What to watch: Sox look to right the ship vs. Seattle

What to watch: Sox look to right the ship vs. Seattle

April 6, 2013, 12:00 am
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First pitch: 12:10 p.m. (Coverage begins on Comcast SportsNet Plus with White Sox Pregame Live at 11:30 a.m. -- to find CSN-Plus in your area, click here)

On the mound: Dylan Axelrod vs. Felix Hernandez

On paper, this looks like a colossal mismatch -- a perennial Cy Young candidate against John Danks' fill-in -- but the White Sox aren't without any previous successes against Hernandez. In 12 tries against Hernandez, White Sox hitters have a .769 OPS, the highest of any team that's faced the Mariners' ace at least 10 times. Gordon Beckham (2 HR, 1.021 OPS in 18 PA) and Paul Konerko (2 HR, .865 OPS in 29 PA) have had the most success against him among current Sox players, while Adam Dunn has a home run and three walks against Hernandez in seven plate appearances.

[More: White Sox notes: Danks takes a step forward in recovery process]

Axelrod will make his first start of 2013 after winning the last spot in the White Sox rotation in spring training. He's never faced Seattle before and has a 4.50 ERA in 10 major league starts, but his ability to mix four pitches -- fastball, slider, curveball, changeup -- means if his command is on point, he has a chance to throw a quality start.

Today's storyline: Sox offense wakes up, but pitching falters

The Sox offense had scored five runs in its first three games, then broke out for seven Friday night against Seattle. Unfortunately for them, though, it was coupled with Jose Quintana serving up six runs and Nate Jones allowing the bullpen's first two runs of the year, snapping a 12 2/3-inning scoreless streak to begin the season. The Sox, too, have played in nothing but close games to begin the 2013 campaign, beating Kansas City by one run Monday and two runs Wednesday, then losing to the Royals by two on Thursday and the Mariners by one on Friday.

[More: Sox rallies fall short in extra-inning loss to Mariners]

General manager Rick Hahn expects the Sox to be in plenty of games like that, which is part of the reason why he added reliever Matt Lindstrom over the winter. Success in close games is often predicated on bullpen success -- as last year's Baltimore Orioles know well -- and on Friday, it wound up being the case. Expect a lot more of these nail-biting games going forward.

"A lot of times you look at the team’s record and you look at the one-run ballgames," first baseman Paul Konerko said after Monday's game. "Whatever that record is swings that team from being a really good team to just kind of a mediocre team."

What else to watch for

Beckham is off to a fast start, collecting six hits, one walk and an RBI in his first 14 plate appearances of the season. Four of those hits came on Thursday, and it's still incredibly early, but improved offense from the second baseman has been regarded by some (including our own Steve Stone) as a key to the White Sox success.

The small sample sizes that come with early-season ball can make for some fun (although not predictive) stats, like Tyler Flowers 1.533 OPS through four games.

[More: 'Winning Ugly' Sox player Julio Cruz joins SportsTalk Live]

Via CSNChicago stat guru Chris Kamka, the White Sox used the same lineup for the first four games of the season for the first time since 1997. That lineup: Tony Phillips, Dave Martinez, Frank Thomas, Albert Belle, Harold Baines, Chris Snopek, Ray Durham, Ron Karkovice, Ozzie Guillen.

The last word

Let's take a trip back to 2005, when Hernandez was a hotshot 19-year-old prospect pitching in the majors for the first time. He cruised through his first four major league starts, compiling a 1.24 ERA with 30 strikeouts, four walks and no home runs allowed in 29 innings. Then, in his fifth start, he faced the White Sox -- and it was another hotshot prospect at the time who gave Hernandez his first bit of adversity at the major league level.

That player was Brian Anderson, who belted two home runs off Hernandez on Aug. 26, 2005 at Safeco Field. The second of those blasts was a two-run shot that gave the White Sox a lead, although it took a 13th-inning homer by Tadahito Iguchi off Eddie Guardado to net the White Sox a win. Anderson hit 22 home runs in his career, and Hernandez is the only pitcher he ever homered off twice.

Also, both of Beckham's home runs in his only multi-homer game of his career came off Hernandez last June.