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WSI News - News Watch

No Extension for Durham so far

March 24, By Paul Sullivan; Chicago Tribune

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - The White Sox have decided to roll the dice on Ray Durham, letting the second baseman enter his free-agent year without a contract extension.

The lack of negotiations suggests the Sox are gambling they can re-sign Durham after the season, or they don't have him in their plans and will deal him near the trading deadline if they're not in contention.

Durham figures to be the top second baseman on the free-agent market next year, and the Sox may decide to cut costs, depending on 2002 attendance. Durham has decided not to discuss his contract situation for the time being, focusing on the season ahead, but he and his agent confirmed that no negotiations are imminent.

"There's been no discussion, and it's not something we can predict," agent Ed Setlik said. "We're going to be patient. Ray knows what he has to do."

Durham has repeatedly said he wants to stay in Chicago, but he may be expendable next year if rookie Willie Harris proves he can hit major-league pitching. Durham hit a grand slam Saturday in the Sox's 10-6 win over San Francisco and has scored 14 runs in 14 games this spring.

Big 2 - Todd Ritchie pitched 6 2/3 innings Saturday to earn the win against San Francisco. With youngsters Jon Rauch and Dan Wright in the rotation, the Sox's bullpen will be extended early in the season to protect the young arms. That means the Sox need Ritchie and 22-year-old Mark Buehrle to eat up innings in April.

"I'd like to go as far as I can," Ritchie said. "I'm not one to say, 'I'm done.' If they're going to give me another inning, I'm going to go out there until they tell me I'm done."

Ritchie walked no one Saturday, his best outing of the spring. As the veteran in the rotation, he may have to keep the youngsters' confidence up.

"If you've got the mind-set your stuff is good, you'll be OK," he said. "You're going to get beat up from time to time?that's the nature of the game. It's how you respond that makes a major-league pitcher. Hopefully these guys can learn that and be ready for the season."

Buehrle said people may tend to overreact when they glance at the Sox pitchers' sky-high earned-run averages this spring. The Sox had a major league-worst 8.16 ERA on Saturday, more than one run per game higher than the American League's next worst team, Anaheim at 6.96.

"I feel good about everybody in this clubhouse," Buehrle said. "All 35 guys in here can be on a big-league team right now. Even if someone's not getting the job done, I think we'll have someone down in Triple A who can step in. It's going to be a good pitching staff, no worries. Come April 1, it's going to be .000 batting averages and 0.00 ERAs. Everyone's stats are thrown out the window."

Hang Time - Paul Konerko had a day off Saturday, giving him time to work on some things. As of Saturday Konerko was batting .474 and led all American League hitters with 19 RBIs.

"Although the numbers may say I've swung the bat well, personally I know I haven't," Konerko said. "That's not bad, because you want to heat up at the right time, next week or so."

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