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WSI News - News Watch

Manuel not concerned with pitching woes

March 30, By Fred Mitchell; Chicago Tribune

Jerry Manuel has kept his fingerprints off the White Sox's criminal pitching performances this spring.

The evidence revealed a staff ERA of 8.19 when the Sox broke camp in Tucson on Thursday. But there are mitigating circumstances, Manuel pleads.

He intends to become a more active and willing accomplice beginning this weekend as the Sox wind up the exhibition season at Miller Park against the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday and then head west to play the Giants in San Francisco on Sunday.

"This spring I would have been out (to the mound) every two innings (to make changes) and it wouldn't have been fair," Manuel said. "I didn't make a trip this spring. I don't usually make trips in spring training."

Manuel believes it's more important for pitchers to work their arms into shape than to perfect every nuance of their repertoire in spring training. But the regular season opens Monday in Seattle.

Is it time to panic?

"I don't run the game in spring training," Manuel said. "Spring is for the pitchers to get healthy and get ready. The reason I don't run the game is I want to remove myself from being competitive. I remove myself so the (pitching) program can run its course."

Manuel indicated he would be more apt to make pitching changes based on performance in the final exhibition games.

"The last couple of games I will be a little bit more involved," he said.

Left-hander Mark Buehrle will be the Opening Day starter for the Sox Monday against the Mariners' Freddy Garcia. Manuel is trying to be positive about his staff's erratic spring.

"I thought Mark Buehrle, for the most part, was pretty good," he said. "I thought Todd Ritchie, at times, was pretty good. I think we really have to be optimistic going into this season.

"One thing was you didn't see a lot of bases on balls. Obviously there had to be some contact or there wouldn't have been that many runs scored. One of the things we wanted to establish with the young pitchers was that it's difficult to defense a walk. But if you're throwing strikes and you have a good tempo and you have a good rhythm, that could help us defensively."

The Sox concede they may have to rely on their hitters until the pitching staff comes around. The Sox sprayed hits all over Arizona, batting .349 and averaging 7.9 runs per game.

Kenny Lofton (.448), Ray Durham (.355), Frank Thomas (.346), Magglio Ordonez (.457), Paul Konerko (.507), Jose Valentin (.323), Carlos Lee (.338), Mark Johnson (.355) and Royce Clayton (.354) would love to carry a semblance of those lofty averages through the regular season.

Light air - "(Arizona) was a favorable place to hit," Thomas said. "A lot of guys are going to get back to reality when those balls at Comiskey Park fall at the wall and don't carry out. Hopefully we can hit line drives and continue to do what we are doing."

Thomas says he feels healthy and ready to produce his typical power numbers this season.

"Frank is going to thrive because he knows the strike zone very well," Manuel said. "Once he does get hot, he will stay that way for an awfully long time.

"I won't say that he is hot right now. I will say he is kind of heading in that direction. So I'm really looking forward to a good season from him."

Road Warriors - The Sox will have been in four cities—Tucson, Milwaukee, San Francisco and Seattle—in five days when the season opens Monday.

"We understand it. It's about the gate right now," Thomas said. "Coming here for two days doesn't make any sense, but hey, we get good crowds and it really heightens things close to home. We can't control all the things going on around us."

Manuel looks at the travel time as an opportunity for his team to bond.

"Anything that you are given, you have to find something positive in it, whether you like it or not," he said. "This gives us a chance as a group of men to spend some time together, away from the distractions of spring training and the distractions that come along with the season.

"These cards that we're dealt ... let's make the best out of it."

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