalez was a nasty 0-5 with a 6.99 ERA in his previous five starts. He hadn’t made it out of the sixth inning in any of his previous three starts.

“I started off really good. I was struggling for a couple outings, and all you can do is keep working hard and things are going to happen,” Gonzalez said. “I think if you work hard in between your starts you have a pretty good chance of getting back on track and that’s how I felt today.”

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That seventh-inning blip by the Tigers ended the day’s only drama, as the White Sox offense put the result of the game out of question earlier, tagging opposing starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann for seven runs in his five innings of work.

Zimmermann entered the day struggling on the 2017 campaign, and that didn’t change Sunday. Willy Garcia tripled in Omar Narvaez for the game’s first run in the third and scored on the same play thanks to a throwing error. Two hitters later, Melky Cabrera hit a solo home run to make it 3-0.

Matt Davidson led off the bottom of the fourth with his 10th home run of the season, and Narvaez drove in Yolmer Sanchez to make it 5-0. Todd Frazier tacked on two more in the fifth with a two-run shot that also scored Jose Abreu.

“As an offense, we’re trying to give that (big cushion) every night. That’d be nice,” Davidson said. “And it really relaxes them. And you can see what happens when they’ve got a lead and you let them do their thing.”

The White Sox took three of four from the Tigers in this weekend series that featured a doubleheader split Saturday. It’s a positive start to this home stand — which continues with a three-game series against the Boston Red Sox — after going 3-7 on a recent 10-game road trip.

“I'm very happy with it, but again I'm not surprised by it, simply because I think they come out every single day to try to play good baseball and do what they need to help each other out and win ballgames,” manager Rick Renteria said. “It's just their character, the way they're put together. They keep battling.”

Jose Abreu relishing opportunity to help mentor Luis Robert, White Sox newest Cuban addition

Jose Abreu relishing opportunity to help mentor Luis Robert, White Sox newest Cuban addition

Call it the White Sox latest Cuban connection.

When news came out of the team pursuing 19-year-old Cuban outfielder Luis Robert, it was pretty easy to guess that Jose Abreu, the franchise’s previous big-time, free-agent signing from Cuba, would be involved.

But not only was Abreu involved in the White Sox courting of Robert, sending a personalized message as part of the team’s video pitch, he’s been a willing participant. And now that Robert is officially signed after Saturday’s much-hyped introduction, Abreu is ready to take on a mentorship role, much like he has with another one of the organization’s Cuban prospects, Yoan Moncada.

In the lead up to Saturday’s press conference, it was Abreu touring Robert around Guaranteed Rate Field, chatting with him in the dugout and taking pictures on the infield.

“I was very excited to have him here, and I’m very happy right now because he’s signing with the team,” Abreu said through a translator ahead of Sunday’s series finale with the visiting Detroit Tigers. “He’s a very good player. I just told him that he has to keep working hard and keep doing the things to get here as soon as he can. He’s a nice guy.

“I’m excited to have that opportunity (to be a mentor). That’s something that I like to do. I like to advise the guys and tell them what to do for their best like I am doing right now with Moncada. I’m just waiting for that opportunity to happen with (Robert).”

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While Abreu arrived on the South Side an older, more experienced player who was ready for the big leagues, Robert’s journey to the majors will be a much different, much longer one. Abreu recognizes that and talked about how tough the transition will be. He also has confidence Robert, who has received glowing scouting reports comparing him to perennial All Stars, can succeed.

“It’s not an easy thing to do to come here straight to play in the majors because this is a very high level and a tough one to play,” Abreu said. “I think the best for him is the decision that he’s making for him, to have some games in the minors and let him develop there. He’s had a long time without playing baseball. Baseball in Cuba is good, but it’s not as good as baseball here in the U.S. and you have to adjust. I think that process for him is going to be perfect in the minors.”

Saturday, Robert talked about the White Sox tradition of Cuban players, mentioning how it helped motivate him to sign with the team. Abreu has been one of the franchise’s most successful Cuban players, a list that includes the legendary Minnie Minoso as well as more recent players like Alexei Ramirez and Dayan Viciedo and Moncada in the minor leagues.

While that tradition might not be the entire or even main reason Robert is now a part of the organization, general manager Rick Hahn talked about how it’s created an environment that will help Robert develop. Banners featuring Minoso, Abreu, Ramirez and Moncada flanked the table where Robert signed his contract.

Abreu said it’s a tradition he’s very proud to be a part of.

“That made me feel happy and proud. Not just for this organization that I’m a part of, but also for my heritage because I know that this is a very good organization and they are trying to take care of the Cuban players,” Abreu said. “I also feel a huge respect for Minnie Minoso because he was the first one who opened this door here with the White Sox.”

Through his mentoring, Abreu could keep that tradition going into the future. Robert and Moncada are huge pieces of the White Sox rebuilding puzzle, and Abreu is helping put those pieces together for the White Sox.