White Sox Bats: Mastering the Art of the Slow Start

.225, .237, .261

No those aren't the low batting averages that rode Jim Thome* out of town. Those are the White Sox batting averages for the last 3 Aprils. Three games into the season they're well on their way to repeating that trend with just 14 hits in 3 games, good for a .154 team average.

And it's not like they've been facing stellar pitching. Jake Westbrook was crazy wild, pitching about how you'd expect from a guy who hasn't pitched in essentially two years. Fausto Carmona, a guy with an ERA near 6 the last two seasons, was anything but sharp, walking 6, yet allowed only 1 hit. Tonight it was Justin Masterson, coming off a 1-7 season last year with the Indians -- yeah, I'm cherry-picking stats now, so what -- who held the Sox in check to the tune of 1 run on 4 hits over 5 innings.

In truth, Masterson pitched well, but so did Gavin Floyd. And when the only thing consistent about the Sox offense is their ice-cold batsicles, it becomes the obvious focus, regardless of the pitcher on the mound.

Ozzie Guillen made a number of interesting decisions tonight that might give us a preview of what's to come this year. Andruw Jones got his first start, not at DH, but CF with Alex Rios shifting to LF and Juan Pierre to DH. Jones took a long time to run a ball down in the gap then made a poor relay throw to allow the Indians second run of the game. I'd probably put him in left with Rios in center, but removing Pierre from the outfield makes the Sox a better team, assuming the same 9 play. So I can't really complain there.

With the Sox down a run in the 7th, Ozzie called on Sergio Santos, who was making his major league debut. I probably would have thrown him into the fire on Opening Day when the Sox had a nice 6-run lead to work with, but Santos showed no ill-effects from getting his first big-league action in a relatively high-leverage situation. Santos' obvious abilities shown through immediately, starting with eight straight mid-90's fastballs before unveiling a surprisingly nasty (and well-located) changeup to record his first major league strikeout. The fastball and the changeup were both plus pitches on Thursday night, and his slider, which was just OK tonight, was supposedly the pitch that was wiping out batters in Arizona. You can see that Santos is a bundle of talent, and that he wasn't too intimidated by the third deck and the game situation let's you dream on that talent to see him pitching at the end of games in the future.

Santos looked like he would be in line for the beer shower that follows your first major league win when Carlos Quentin put the Sox up 3-2 with a 2-run homer, but it was how the Sox got there that was, um, interesting. Juan Pierre led off the bottom of the 7th with a walk, which had Ozzie calling for the bunt from Gordon Beckham to move the tying run into scoring position. It "worked" in that Pierre scored, but I don't like taking the bat out of the hands of (arguably) the Sox best hitter, especially when that hitter is so good at going the other way with the ball. Beckham leads the Sox with a .273 average after 3 games. (I promise not to rely so heavily on batting average stats as the season goes on and other stats start to become more relevant.) Ozzie proved that bunting with Beckham in a close game would indeed be a strategy he's going to employ during the season as he did the same thing in the 9th, with Pierre representing the winning run. 

Honestly, I probably wouldn't be against the second bunt call -- moving the winning run into scoring position in the 9th is a heckuvalot more valuable than the tying run in the 7th -- but both came on the first pitch and seem to preview of future late-game situations. The fact that they both came on first pitch bothered me more than anything. What is Juan Pierre's value if it's not in his legs? If he needs to be moved to DH because it makes the Sox better defensively, and requires the help in the form of sacrifice bunts from one of the Sox best hitters to get into scoring position, what value is he bringing to the Sox? Does he fill in for Southpaw for lunch-time birthday parties? Let Beckham see a pitch or two. Let Pierre time the pitcher's move. Calling for the bunt takes all the pressure off of the opposing team.

Ozzie would call on Bobby Jenks in a non-save situation for the second straight game, which, if you consider him your best reliever, was the right move in both. Meanwhile, Matt Thornton is on pace to rack up 163 appearances, though he officially blew the save when Paul Konerko couldn't glove a hard grounder from Travis Hafner, who somehow scored from first on a double thanks to the second poor relay throw from the Sox outfield (Quentin this time). Conspicuously absent: Scott Linebrink, not that I'm complaining.

Also: Home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman was terrible tonight, though I think the Sox got the benefit of more of his bad calls.

* Thome hit a 3-run HR after I started writing this recap.

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