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WSI News - News Watch

Sox ready for 2002 season

March 30, By Fred Mitchell; Chicago Tribune

MILWAUKEE - The White Sox hope to pump up the volume and the results when the season opens Monday in Seattle.

"Anytime the bell rings, the level of emotion and enthusiasm and intensity rises, simply because there is so much at stake," said manager Jerry Manuel, whose club closes out its statistically inauspicious (10-21) spring training Sunday at San Francisco.

"We will have an Opening Day meeting as usual. We will have a prayer as usual. Then we will go to war. It will be that simple.

"Turn the music up a little louder and everybody will get a good feeling about himself. Everybody has a clean slate."

The Mariners won 116 games last season and ran away with the AL West title.

"You're playing a team that knows how to play the game of baseball," Manuel said. "You've got to feel that you're competitive enough to handle it. For the most part, I see these games [being] tight. And that's a good thing, because all the little things we talk about in winning ballgames seem to manifest themselves when the games are close.

"That's a real good thing to start off the season with. I'm sure there will be some intensity."

The Sox tore the cover off the ball in Arizona, hitting .349. But the pitching staff finished the spring with a troubling 8.19 earned-run average. Somehow the light air of Arizona factored into the disparate offensive numbers.

"We're not that concerned about wins and losses in spring training, but we didn't play well as an overall team," Sox DH Frank Thomas said. "You always have to be concerned with that. But everyone is very positive in this locker room. We have come together as a unit."

Manuel's current emphasis is defense, especially since the core of his pitching staff is so inexperienced.

"Everybody can try to catch balls or try to get outs, even if they don't get any hits," he said. "If we can emphasize defense I think it will take a lot of pressure off the young pitchers. It's important when you have a young pitching staff that you don't give away outs."

Veteran center fielder Kenny Lofton, a four-time Gold Glove winner, hopes to set the tone.

"You have to go out there and be aggressive," he said. "When you're out there diving for balls, [teammates] will say, 'OK, let me see who can make the great play out there. Let me see if I can top that."'

Sluggers Thomas and Magglio Ordonez are looking forward to having Lofton set the table for them as a leadoff hitter.

"He's an igniter," Thomas said. Manuel regards Lofton as "a tremendous key."

"With him being on base and running the bases the way he does, that attitude he carries with him is going to be huge for us," Manuel said. "When you have a guy who brings a little swagger, it intensifies the whole situation."

The Sox struggled to a 15-29 start last season before improving to 41-44 by the end of the first half. They were a division-best 42-35 in the second half to finish the year 83-79, good for third place in the AL Central.

Manuel is undaunted that his team opens the season with a nine-game trip through Seattle, Kansas City and Detroit.

"Every team would like to get off to a good start," he said. "What I would like to see us do is get off playing good baseball. The wins will take care of themselves."

A formality - The Sox optioned infielder Willie Harris and catcher Josh Paul to Triple-A Charlotte, trimming the Opening Day roster to 25.

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