Beckham has renewed confidence heading into 2012

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Beckham has renewed confidence heading into 2012

By Jim Owczarski
CSNChicago.com

It started with a few flips the first week of December.

The ball would hang for a moment, be gone in blink.

Flip, blink, flip.

If you feel it, you know it.

Gordon Beckham felt it. More importantly, he knew it.

Its back.

The eighth overall pick of the 2008 Major League Baseball amateur draft made his debut 364 days later following a whirlwind minor league career that took him from Kannapolis to Charlotte in 52 games and from Charlotte to Chicago in just seven more. He hit .322 with 25 doubles and seven home runs in the minors, with an OPS of .894.

We just monitored him, said Jeff Manto, the White Sox minor league hitting coordinator at the time. He was in such a good place when we got him. He didnt need anything.

Beckham was sure, confident.

He had it.

The 22-year-old was fresh out of the University of Georgia where he finished up his junior season hitting over .400 with a school record for home runs and total bases. In three years with the Bulldogs, he had struck out just 120 times.

He burst onto the scene playing a new position with the White Sox -- third base -- and was a leading candidate for American League Rookie of the Year despite missing the first two months of the season. He finished his rookie campaign hitting .270 with 14 home runs and 28 doubles. The future was bright.

Somewhere along the line, however, he began to lose it.

The 2011 season ended with Beckham going hitless in eight of his final 12 games, finishing the last two months hitting .198 with 40 strikeouts.

He found himself behind in the count in 211 of his 499 at bats and struck out 111 times. He hit just .230 on the season with a .296 on base percentage and .633 OPS.

It was gone.

He packed up his things.

The Sox had missed the playoffs for the fifth time in six years, and it seemed as if the 24-year-old phenom, who was once deemed untouchable in trade talks, was now at a career crossroads.

I dont ever want to feel that way again, he said.

Fllp, blink, flip.

In December, Beckham rediscovered it.

He maintains his swing had never changed, that its too easy to just say hes going back to what worked for him at Georgia and in 2009. But somewhere between then and 2011, something broke down.

I had to be perfect, he said. Theres a million ways to describe that but I had to be perfect in my load and the way I hit and if it wasnt perfect, I didnt hit.

He placed no blame on former hitting coach Greg Walker. He put it all on his own shoulders, or more telling, his own head.

The reason I struggled last year was I swung at bad pitches, he said. What causes that? Well, thats caused from a little bit of uncertainty, a little bit of anxiety, trying to go up there and get a hit every time is not an easy thing to do.

Then the proverbial snowball began to roll.

I let it beat me down last year, Beckham said.

New Sox manager Robin Ventura could relate. He was a college star at Oklahoma State and spent just 129 games in the minor leagues before being called up in 1989. Only he collected just eight hits in his first 58 plate appearances. In 1990, he went 16 games without a hit at one point and didnt crack the Mendoza line for good until mid-June.

Kenny Williams knows where Beckham's coming from, too. The GM joked during Sox Fest his career was all downhill after his first major league plate appearance.

Hes a really talented kid, Ventura said of Beckham. I just want him to go play and not worry so much about whats expected of him and try to go to the plate and go 10-for-20 when all you can do is go to the plate, try and have a good at bat, and see what else happens.

Williams took it a step further, saying all he expected out of the now 25-year-old second baseman is to play to win, and to have fun. So much so he made the statement twice.

The success will be there at the end if he just lightens up a little bit on himself and it goes back to being a game, Williams said.

That positivity, along with Beckhams rediscovery taking mere flips in December, has helped him rediscover what was missing.

Legitimately, yes, he said. You dont usually think youre going to get something like that but yeah, absolutely (I found it). By the way the bat is coming through the zone, the way the bat is lagging. Obviously its just flips and were getting loose and stuff like that, its not 95 (miles per hour), but it will hold up. What Im doing now will hold up. It just feels like Im getting to the point where my bat is just flying through the zone in the right way.

Standing off stage following a seminar, Mantos eyes lit up when he heard of Beckhams renewed confidence, how he could just feel that it was right, that it was back.

Thats how I know Gordons minds right, said the new Sox hitting coach. Im a feel coach, Im a mental coach. Thats important to me and its important to the swing. I believe to get to the major league level, you have mechanics already. To hear Gordon think about the things we used to talk about in the minor leagues, its good that hes remembering those things.

Beckham exuded confidence at SoxFest, an air that reminded many but most importantly, himself of the player he was a few short years ago.

I lost a little confidence last year, but recently Ive really felt like myself, moreso than Ive ever felt like myself in the last two years, he said. I feel like Im back to being that confident guy that can really go out there and carry people sometimes when Im doing well. Im kind of back to that situation. I feel good about where Im at mentally. Physically I feel good. My swing is the thing its there.

You know it when you see it, and you can feel it and its there.

Beckham is confident again, mentally, and in his swing. Now, hes ready to show it.

