Thome antsy to get back in lineup
Limited by pinch-hit at-bats, Sox slugger returns Tuesday
CINCINNATI -- Come Tuesday night, Jim Thome probably will be the happiest man in the White Sox starting lineup against the Dodgers at U.S. Cellular Field.
The veteran's source of joy doesn't come from any milestone achieved or about to be achieved. But instead, the upbeat attitude simply emanates from the designated hitter getting a chance for four or five at-bats against Los Angeles starter Hiroki Kuroda after an 11-day absence.
Thome has just four hitless pinch-hit appearances during the White Sox eight-game Interleague road trip at National League ballparks, with the pitchers temporarily taking the future Hall of Famer's spot.
"I was just thinking last night, 'Man, it sure would be nice to get more than one at-bat,'" said Thome with a smile. "But it will be nice to get back and get into a rhythm. The bottom line is you want to get some consistent at-bats, and with pinch-hitting, you don't get that as much as you want."
Before this prolonged period of activity, which Thome certainly understood was coming, the slugger had begun to get into that sought-after rhythm at the plate. In his last start on June 11 against Detroit, Thome homered and finished 2-for-3 with two RBIs.
In fact, Thome has gone deep in back-to-back starts and has cleared the fences in three of his past four starts. He is batting .333 with seven RBIs and eight walks in his past nine games.
Finding that same groove becomes Thome's renewed focus on Tuesday. Following his Interleague break in 2008, Thome was 0-for-6 with three walks during his first two games back against the Cubs at home. He knocked out four hits and homered twice over the ensuing two games.
"That's the frustrating thing," Thome said. "You work so hard to find that stretch, where, OK, you start to feel good and you are getting locked in and you are making good contact, especially since I was starting to get some hits the other way.
"Again, you have to keep the mentality, of, 'Hey, you might not lose that but you have to work hard to get that back,'" Thome said.
This down time hasn't been all bad for the accomplished 38-year-old. He has continued to take extra batting practice in order to stay sharp but also had the chance to heal up from nagging injuries that almost all players have 69 games into the season.
Nonetheless, Thome would rather battle through the pain on a daily basis than give up eight games worth of at-bats.
"You want to be in there and you want to play, and it will be nice to get home and get going," Thome said. "But you get body aches and pains.
"Obviously, my lower back and my heel have been issues. You never want to look at it that way, but the main thing is getting a little bit of time off is helping. You get to clear that up and take it on into next week and feel refreshed. But it sure is no fun."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.