Last July, Ozzie Guillen benched Gordon Beckham in favor of Brent Lillibridge for three straight games. The move had two purposes -- Beckham's average had been teetering on both sides of the Mendoza Line, and Lillibridge needed more playing time. He had only received eight plate appearances over a full month, and he made the most of them, hitting .500 with two doubles, a triple and a homer.
Something clicked for Beckham during the most serious sitdown of his professional career. He regained control of second base when returning to the lineup on July 7, hitting .378 for the rest of the month. He didn't slow down much afterward -- from his return through the end of August, Beckham hit .342/.401/.574. Then he took a fastball to the hand, and he had trouble holding the bat the rest of the year. Lillibridge couldn't help him there.
Guillen hopes Alex Rios will benefit in a similar fashion. Lillibridge took his place in center field on Sunday, and it looks like he'll get a couple more cracks at it as Rios takes a mental vacation:
"I think right now Rios is mentally very frustrated," Guillen said of the .199 hitter. "He’s very disappointed. I will give him a couple days break to hopefully recover and put his stuff back together. I plan to talk to him to tell him what the plans are. It’s something that hopefully, when he comes back, he’s ready to play."
Guillen already had a talk with Rios about his "body language" after the veteran showed his frustration following an at-bat Friday. Guillen has said such displays are counter-productive.
If you missed it, 3E8 relayed Rios' body language:
Guillen is also using the move to stretch out Lillibridge a little, but he's not sold on the littlest big leaguer having a larger role:
"If we put Lillibridge in the lineup every day, that means (Adam) Dunn is not doing his job, Rios is not doing his job," Guillen said. "That's not a good thing for us. … That's not the way we built this ballclub.
"We love Lilly right now, and everybody does. Every time Lilly comes to the plate, he gets a standing ovation. (But) this is Chicago. You get a standing ovation for a week and booed for two months. I've been there."
No argument here. Lillibridge was a small sample sensation last season, hitting .424/.441/.758 over his first 33 plate appearances. Over his last 67, he looked in over his ears: .123/.149/.185 with 25 strikeouts. Two-thirds of his season was a waste.
Sure enough, Brad Penny had him off-balance with his curveball on Sunday, striking him out twice as Lillibridge went 0-for-3 and saw his hitting streak die at seven games. Obviously he was due for an off day, but based on his track record, he hasn't earned much benefit of the doubt, and Guillen is right to keep expectations low.
That said, even if Rios can reclaim center field, hopefully Guillen will give Lillibridge chances to fail. He may not be part of how they built the ballclub in 2011, but there is a chance for him to stake a larger role in 2012.
Juan Pierre's annual homer on Friday night inspired Jon Bois to look into some incredible notes about Pierre's historic lack of power.
Elaborating on that last link, Brent Ballantini notes that of Pierre's 10 most similar players through age 32 on Baseball-Reference.com, Willie Wilson is the only who played after 1929. Pierre's response:
"I know who Willie Wilson is, at least," he said, smiling. "Those other guys, I'm going to need a history book."
Scott Reifert relays a couple of Robin Ventura's answers from a recent Sporting News Q&A:
Favorite Physical Attribute About Myself: I did make a living hitting, so my eyes — not the color but the function.
And least: I have a very large back yard — that was usually the butt of every joke. Pardon the pun.
If you missed it from TP's Sunday Links spectacular, you should bookmark this.