White Sox lose third straight, fall to Twins in 12 innings

White Sox lose third straight, fall to Twins in 12 innings

MINNEAPOLIS -- Now that he’s an All-Star, Jose Quintana feels more responsibility for the well-being of the White Sox, if that’s even possible.

Too bad his teammates haven’t held up their end.

On Friday night, Quintana continued a superb run since he returned from his first All-Star Game with nine strikeouts. But the White Sox couldn’t match their pitcher’s confidence as the offense produced six hits and the bullpen faltered late in a 2-1 loss to the Minnesota Twins in 12 innings in front of 23,983 at Target Field. Tommy Kahnle’s bases-loaded walk of Joe Mauer sent the White Sox, who were without Todd Frazier, to their third straight loss. Their record dropped to 50-53.

“After (the All-Star Game), I feel more confidence in me and more responsibility for my team, too,” Quintana said. “We have good players, a good rotation, everybody is throwing good and good hitters. But sometimes you see tough games like tonight.”

Quintana has been outstanding in three starts since he earned his first-ever All-Star nod earlier this month. He didn’t take long to establish that fact on Friday after the first two batters reached on a double and an error, striking out Minnesota’s 3-4-5 hitters to escape the jam. Starting with those strikeouts, Quintana retired 13 of 15 batters into the sixth inning.

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

While he allowed the Twins to tie it at 1 with a run in the sixth, Quintana escaped a potential game-changing jam. Adam Eaton offered assistance when he threw Miguel Sano out at home on Kennys Vargas’s game-tying RBI single. But Quintana stranded a pair in scoring position when he struck out Eduardo Escobar. He retired two more in the seventh before handing the game over to the bullpen.

Since the All-Star break, Quintana has a 0.93 ERA over 19 1/3 innings in three starts. He has allowed 16 hits and two runs with five walks and 20 strikeouts. Even so, Quintana often goes unrewarded for his effort as his 8-8 record would indicate.

“I stood in on a lot of his bullpens when I was coming back,” said veteran Jusin Morneau, who went 1-for-3 in his first regular season game at Target Field since 2013. “You could just stand there because you didn’t have to worry about him missing his spot too often. He can throw pretty hard and throw where he wants to. It’s unfortunate we don’t score more runs when he’s out there because he could easily be 14 and whatever the way he’s throwing the ball. He’s an important part of this team.”

Another key cog, Frazier was scratched with flu-like symptoms before first pitch. He was only available in an emergency, manager Robin Ventura said. Without Frazier, the White Sox looked listless against Ricky Nolasco, who completed eight innings for the first time since 2014.

Eaton -- who had two outfield assists and has 16 this season -- led off the game with a 451-foot solo homer off Nolasco. From there Nolasco settled down and retired 15 of 17 into the sixth inning. Morneau’s second-inning single just missed being a solo homer. But aside from that, the White Sox did little well.

[RELATED: Robin Ventura doesn't want to see Sale or Quintana traded]

They had a promising chance wiped out in the seventh inning after a leadoff double by Melky Cabrera as Nolasco struck out Jose Abreu and retired Morneau and Dioner Navarro.

Nolasco allowed a run and three hits with six strikeouts in eight innings.

The bullpen then shut the White Sox down for four more innings. Dan Jennings took over in the bottom of the 12th and hit one batter and walked another. Kahnle took over and walked Brian Dozier and Mauer to end the game.

“You feel like you gave it to ‘em,” Ventura said. “We’ve been struggling anyway. But I think with his breaking ball, (Nolasco) just had us fishing for strikes. … It seemed like we were chasing stuff all night.

“All (losses) hurt. But when you’re only chalking up one run and guys are going out and pitching pretty good, that’s the one that hurts.”

Justin Morneau returns to White Sox lineup, Target Field for first time

Justin Morneau returns to White Sox lineup, Target Field for first time

MINNEAPOLIS -- If the White Sox needed a reminder how much they missed having a left-handed bat earlier this season, the last two games without Justin Morneau confirmed it.

Forced out of the lineup because of National League rules, Morneau on Friday returned to a White Sox lineup that struggled in his absence in a pair of losses at Wrigley Field. It’s the same issue that has dogged the White Sox throughout the regular season until Morneau was activated two weeks ago after Adam LaRoche unexpectedly retired.

Friday’s contest also marked Morneau’s first regular season appearance at Target Field against his former since he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2013.

“When he’s not in there it really changes a lot of the dynamic for us of where guys are, how deep your lineup is, as well as just having a really good left-hander in the middle of it, a consistent guy who not only can hit, but takes pitches, walks, is a threat and he’s not a half bad guy,” manager Robin Ventura said. “He’s back here and I think guys are happy for him that he’s back here as well.”

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

There’s little doubt the White Sox missed Morneau at Wrigley Field when they combined for 10 hits and were outscored 11-2 by the Cubs in two losses. Even though he’s only two weeks removed from the disabled list, Morneau has already offered the White Sox the balance they desperately needed in the middle of the order since LaRoche called it quits.

