A glaring contributor to the early season woes of the White Sox was a struggling defense. Even after a turnaround that has seen them win nine of 12, the Sox still entered play Sunday tied for the most errors in the American League.
But that number remains large thanks to those early miscues, and a big part of the team’s May revival has been a vastly improved defense. In Sunday’s 5-3 win over the Marlins, two plays at the plate loomed large and were a big reason why the Sox were able to complete their first sweep of the season.
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The first came in the top of the second. With the Sox ahead, 2-0, there were runners at second and third when Justin Ruggiano singled to left field. Marcell Ozuna scored quite easily, but Chris Coghlan decided to test the arm of Sox left fielder Dayan Viciedo. The throw to the plate was right on the money, and catcher Hector Gimenez applied the tag despite a little shove from Coghlan, resulting in an out and saving a run.
Again in the sixth, this time with the Sox ahead 4-3, right fielder Alex Rios made another huge play. Ozuna stood at second with one out, and again Ruggiano singled, this time to right. Ozuna, who was going to stop at third before Rios bobbled the ball in the outfield, headed home. Rios made a strong throw, and though it appeared Ozuna slid in and caught a tiny piece of the plate, Gimenez made a great block, causing most of Ozuna’s hand to slide over the top of his shoe. Gimenez applied a tag once Ozuna had slid all the way by, and home plate umpire Paul Nauert called him out.
The play preserved the Sox lead, and the South Siders went on to win.
“I knew he was going to stop at third, and I threw it because I thought that they were going to send him and I would have a chance,” Rios said. “It was going to be a close call anyway, so it was a risky play.”
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Risky or not, it paid off. Throw in some nice plays on the infield from third baseman Conor Gillaspie and second baseman Jeff Keppinger, and it was a solid defensive day for the Sox, a team that’s used great defense to climb back to .500. In their last 10 games, the Sox have committed just three errors, as opposed to the nine they committed in the eight games prior.
“I just always believe you’ve got to be able to play defense. You don’t have those things happen, the game changes and guys are still on base, you’re still down an out,” Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “We just like our guys to stay with it. They work at it. It’s not like they don’t. People, for one reason or another, try to run on Viciedo, and he’s very good. When he gets it and gets timed up, he’s a pretty accurate guy.”
Sox starter Dylan Axelrod was also thankful for the strong throws of his teammates, and because of them he picked up his third win of the season.
“Yeah, that was huge,” Axelrod said. “Our outfielders have some good arms, and that’s the difference in the game right there. If those two guys score, we are losing. Hats off to them, and Hector did a great job back there.”