NEW YORK -- The White Sox havent yet reached the halfway point and Alex Rios is already only three home runs shy of equaling last seasons 13.
The veteran outfielder -- who is hitting .341 with nine homers and 25 RBIs in his last 32 games -- has a .836 OPS, his highest mark since he was with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2007. Though his comeback perhaps hasnt received as much attention as those of Jake Peavy and Adam Dunn, Rios is clearly played a significant role in the White Sox strong first half.
He enters Thursdays series opener at the New York Yankees with .302 average, 10 homers and 40 RBIs. Last season, Rios hit .237 with 13 homers and 44 RBIs. He believes his success is the result of simplifying his process at the plate.
Im focusing on having a good approach at the plate and Im leaving the mechanics out of the equation, Rios said. Im just focusing on my approach more than anything else. (Last season) was tough. Who wants to come to the field and do bad? Now Im focusing on this year.
Manager Robin Ventura thinks a key for Rios is he isnt as concerned about failure. Ventura also noted Rios is more comfortable in right field compared with center field and feels like he can contribute with his glove.
Rios moved to right this season after he spent the previous two years as the White Sox full-time center fielder.
This season, Rios has a 6.9 Ultimate Zone Rating -- a metric that measures the runs a player saves against an average defender at the same position -- in right field, according to fangraphs.com. Last season, Rios had a -7.4 UZR in center.
He feels like hes playing well and I think thats something that pushes guys over the top is hes not worried, Ventura said. In some ways, where guys get to that part where they are concerned about the consequences of not doing well, hes just playing. Hes confident enough he doesnt have to be concerned about results. He feels like hes going to contribute every day.
Rios -- who is signed through 2014 -- admits hes in a more comfortable spot than he was last season. He has done his best to put those struggles behind him. The way the White Sox have played thus far has made that task easier.
Last year is something of the past, Rios said. Im trying to help to us win games. Our team is pretty well-balanced. We have a good offense, good pitching. We have big name hitters who have been doing great and you have to be glad to be part of a team like that. Hopefully we can keep doing good and make the playoffs.