DETROIT -- Even a player with Paul Konerko’s experience and wisdom needs time to adjust to a new role.
When you’ve spent 20 seasons playing every day, getting accustomed to a position that calls for a handful of at-bats per week won’t immediately happen. But three weeks in, Konerko -- who has 24 plate appearances -- thinks he has begun to grasp the concept. Konerko enters Thursday’s finale against the Detroit Tigers off his best game of the season as he went 3-for-4 with a double and a run.
Prior to a single on Tuesday, Konerko had gone 17 straight at-bats without a hit dating back to Opening Day.
“I’ve gotten better at it in terms of every time my name gets called, I’m a little calmer and a little more collected,” Konerko said. “It seems normal to me. It’s going to take that habit of that I think to kind of get used to it. Just because I’ve had so many thousands of at-bats in my career doesn’t necessarily mean anything for this role. It’s its own animal.”
White Sox manager Robin Ventura knows the beast well.
In 2004, the final season of his career, Ventura finished with 175 plate appearances and started only 25 games in the field, many of which came late because of an injury.
He knows how it’s difficult to stay sharp when you go days in between plate appearances. Ventura played in the National League, where pinch hitters are used more often and double switches happen every day. As an American League player, Konerko get used less often so Ventura can only imagine how much more difficult the acclimation process is.
To help Konerko prepare for Wednesday’s start, Ventura pulled Jose Abreu early from Tuesday’s loss and gave the veteran a pair of at-bats.
“You start to feel a little bit more,” Ventura said. “He grounded out and then all of a sudden you start to see the swing get a little better as far as the ball jumping off his bat. He just had a better feel (Wednesday).”
In his second at-bat Tuesday, Konerko singled up the middle. He said being on the field helped him adjust and feel more prepared for Wednesday’s start.
It’s experiences like those, and more opportunities to pinch hit, that Konerko believes will have him better prepared as the season goes on. Prior to 2014, Konerko had only accrued 62 pinch-hit at-bats in a career in which he has amassed 9,305 at-bats.
But even though he’s in a reduced role, the competitive fire in Konerko remains strong.
“No matter how many games you played before or where you are at, it’s always a little bit of an adjustment,” Konerko said. “It still is. There are some things that happen just in talking to guys who have done it before. You go out and feel good, your eyes tell you what to do and you are doing everything right and everything doesn’t end up going right. … You have to kind of be good at it and practice a little bit. Hopefully I can as the year goes on be really good at it. I want to be not just ok but really good at it.”