Rios rebounding into form

750996.png

Rios rebounding into form

Theres something happening with Alex Rios. You might have noticed. Paul Konerko has noticed too, and the White Sox captain likes what he sees.

A lot.

It wouldnt surprise me if he has a monster season, because of the way hes going about it right now, Konerko said about Rios before Tuesdays game against the Indians.

If there is a hitting professor in the game, someone who studies the art like hes a baseball Michelangelo, its Konerko. So when he heaps praise on a player with those kind of words, its worth taking notice.

Konerkos lecture on Alex Rios 101 continued.

Alex is a big, strong talented guy. Hes a great pull hitter. He can pull the ball with the best of them. So when he starts hitting the ball the other way, it doesnt give fielders an option to just live out there away from him. Thats going to open the door to a lot of great things, Konerko said. The way hes picking up his hits now, and the at-bats hes having even in his outs, hes making really good outs. Its all there.

With the first month of the season in the books, Rios is batting .311. Much better than last year, when Rios finished April hitting .163. It was the start of his season-long downward spiral that ended with Rios batting a career-worst .227 with 13 homers and 44 RBIs in 537 at-bats. Not the kind of numbers the White Sox wanted from a hitter in a power spot in the lineup. But the struggles of 2011 are now in the rear view mirror.

I feel obviously better than last year, Rios said. Im still making progress. Im not quite where I want to be. But its all about work. Im just working hard to get to the point where I feel 100 percent comfortable, and doing what I want to do.

Sometimes baseball is as easy as see ball, hit ball. In theory, thats all you need to do, especially if you have the physical tools of Rios.

But last season, so much was going on inside the outfielders head when he stood in the batters box, his brain was like a pinball machine on tilt. He was thinking about his hands, his legs, his elbows, his feet...

See ball, hit ball sounded like a dream. Rios was living a baseball nightmare in a place called Mechanics Hell.

But this year, everythings different. What exactly? For one, all that clutter that had a permanent spot in his noggin....its all gone.

Im not worrying about mechanics, Rios said. Just have a plan when I go to the plate and stick to it. Sometimes you have a plan, but you dont stick to it during the at-bat. Im just trying to stick to my plan and hopefully everything goes well.

So far it has.

Hes batting .353 vs. right-handers, compared to .204 last year. Hes reached safely in 16 of his last 19 games. He had an 11-game hitting streak in the middle of April. The streak began two days after he belted a game-winning home run in the 9th inning off Texas' Joe Nathan.

Its precisely the kind of start he was hoping for when he arrived in Glendale for spring training.

It gives you a confidence boost, Rios said. You feel good about yourself and you feel like you still have it, and thats a good thing. When you have that confidence, it makes things so much easier to deal with.

Weve noticed.

Mark Buehrle 'floored' White Sox will retire his number

Mark Buehrle 'floored' White Sox will retire his number

GLENDALE, Ariz. — He's a little nervous now that he has a speech to make, but Mark Buehrle is enjoying life and has no regrets about retiring from baseball.

Addressing the media for the first time since his final game on Oct. 4, 2015, Buehrle said Friday he's right where he wants to be — at home with his family. Buehrle determined 3-4 years ago he would retire after his contract expired to spend more time with his wife and kids. The pitcher, who will have his number 56 retired by the White Sox on June 24, said he didn't announce his decision to step away because he hoped to do so with much fanfare.

"I knew I was done, that I didn't have the drive any more," Buehrle said on a conference call. "I think a big part of it was missing the family, they weren't up in Toronto the whole season and I think that just kind of drained on me. The reason I didn't say anything — I didn't want all the attention. I've always told people I was a young guy that came into the big leagues unknown. Kind of snuck into the big leagues and I wanted to kind of sneak my way out. That's why I haven't said anything, I haven't talked to anybody, I just kind of let it go. Hopefully one day it was just kind of got forgotten and five years down the road, ‘Where's that Buehrle guy? Is he still around?'"

Buehrle, who won 161 games and completed 200 innings in 11 straight seasons with the White Sox, has spent the past year-plus on his Missouri farm with his wife, Jamie, and two children, "doing what I've been wanting to do for 20 years," he said. 

While he misses teammates and life in the clubhouse, Buehrle is at peace with his decision to retire after 16 seasons. He discovered when watching games last season that he didn't miss playing as much as he expected.

Buehrle joked that he doesn't want many former teammates to attend the ceremony because it means he'd have to speak in front of a larger audience. He promises to keep his speech brief, similar to the way he pitched. The left-hander even joked that he offered to allow his son to make the speech in his stead.

[RELATED: Ranking the five best games Mark Buehrle pitched with the White Sox]

Even though he's one of the most popular players in club history, Buehrle was surprised last month when the White Sox informed him of their plans. He'll be the 12th player to have his number retired by the White Sox.

"I was blown away and floored by it," Buehrle said. "It's obviously a great honor. It's something you don't really intend to happen or you don't play for that reason. You just go out there and play. I had a long, successful career there in Chicago. I just tried to do everything right and that's how I was kind of raised and how I went about it. Jerry (Reinsdorf) is kind enough to come with this offer about retiring my jersey. I really don't know.

"I've been joking around with friends saying my jersey is going to be up there next to Frank Thomas. I grew up watching this guy. It doesn't seem right. It doesn't seem like it belongs up there next to his.

"I'm going to be up there with all those numbers and it doesn't seem right, like that's where I belong. I just did what I was supposed to do, had fun with it and lived every day like it was my last. Now my number is going to be up there. I haven't really soaked everything in. It just doesn't make sense right now."

Carson Fulmer to start for White Sox in exhibition opener

Carson Fulmer to start for White Sox in exhibition opener

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The White Sox have lined up their first three starting pitchers of the spring starting with Carson Fulmer on Saturday afternoon.

The team's 2015 first-round draft pick received the nod as the White Sox open their exhibition schedule against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday at 2:05 p.m. CST. 

Jose Quintana pitches Sunday at home against the Colorado Rockies while Lucas Giolito is set to start at the Cubs on Monday. Fulmer — who went 0-2 with an 8.49 ERA in 11 2/3 innings in 2016 — likened the start to pitching against the Dodgers in a night game last spring in front of a sellout crowd at Camelback Ranch.

"I'm definitely honored," Fulmer said. "It's great. I feel like the coaching staff here stresses that in order to be a good player, you have to put yourself in situations that you are uncomfortable with. I'm not saying I'm uncomfortable with it but it was definitely a unique situation where I can go out there and help us win. So, spring training and the season, our goal is to win and I feel like with the coaching staff putting us young guys in that situation, I think it's going to benefit us."

[RELATED: White Sox not overly concerned about Todd Frazier's injury]

Fulmer is also excited to face his counterpart Saturday, Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw. 

"That's awesome," Fulmer said. "I've been watching him pitch since I was a little kid. I'm definitely pumped to see him out there. It's going to be awesome. 

"He's one of the best pitchers in baseball. I mean, he's a pitcher that you look up to and for me, it's going to be awesome. I hopefully can keep the scorecard or something."

The White Sox also announced Friday they have signed 25 players to one-year contracts, including Fulmer. Carlos Rodon's one-year deal for $600,000 is the highest of the bunch.