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After Jeff Keppinger, even if he's still around

Opening Day third baseman could be relegated to the bench before the second month of his three-year deal is over

The most recent photo of Keppinger at the plate was taken on April 25, which tells you something.
The most recent photo of Keppinger at the plate was taken on April 25, which tells you something.

Dayan Viciedo returned to the White Sox lineup on Friday and picked up where he left off -- he chased a high fastball for a strikeout, but bounced back with a two-run double. He even threw a walk in as a bonus feature, his first of the season. I'd call it a triumph amid a loss.

As Viciedo's oblique strain fades from view (fingers crossed), now the DL watch turns to Gordon Beckham, who remains unusually visible for an injured guy. At Citi Field on Wednesday, I saw him practicing his turns at second base with Joe McEwing. On Friday, he tested his surgically repaired hand with 100 swings off a tee, and had no real complaints afterward:

"It felt pretty good," Beckham said of his swings off a tee. "I took 100 swings and that is a lot of swings. I don't know if I would take that many swings if I was healthy. It felt good but obviously there is still some discomfort there."

Beckham hopes to be ready for a rehab assignment soon.

"There is a lot to like about the first day," he said. "We have kind of a very general time table set up. We think maybe a week and a half from now I could go out. That could be bumped up and it could be moved back."

Beckham and the team agree that four rehab games should be enough after he regains full strength in his hand.

Let's allow Beckham a comfortable window and say he needs two weeks to get into game action, and then four rehab starts to get back into the flow of the season. That puts him back in a White Sox uniform somewhere around May 29, give or take a day.

That's a funny week for a return, if only because it puts Jeff Keppinger at risk for a Mark Teahen-ing.

Back in 2010, the White Sox were 21-28, and Teahen was a popular target -- he wasn't hitting particularly well, and he played third base like it was hardwood floor covered in marbles. Add it all up, and the worst fears about the three-year extension he received were being realized immediately.

Then he broke his finger on his throwing hand fielding a routine ground ball, forcing him to leave the game against Tampa Bay on May 30. Jayson Nix took his place, and the next time Teahen's spot in the order came to the plate, Nix crushed a grand slam off James Shields, propelling the Sox to an 8-5 victory. That's how long it took to relegate Teahen to afterthought status. The Sox went 43-23 over the 66 games Teahen missed, and led by the surprising Omar Vizquel, White Sox third basemen hit .314/.370/.436 over that 2½-month period.

There are a few inherent similarities between Teahen and Keppinger -- things like primary position and general contract terms. Beyond that, when comparing other aspects like qualifications, playing style or career arc, it's hard to draw meaningful connections.

The same can be said for expectations. The Sox built a bandwagon around Teahen by handing him a three-year contract extension sight unseen. They could have easily proceeded year-to-year with him, but they were so confident that he'd beat projections that they wanted to put money down immediately.

With Keppinger, the Sox didn't really try to pretend the signing wasn't dictated by unfavorable circumstances. They cast a wide net during the search for a third baseman, as they also talked to Eric Chavez and Jack Hannahan. They even went for Hannahan after signing Keppinger with the possibility of a strict platoon. When Keppinger became the guy, they talked up the idea that his strengths provided a little cover for a team weakness, but they still didn't necessarily present him as a firm Plan A. Rick Hahn said that Keppinger's positional versatility gave them some flexibility down the road, and Robin Ventura didn't even count out Brent Morel from making a push for the position in spring training.

Such a modest prelude should've made meeting expectations a far more reasonable request, but we're six weeks into the season, and I don't think he could be any further away. He's hitting .191/.188/.209. He's two plate appearances from breaking Brent Morel's mark for the longest walkless drought to start a season. His OPS is noticeably worse than the one posted by a bad-backed Morel the year before.

It should be getting more attention, but perhaps it's telling that it isn't. There is shockingly little ink devoted to Keppinger, even though he couldn't be playing worse relative to his contract. He could be Tyler Greene for all intents and purposes -- you know, if he weren't batting second every day.

Really, the lineup spot is the only thing in the way of a transition away from Keppinger. It probably would be smart to put Alexei Ramirez in the second spot and drop Keppinger to the bottom of the order. Ramirez may be nobody's idea of the perfect No. 2 hitter, but that would still have to be an improvement over Present-Day Keppinger, who is the worst possible option for that many at-bats. Maybe Keppinger would find fewer offensive responsibilities liberating, but if he's still the odd man out by the time Beckham returns, somebody will have to hit second, so it makes sense to start laying some track now.

The only hang-up is the weirdness of it all. Keppinger is in the second month of a three-year contract, and his main selling point was a high floor of stable skills. But as long as the Sox fashion themselves a contender, they should start insulating themselves against a lost Keppinger as soon as possible. As we know from Teahen ... and Alex Rios ... and Adam Dunn ... the worst-case scenario can turn into a new reality before anybody is ready to accept it.