Chicago White Sox

Sox Drawer: Is This the Konerko Countdown?

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Sox Drawer: Is This the Konerko Countdown?

Friday, Feb. 26, 2010
7:40 PM
By Chuck Garfien
CSNChicago.com

Glendale, Ariz - In the movie The Blues Brothers, Jake and Elwood go around Chicago famously trying to put the band back together.

Since 2005, weve been watching another famous Chicago band slowly break apart. Once upon a time, they were belting out Dont Stop Believin. Nowadays, theyre singing a different Journey tune.

Separate Ways.

Rowand. Podsednik. Dye. There goes the horn section.

Crede. Garland. Uribe. The rhythm section is gone too.

And after this season, this former Sox supergroup could be losing its lead singer.

Paul Konerko.

For 11 seasons, the Sox captain has been the rock inside the clubhouse. The man who famously gave Jerry Reinsdorf the baseball that clinched the 2005 World Series, which probably also clinched the five-year, 60 million contract Konerko signed soon after.

But here we are, coming up on five years later, and Paul arrived at camp on Friday a little older, a little grayer, and wondering how long hell be able to sing Sweet Home Chicago and really mean it.

(The White Sox) might call tomorrow, they might call in the middle of the season , they might never call. Thats very possible, Konerko said. And if that happens, fine thats great. Weve had a great run here.

Its a run that has produced 319 homers, 1,016 RBI, and countless moments forever stapled in the memory banks of every White Sox fan from Bridgeport to Beverly, Frankfort to Flossmoor. But father time in baseball time is catching up to Paul, and hes not sure how much time, or how many hits hes got left.

Every year it seems like less, but I dont know. I think Im definitely more of a year too early guy than a year too late guy in my overall demeanor, I think. Having said that, Ill be 34 next week. Even if everything went good, I dont know. A few more years at the most?

But Pauls baseball future might not be in his control. Just ask Jermaine Dye, who told Konerko towards the end of last season that if he didnt get a fair offer in the offseason, he was prepared to retire at 36.

Paul might find himself in the same boat at 35.

Im happy to not go play. Ill maybe go during (next) season if someone asks me, but Im content with that. I would say that would probably be my mindset, where Im not going to force something if its not there.

Speaking with Ozzie Guillen about the Konerko conundrum on Friday, Guillen told CSN Im going to tell Konerko to have a great year and then make us have a headache. Thats easy. If P.K. has a great year, make Jerry(Reinsdorf) and Kenny (Williams) worry about it. Dont make me worry about it.

If Paul has the kind of year he had in 2009, Ozzie wont have to.

Konerko led the White Sox with 28 home runs and 88 RBI. Even though it might have been his seventh or eighth best season statistically, Paul said that 2009 is in the top three of his White Sox career.

The game was probably about as easy to play last year as it has ever been for me, and I want to keep building off of that.

If he doesnt, then one of the biggest pieces of this legendary band will likely be gone for good.

Jake without Elwood. The 2005 Sox without their big toe.

And then theres A.J. Pierzynski and his expiring contract.

There could be some pretty big shoes to fill.

Chuck Garfien hosts White Sox Pregame and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet with former Sox slugger Bill Melton. Follow Chuck @ChuckGarfien on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox news and views.

Working relationship: Trust in pitching coach Jose Bautista key to Michael Kopech's dominance

Working relationship: Trust in pitching coach Jose Bautista key to Michael Kopech's dominance

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- A strong relationship with pitching coach Jose Bautista allowed Michael Kopech to make a midseason adjustment he thinks is critical to his dominant stretch.

The Double-A Birmingham pitcher said he’s learned a ton about himself during a very good first season with the White Sox. Much of Kopech’s newfound knowledge is related to the direction of his throwing motion and how he needs to be more consistent with it. The suggestion came courtesy of Bautista, who’s in his ninth season as a White Sox coach.

Kopech, who next pitches for the Barons on Friday night, has found the necessary amount of consistency since he and Bautista made the switch in early July. Since then Kopech, 21, has a 0.66 ERA and 54 strikeouts with only seven walks in 41 innings.

“He really trusts Jose’s information,” Birmingham manager Julio Vinas said. “They did some mechanical stuff fixing his direction. He just took off from there once they corrected that direction and make him understand, strike one, how important it really is. He had one good game where he got into the seventh inning and he came out and he says, ‘That’s the longest outing I’ve had.’ And it was like right after he had corrected the direction and he just took off from there. He’s done great. He’s a great kid. He works hard. Fantastic teammate.”

Kopech is pleased with the insight he has gained from Bautista.

“I feel like I’ve learned more about myself this year,” the right-hander said. “Just that I’m more successful as a starter when I’m able to repeatedly stay in one motion.”

Bautista’s fix came on the heels of a six-start run where Kopech posted a 7.46 ERA in 25 1/3 innings. The club used a nine-day window between starts from July 5-13 to work on his direction. Kopech had only one appearance, a scoreless inning in the Futures Game.

