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WSI News - News Watch

Sox red-hot offense gives team optimism

March 17th, By Paul Sullivan; Chicago Tribune

MESA, Ariz. - They don't look like the reincarnation of the South Side Hit Men, but their numbers are speaking loudly this spring. The White Sox came into Sunday's game with a major-league-leading .358 average and had seven players with 30 or more at-bats hitting over .350: Paul Konerko (.476), Joe Crede (.447) Magglio Ordonez (.433), Kenny Lofton (.429), Carlos Lee (.425), Tony Graffanino (.393) and Jose Valentin (.359).

"If you break down each player, pretty much every guy on our team thinks about hitting more than anything else," Konerko said. "They may play defense well, but at the end of the day, almost all of our guys are offensive type of guys.

"Down here you'll have some big days because pitchers are only going a couple of innings and minor leaguers are pitching. During the year we're going to have guys having bad nights, but if maybe two guys in our [Nos. 3-7 spots] don't show up, the other guys will. Hopefully we'll mix and match well where we don't all go cold at once, because that's what happened last year early on."

Konerko said the work ethic among Sox hitters is the best he has seen since joining the team.

"I've worked harder this spring, early and late," he said. "I'll go to the cage early thinking I'm going to be the first guy out there. I'm going to be ahead of the game. Then I find out there's already someone else in there. I don't remember that happening last year or the year before.

"It's a big year. [Management] is going to make some decisions after this year. I don't think anyone doubts that, so everyone wants to have a good year. If we go out and win, they'll do their best to keep us together."

Second chance: Antonio Osuna wasn't around long enough to get comfortable last year, tearing his labrum shortly after signing a three-year extension.

He was booed off the mound in the Sox's home opener last April and made only four appearances before the injury was discovered. But Osuna showed how effective he can be with his changeup Sunday, throwing 21/3 scoreless innings and striking out four. Osuna said he threw about eight changeups, including two to Sammy Sosa and one that struck out left-handed-hitting Todd Hundley.

"My changeup is going well this spring and my fastball is coming around," Osuna said. "I feel much different this year. I'm happy and I want to help the team. A 20-something ERA in one month last year? That wasn't me. If I feel good, I feel I can pitch every day."

If Osuna keeps it up, he may challenge struggling Bob Howry as the Sox's primary set-up man.

"Bobby's fastball is not where he would like it to be, and it's not where we would like it to be," pitching coach Nardi Contreras said. "At least he has some velocity. Not where he was, in the 94-97 (m.p.h.) range, but he's got his slider, got his splitter. If he pitches inside he might hurt somebody, so they've got to be aware of a fastball inside from Bob Howry."

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