Morneau, who had elbow surgery in December and then rushed to get back as quickly as he could after he signed in June, likes how his swing has progressed so far. Perhaps the one upside to his absence -- Morneau said the two-day break has him feeling even better as the White Sox opened a three-game series at the Minnesota Twins.

“The swing feels good,” Morneau said. “A couple days off helped my body recover a little and sort of recharge the battery coming in here. I feel I can go up there and battle, like I can put at-bats together, guys in scoring position all that stuff. It’s fun to be out there in situations, that’s what I kind of enjoy the most.

"The amount of work it takes to get ready isn’t the fun part, but stepping into the batter’s box and battling those guys is really all we play for. I’m comfortable doing that, and it’s good.”

Even with the addition of Todd Frazier’s team-leading 29 home runs, the White Sox offense has only shown slight improvement this season in part because the team was so right-handed heavy until Morneau was activated on July 15. The White Sox entered Friday having scored four runs per game, which is up from 3.84 in 2015. The team carried a .699 OPS against right-handers into the game.

Even though LaRoche had the worst season of his life in 2015, the White Sox were short-handed once he retired. The original plan had been a rotation between Melky Cabrera-Austin Jackson-Avisail Garcia and LaRoche between two outfield spots and the DH role. Instead, Garcia was forced into full-time action and Ventura often had to bat Melky Cabrera in the fifth spot to break up a run of four straight right-handed bats in the middle of the order.

Despite improved production from Frazier and Brett Lawrie at second, the White Sox have been inconsistent all season. Thursday’s loss was the 49th time in 102 games they scored three or fewer runs. Ventura said the need for a lefty bat implored the White Sox to take a risk and sign Morneau without knowing what they’ll receive.

[RELATED: Robin Ventura doesn't want to see Sale or Quintana traded]

“I think that’s the reason why we ended up going on a limb a little bit and going with him knowing we’d have to wait to have him in our lineup,” Ventura said. “Once we lost Adam we became very right-hand dominant. It’s tough to have for Jose and those guys to be in there and not have that left-right combo that you’d like to have.”

Morneau received the welcome he expected from the Twins fanbase. Even though he now wears a White Sox uniform, Morneau was received well. The American League Most Valuable Player in 2006, Morneau played for the Twins from 2003-13. His wife’s family lives locally and Morneau said he spends part of every offseason here.

“You never know when you go to a rival or play for a team in the same division that we battled against for so many years here, and to go on the other side of it, some people’s feeling might not be as warm as you’d hope them to be,” Morneau said. “But for the most people have been great to me and I don’t think I’d really expect anything else.”

White Sox: Robin Ventura doesn't want to see Sale or Quintana traded

White Sox: Robin Ventura doesn't want to see Sale or Quintana traded

MINNEAPOLIS -- He has considered the trade rumors and Robin Ventura doesn’t like the idea of a world in which Chris Sale or Jose Quintana aren’t White Sox players.

The White Sox manager said Friday that his job would be much more difficult were either front-of-the-rotation starting pitcher to be traded. While chances seem remote that either is dealt before Monday’s 3 p.m. CST nonwaiver trade deadline, Sale and Quintana continue to be mainstays in the rumor mill. And even though players often tell media they avoid rumors, Ventura said it’s almost impossible for them to avoid hearing the latest trade chatter and where they possibly could be headed.

“All you have to do is think about it for a second and realize it wouldn’t be as good if you don’t have those guys,” Ventura said. “That stuff, I think the time of year, it’s rampant. Everybody talking about people, and a lot of it can just be fans or people saying, ‘Trade this guy for that guy.’ But it’s not that easy. People have fun doing that and sometimes it gets the best of guys inside because, one, they’ll get their feelings hurt because they think that’s actually going on, and sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t.

“Guys, it does distract them.”

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

The latest news surrounding Sale is that the New York Yankees have reportedly checked in on him, according to Today’s Knuckeball’s Jon Heyman. Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported that there’s skepticism industrywide whether the White Sox would trade Sale before the deadline. But, Rosenthal added, the White Sox have listened now more than ever on Sale, who returned from a five-game suspension to pitch on Thursday.

Both the White Sox and Sale have said they want to move on from what the pitcher called “a fiasco” and focus on the team’s final 60 games. Sale reiterated on Thursday night that he wants to stay with the White Sox and see if the team can make a push for its first postseason appearance since 2008.

The White Sox began the day six games back of the second wild-card spot. Ventura thinks the club is better prepared to stick around in the race than they were in 2015, when they fell apart in August.

Where he spoke with Hahn every day while the team was in Chicago, Ventura won’t do that while the team is on the road. Prior to Thursday’s game, Ventura said he thinks the deadline will be relatively quiet.

“I don't want to see anybody go out of here,” Ventura said. “I don't think that's going to happen.”