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."

Ranking the five best games Mark Buehrle pitched with the White Sox

Ranking the five best games Mark Buehrle pitched with the White Sox

The White Sox will retire Mark Buehrle's No. 56 prior to June 24's game against the Oakland Athletics, a deserving honor for one of the best pitchers in franchise history. The left-hander compiled a 3.83 ERA and won 161 games during 12 seasons with the White Sox, and perhaps more impressively, he threw over 200 innings every year he was a full-time member of the team's starting rotation. 

So with the White Sox announcing Buehrle's number retirement ceremony for this summer, let's take a look back at the best games the St. Charles, Mo. native pitched with the White Sox. 

1. July 23, 2009: 9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 6 K vs. Tampa Bay. Time of game: 2:03

Buehrle's perfect game, complete with Dewayne Wise's legendary catch, sits at the top of mountain of Buehrle's historic achievements with the White Sox. This was a vintage Buehrle game, with him working quickly and getting plenty of weak contact. It just turned out that Tampa Bay couldn't get anyone on base in it.

2. April 18, 2007: 9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 8 K vs. Texas. Time of game: 2:03

By game score, this was actually the best game Buehrle pitched in his career thanks to the two more strikeouts he had than in his perfect game. And in no-hitting the Rangers, Buehrle still faced the minimum — after walking Sammy Sosa, he picked off the former Cubs slugger. 

3. April 16, 2005: 9 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 12 K vs. Seattle. Time of game: 1:39

The 99-minute game might get lost in Buehrle's career thanks to his no-hitter and perfect game, but it's right up there in terms of how impressive it was. Not only did Buehrle set a career high in strikeouts against Seattle, but only one Mariners player got a hit that day (Ichiro, who naturally had all three). And it was the first — and still only — nine-inning game to be completed in under 100 minutes since 1984.

4. Aug. 3, 2001: 9 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 3 K vs. Tampa Bay. Time of game: 2:12

Before Buehrle was an All-Star, World Series winner and no-hitter/perfect game thrower, he took a perfect game into the seventh inning against the Devil Rays before Damian Rolls singled to break it up. This wasn't Buehrle's first great start of his career — that came in a three-hit shutout of the Detroit Tigers on May 26, 2001 — but it stood up for a decade and a half as one of the best games he pitched in the majors. 

5. July 21, 2004: 0 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 3 K vs. Cleveland. Time of game: 2:31

This was another brush with perfection for Buehrle, who only allowed a one-out, seventh-inning single to Omar Vizquel (he got Matt Lawton to hit into a double play after, allowing him to face the minimum for the first time in his career). This is the longest game in Buehrle's top five thanks to the White Sox blasting Cliff Lee and the Indians for 14 runs, but even then, barely over two and a half hours was a relatively brisk pace. 

White Sox will retire Mark Buehrle's number in June

White Sox will retire Mark Buehrle's number in June

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Mark Buehrle apparently has retired after all.

The longtime White Sox pitcher, who never officially called it quits, will have his No. 56 retired on June 24.

Buehrle, who won 161 games and completed at least 200 innings in 11 straight seasons for the White Sox, last pitched for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2015. The White Sox will honor their former ace — he's the 12th player in franchise history to have his number retired — before they host the Oakland A's at 1:10 p.m. in June.

Buehrle was a human highlight reel over his 12 seasons with the White Sox. Whether it was his fancy glovework, a perfect game, his no-hitter or recording a save in the 14th inning of Game 3 of the 2005 World Series, Buehrle was a South Side legend.

"Mark Buehrle is one of the most accomplished pitchers in franchise history," White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said in a statement. "Mark carried himself with class and professionalism throughout his career, and his popularity with staff, teammates and Sox fans is very well deserved. Although a very humble person, he certainly showed a flair for the dramatic on the mound, from a no-hitter to an unforgettable perfect game to a World Series title. A standout on the field and a standup teammate in the clubhouse, it is our honor to retire Mark Buehrle’s No. 56 and to welcome him into the legendary class of all-time White Sox greats."

The White Sox selected Buehrle in the 38th round of the 1998 amateur draft and he debuted in 2000, going 4-1 in 28 games (three starts). Buehrle also earned four All-Star nods while with the team (five overall) and was a three-time Rawlings Gold Glove winner (four overall). He also won two of three starts during the team's 2005 World Series run as the team snapped an 88-year championship drought.

Buehrle signed a four-year, $58-million deal with the Miami Marlins ahead of the 2012 season and was later traded to the Toronto Blue Jays. He pitched 200 innings in 14 consecutive seasons before falling four outs shy of the feat in his final campaign (2015). Though Buehrle never officially retired, he hasn’t pursued pitching for another team since.