Notes: Erstad's focus is on the team
Walks hurting pitchers; everyone anxious to get victories
CHICAGO -- If the White Sox needed any sort of reminder as to the excitement brought about by Darin Erstad's offseason addition, they only have to take a quick glance at the center fielder's work from the team's first two games.
Erstad homered on Opening Day for the first time in his career, but he also reached base all five times during the White Sox contest against the Indians on Wednesday. Add in two stolen bases, three runs scored and even a great piece of situational hitting that set up Thursday's first run scored, and Erstad has been even better than advertised during Spring Training.
But comments made by Erstad prior to Thursday's series finale truly illustrate his intrinsic value to a team with postseason intentions. After hitting just .221 over 95 at-bats for the Angels in 2006 due to problems with a bone spur in his right ankle, Erstad would have every reason to gloat over this quick start. Instead, he doesn't even recognize individual success with the team's rough beginning.
"I'm here to win baseball games and I'm not happy about anything," Erstad said. "If we don't win, it doesn't matter. We are here to win and it just hasn't worked out that way. So, we just keep plugging away."
While Erstad didn't address his individual numbers, he did talk about feeling a step or two quicker in the outfield. Getting quick breaks and finding a better push off to his left, specifically, still was a concern for the one-time Gold Glove winner in center field with two weeks remaining in Spring Training.
Those concerns quickly have been assuaged in the early going of the 2007 season, with baserunning never really being a major issue for Erstad as he worked his way back from offseason surgery.
"The breaks pushing off with my left foot have never been a problem. It's the breaks to the left, where I had to explode off of my right foot," Erstad explained, focusing on the baserunning aspect. "But even so, shuffling off the base and cutting back to the base on my right foot, it felt really good and I feel like I got that bounce back. I'm very happy where it's at.
"You are always trying for a little bit more. I felt the breaks were a little slow [with two weeks left in Spring Training]. Not super slow. Now, there is not much room for improvement there, and I'm very happy how it is."
In the zone: Yielding 26 hits to an explosive offense such as the one belonging to the Indians has not bothered manager Ozzie Guillen and pitching coach Don Cooper as much as the 15 walks given up by the South Side hurlers over the first two games. Although only one of the 10 walks issued by the White Sox scored on Wednesday, the wildness still sits at the crux of the team's pitching problems.
Consistently falling behind the opposition has led to a heap of trouble for starters Jose Contreras and Jon Garland.
"It can't happen because I look at the run column and what makes up runs? Hits and walks," Cooper said. "We've got to keep it to one. We can't let the walks creep in here."
"We get behind the hitters too much," Guillen added. "When you get behind and walk people, the result is not going to be the right one. I don't say walking people is not part of the game. But walking too many people is what will kill you."
Travis Hafner has received five of the White Sox walks, and Guillen reiterated Thursday that he won't let Cleveland's best hitter beat them. But aside from the Hafner plan, Cooper wants his pitchers to attack and let the rest of the team assist in the action.
"As long as you're aggressive and making them swing the bat, we don't care what happens," Cooper said. "We feel we have a good enough defense that we feel somebody will catch the ball."
Everyone remain calm: It's never too early in Chicago for ardent supporters to panic in regard to their respective team's fortunes. So, Guillen understands the concern being expressed from the White Sox fan base after two losses. He understands, but doesn't necessarily agree.
"I'm not panicking. I'm just disappointed," Guillen said. "To win the pennant, you have to win 100. You can lose two and still can do it.
"That's the fans. That's the way they are thinking. We win 100 and lose one, and they start thinking, 'There we go again.' I get used to it. I've been in this city a long time and I know how people react."
Guillen admitted second-guessing himself on everything from individual moments covering the first two games to using his starting pitchers during so many "B" games instead of maybe providing an adrenaline push in Cactus League contests during Spring Training. But Guillen still wholeheartedly believes the team, and his starting pitchers, quickly will improve their performances.
Heart to heart: Following a talk with Contreras prior to Thursday's series finale, Guillen seemed satisfied that his Opening Day starter simply suffered through a poor performance and nothing more.
"I did talk to him and Jose is fine. He just had a bad game," Guillen said. "I'm always worried about my players. When they don't execute well or I don't see them throw the ball good, I want to ask if they have any problems.
"My job is to go out there and ask if you have any problem on or off the field. We had a good conversation and he said he just had a bad game."
Around the horn: Juan Uribe's third-inning walk was his first since Aug. 6, 2006. ... Jermaine Dye was presented his Players Choice award for the 2006 American League Outstanding Player prior to Thursday's contest.
On deck: Minnesota makes its first visit to U.S. Cellular Field for a three-game weekend set, featuring Javier Vazquez battling Carlos Silva. Friday's first pitch is set for the new 7:11 p.m. CT start time.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.