“I may be a guy that goes toward the plate and spins off,” Kopech said. “But I can’t be a guy that goes toward the plate and stays toward the plate and the next pitch goes toward the plate and then spins off. I just have to follow in that some pattern no matter what I’m doing. It’s about consistency and I’ve learned my most consistent patterns as a pitcher. That’s put me in a good position.”

Rather, it’s put Kopech in an elite position.

The No. 12 prospect in baseball has perhaps begun to outperform the lofty expectations that have been in place since he arrived last December from Boston in the Chris Sale trade.

Opposing hitters have a .414 OPS against him over the last month. He has completed at least six innings in each of his last six starts and has gone seven frames or more four times.

“He’s going deeper into games,” player development director Chris Getz. “A lot of it has to do with that fastball command and really its staying within his delivery and going after hitters early with that fastball, trusting it, because he’s got good action on the fastball, not just the upper-90s straight fastball. He’s got natural two-seam action to his ball.”

Undoubtedly, throwing more strikes has played a big role in Kopech’s dominance. In his first 16 starts, Kopech threw strikes 61 percent of the time en route to a respectable 4.02 ERA. He’s increased that figure to 67 percent in his last six games.

Ultimately, Kopech credits Bautista for getting him back in the right direction.

“Getting a little bit of success with one mechanical adjustment kind of made the mental adjustments easier,” Kopech said. “It made me feel a little bit more comfortable with myself.

“I stayed in line. I stopped spinning off so much. The solution to that was getting out there and throwing more strikes. One thing became another and after that I started feeling a lot more comfortable with myself.

“A lot of it has to do with Jose and him being in my ear and telling me when I’m coming off and when I’m doing certain things.

“It’s the best I’ve been all year, the most consistent I’ve been all year. I’m feeling pretty good about myself.”

White Sox prospects Eloy Jimenez, Zack Collins homer in Double-A debuts

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White Sox prospects Eloy Jimenez, Zack Collins homer in Double-A debuts

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Eloy Jimenez’s goal is to show the White Sox that his performance at Winston-Salem wasn’t a fluke.

At this rate the No. 7 prospect in baseball won’t need long to prove it.

The White Sox prospect celebrated his promotion to Double-A Birmingham on Wednesday night with a home run in his first at-bat and a double. Fellow prospect Zack Collins also homered in his first game with the Barons after both were promoted from Advanced-A Winston-Salem earlier in the day.

“It’s a big step for my career again,” Jimenez said. “I’m just focused more to show the White Sox I can do the same I did in Winston-Salem. Just keep working hard. That’s it.”

Both players learned of their impending promotion after Sunday’s game at Winston-Salem. They played in Monday’s 11-inning loss to the Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Cubs) with Collins doubling, tripling and walking and Jimenez going 0-for-5. Jimenez had also gone hitless in five at-bats on Sunday.

But the organization’s co-minor league player of the month for July got going immediately on Wednesday. He drove a 1-1 pitch down the right-field line in the first inning and snuck it inside the foul pole for an opposite-field home run, a 368-foot drive. His next time up, Jimenez doubled to deep center after he produced an exit velocity of 109 mph. Collins also drew a walk in his fourth plate appearance.

The White Sox player development department promoted both players to Double-A to prepare them for next season as this is where each is expected to start the 2018 campaign.

“It’s just to get their feet wet and to know what to expect,” Birmingham manager Julio Vinas said. “It’s a great philosophy because now they come into next year and they know already, this is what they do at this level. Even if they don’t do great here in the next couple of weeks, they know what to expect to now. Now they’ve got all offseason where they can work on certain things and come back and be ready for it. I think it’s a great experience that we give them and I really love the way we handle that.”

[MORE: Lucas Giolito feels as good as he has all season]

Collins wasn’t sure if he would be moved up. Originally, the plan was to keep him at Winston-Salem if the Dash was in the playoff hunt. Several losses erased that idea and Collins is appreciative of his new opportunity. The catcher struck out in his first two at-bats before he hammered one 420 feet for a solo home run in the fourth inning. The exit velo on Collins’ homer was 110 mph.

“(The promotion) means a ton to me,” Collins said. “Obviously, that’s the goal to keep on moving up and eventually to the big leagues. Just to get that next step in and get here and get my feet wet a little before the season ends is great.”

After he was acquired from the Cubs on July 13, Jimenez appeared in 29 games for Winston-Salem. He finished the month with 38 hits, including 11 doubles and eight home runs, 26 RBIs and 12 walks.

Jimenez produced a .345/.410/682 slash line for the Dash. He said he tried to avoid thinking about the promotion so he didn’t get distracted.

“Yes, (I was ready), but really, really I don’t think about it because when I think about it I struggle,” Jimenez said. “If God wants to take me here, whenever he feels I’m ready, I’m going to do my best job here. When they told me two days ago, I said ‘Ok. This is the time to keep working hard and just do whatever I’m going to do.’ ”