Notes: No apologies for power surge
Home runs major part of offense, but not sole focus
CHICAGO -- For the past seven years, the White Sox have surpassed the 200-home run mark as a team and, in the process, extended their Major League record shared with the Yankees for long-ball proficiency.
In fact, the White Sox led the Majors with 236 home runs during the 2006 campaign and had four individual hitters topple the 30-home run mark in a single season for the first time in franchise history. The South Siders also led the Majors with 45.9 percent of their runs scored in 2006 coming via the home run, according to STATS Inc., a common criticism of the potent White Sox offense.
According to White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker, taking opposing pitchers deep once again will be a crucial staple for the team's attack in 2007. It happened twice during Monday's 12-5 loss to Cleveland, courtesy of Darin Erstad and Paul Konerko. For that fact playing out, Walker makes absolutely no apologies.
"Look at our players," said Walker, speaking on a topic that always seems to draw a little fire from the knowledgeable man in charge of the White Sox offense. "You go [Nos.] 3 through 7 [in the lineup], and even [Juan] Uribe to a certain extent, and they are big boys. To be honest, the middle of our order doesn't run real well, so what do you want them to do?
"I'm not going to apologize for hitting home runs as long as they are going about it the right way. When you watch us take batting practice, it's a professional round of batting practice from everyone."
When home run hitters come to mind, strikeouts usually go hand-and-hand with the game-changing shots. But the White Sox fanned 1,056 times in 2006, well off Cleveland's league-leading pace of 1,204. Jermaine Dye, Konerko, Jim Thome and Joe Crede, who served as the prime deep threats for the team, each hit at least .280 and showed the ability to hit to all fields -- another sign of professional hitters by Walker's estimation.
Partially absent from last year's effort was 'Ozzie Ball,' the fundamentally-sound small ball side of the offense that contributed so much to the 2005 championship season. Improvement from that particular part of the game will hinge on strong showings from the top two hitters and the bottom two hitters, but really has nothing to do with a decrease in home runs.
Even the small ball part of the offense can feature the long ball, as Erstad showed in his first White Sox at-bat Monday.
"Creating havoc at the top, making opposing pitchers worry about them instead of the middle," Walker said. "I would take improvement in the small ball and better success against left-handed pitchers."
"Besides Thome, me and Konerko are more gap-to-gap hitters, line-drive hitters with power," Dye added. "We can do little things to move guys over if we have to, but our job is to drive runs in. We can't sit up there and play small ball in the middle of the lineup. That's not what we do on an everyday basis."
New address: For the past two years, Tadahito Iguchi showed off some of the best hands in baseball with his skilled situational hitter at the plate as the team's second hitter. With the addition of Erstad, Iguchi moved to the seventh spot in the order as part of Monday's Opening Day lineup against C.C. Sabathia.
But Iguchi believes a feeling of being more at home with the White Sox in his third year will prove more beneficial then the lineup change.
"I feel more relaxed and more comfortable," said Iguchi, who finished 0-for-3 Monday, through translator David Yamamoto. "I pretty much know a lot of the guys on the team.
"Everyone is really light-hearted, a bunch of great guys. I really like it in here. I hope we can win all together. It will be a great experience again."
While posting a .300 average for the first time in his big-league career remains Iguchi's primary individual goal, he also should be able to increase his power numbers and stolen-base total hitting lower in the order. Yet, the team goals still are overwhelmingly important for the second baseman.
"I really don't know how much the numbers will change in certain categories," Iguchi said. "I feel my role will be the same, mainly to help the team."
Remember when? While playing against the Indians for the first time in 2006 brought back memories of his storied past in Cleveland, Thome now looks at the White Sox Opening Day opposition as just another team.
"Those days are over," said Thome, who played for the Indians from 1991-2002. "I have a lot of fond memories there, but it's really just another team right now.
"They have a very good club. For me personally, it's time to move on and just look at Cleveland as another team we are trying to handle and trying to beat."
Direct hit: The loss of Kenny Rogers after surgery for a blood clot in his throwing shoulder could put a serious crimp in Detroit's postseason plans as it competes in what is expected to be a very tough AL Central. But White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf believes his team already has dealt with a more significant injury setback.
"[Losing Rogers] will hurt them, but he only plays every five days," said Reinsdorf prior to Monday's opener. "We lost Toby Hall; that's a bigger loss for us. Injuries are part of the game."
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen expressed concern for the 42-year-old left-hander. But he sees Detroit hanging tough without his services.
"I feel bad for him. You can die from that thing," Guillen said. "It's bad for that team, but I think that team is good enough to compete without him.
"They have a [heckuva] ballclub, good pitching staff. They're going to miss him? I think so, but there's a lot of guys who can step it up and do it for them. I don't think they're going to miss him that bad."
Crosstown plaudits: Reinsdorf's partnership assumed ownership of the White Sox in 1981, the same year the Tribune Company took over the Cubs. The White Sox chairman gave high marks to the Cubs owner, who announced plans Monday to sell the team, despite the Cubs being unable to win a World Series under the Tribune's watch and making just four playoff appearances.
The impending sale also allowed Reinsdorf to speak in general terms as to the responsibility of the owner toward the fans.
"The [owner's] responsibility [to fans] is to use every penny of revenue he can generate to try to win," Reinsdorf said. "The Tribune tried as hard as it could to win. They had some very good years; it's not that easy to win. Whoever buys the Cubs is going to do it because they love the game. They're going to have to pay a lot of money. They're a premiere franchise. They'll go for a good number."
On deck: Following Tuesday's off-day, Jon Garland makes his first start of the 2007 season against the Indians' Jake Westbrook. The Cleveland right-hander had a 3-0 record against the White Sox last season, but Garland is tied for the Major League lead with 36 victories over the past two campaigns.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.