MINNEAPOLIS -- He’s not all the way where he’d like to be but Tyler Flowers is certainly better off than he was a year ago.
The White Sox catcher had the first multi-homer game of his career in Tuesday night’s 6-3 White Sox victory in 10 innings over the Minnesota Twins at Target Field, including a two-run homer in his team’s last at-bat.
Dayan Viciedo’s 18th homer, a solo shot to right-center field off Twins reliever Lester Oliveros, put the White Sox ahead for good. But it was Flowers’ opposite-field shot just inside the right-field foul pole that sealed his team’s 63rd victory, matching their 2013 total.
That the homers -- his 11th and 12th of the season -- came 362 days after Flowers had season-ending surgery to remove debris from his right shoulder only illustrates the progress the backstop has made in his second season as the team’s starting catcher.
“I’ll take it,” Flowers said. “I’m definitely not necessarily pleased with where I’m at. That said I’m not really going to say I’m extremely disappointed. There’s definitely been some good great spots and there’s been some bad dismal spots. The challenge is to limit those lows a little bit more in the future.”
Flowers’ future with the White Sox would seem a bit less precarious headed into 2015 than it was last season.
By this point in 2013, Flowers had lost his starting job to Josh Phegley and was already headed home as he prepared for surgery. He wasn’t certain he’d return to the White Sox when the offseason began only to have them sign him to a one-year, $950,000 deal in December.
Now with 24 games to go, Flowers has maintained his starting role and has a .240/.298/.380 slash line with 12 homers and 45 RBIs in 404 plate appearances. While those numbers aren’t sexy, they’re an improvement over his .195/.247/.355 slash line along with 10 homers and 24 RBIs in 275 plate appearances in 2013.
Flowers has also thrown out 31 percent of would-be base stealers (the league average is 27), up from 24 percent last season.
“He’s grinded through it,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “Early he had a hot start and then went through a cold spell, but he’s made adjustments and he keeps going. That’s part of being a catcher. You are going to have stretches where nothing feels good and it goes along with not hitting well. He’s been a true pro and I think calling the pitches have been the big thing.”
The White Sox coaching staff and front office have long liked the way Flowers has called games and handled the pitching staff. Ventura said the club is more than satisfied with Flowers’ game calling this season and the team’s struggles have had more to do with a lack of execution by the pitching staff.
It’s because of Flowers’ work on the receiving end the White Sox have been patient through his offensive ups and downs.
On Tuesday Flowers showed off the 15-20 homer potential the White Sox have touted him as having twice.
His second inning homer off Tommy Milone was a 416-foot laser into the bullpen in left-center field that tied the game at 2. Then in the 10th he kept a drive straight enough down the line to right for two more runs to put the game away.
While it’s too early for Rick Hahn to make any decisions about next season, the general manager said he does believe in Flowers’ ability.
“I will say that just like last year, we are very pleased with Tyler from a defensive standpoint and the way he’s managed the pitching staff,” Hahn said late last month. “That has continued. He hasn’t lost any of that.
“This year, offensively, you’ve seen him over the last six weeks or so especially sort of find one consistent approach and stick with it and have it pay off at the plate. In general, I would certainly say that he can be an everyday catcher on a winning team, especially as he continues to do defensively and from the game calling standpoint in what we are looking for trying to get the best out of the pitchers.”
Flowers has shown flashes offensively in 2014. Whether it was his .373 average in his first 23 games or the seven homers he has hit in his last 140 plate appearances, Flowers knows the potential is there.
But he also is aware the slump he endured from the end of April until early July can’t happen.
“The challenge is to limit those lows a little bit more in the future,” Flowers said. “If I can eliminate one of those bad ones than the numbers and everything would look a little bit better right now. I’m definitely not satisfied with where I’m at, but I’m learning a lot here, the second half especially.”