Flowers filling in ably for White Sox
Catcher thriving, but will likely take backseat to healthy Pierzynski
CHICAGO -- He's part of the American League Central playoff race. He's the White Sox starting catcher, at least until Sept. 2.
And most importantly, Tyler Flowers is making significant contributions both behind the plate and with the bat.
It's a position Flowers hoped to hold from the start of 2011, but one which only became available through Ramon Castro's broken right hand suffered on July 9 and A.J. Pierzynski's fractured left wrist suffered a little more than one month later. It's a chance for Flowers to help the White Sox win now, and then, in the future ...
Flowers just might have secured the backup job for 2012.
That's right, the 25-year-old backstop hitting .316 following Sunday's two-hit, three-run effort in the White Sox 10-0 shellacking of the Rangers, has very little chance to use this successful stint in the spotlight as a springboard to regular work next year.
Pierzynski has one year at $6 million left on his two-year, $8 million deal. Add in his 10-and-5 veto rights and being a highly valued member of the team, and Pierzynski clearly isn't going anywhere. So, Flowers can't help but think he's serving the White Sox in 2011 and might be starting for someone else in '12.
"You kind have to think about it a little, but I can't really concern myself with it," said Flowers, taking the pragmatic and seemingly correct approach to future employment. "If I keep doing a good job here, an opportunity will present itself. I don't know what that will be -- hopefully a good opportunity.
"I'm just about doing the best I can each day and trying to help us right now. Good things will happen down the road."
Actually, Flowers could have copped an attitude this year upon his return to Charlotte. He began a second full year at the Triple-A level, and third overall, when it was widely assumed very early in the past offseason he had a chance to be Chicago's starting catcher.
Then, the White Sox went all in, and Pierzynski was brought back to give the team its best chance at 2011 success. Flowers returned to the International League, where he hit .261 with 15 homers and 32 RBIs, to go along with a solid .390 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage.
Those numbers stood out as a far cry from his subpar .220 showing with the Knights in 2010, including 121 strikeouts in 346 at-bats. His struggles almost forced the hand of the White Sox where the talented and familiar Pierzynski's signing was concerned.
"Last year, I didn't do very well, so there are no hard feelings. I understand the situation," said the affable Flowers. "I don't blame them for signing A.J. for two years. I would probably do the same thing. Being in my shoes, I know I'm capable of doing a good job. I'm not saying I'm going to come up here and hit .300 with 40 homers. But I can definitely get the job done."
"We've been waiting for that Tyler Flowers the last three years," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen of his interim everyday catcher, acquired from the Braves in December 2008. "The hitting coach in Triple-A did a great job with him, putting him in the spot where we can count on him again."
Tim Laker, Charlotte's hitting coach spoken of by Guillen, also received credit from White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker and Flowers himself for this 2011 development. It certainly was not a process that happened over night.
"He's swinging the bat as good as I've ever seen him," Walker said of Flowers. "If you talk to him, he would say that they've formed a nice partnership down there and this isn't an easy thing to do. When he got up here, he told me there was a lot of late nights in the batting cages after games. And that's essentially what it takes. He's a talented guy that needed to take a step forward, and I think he's taken it."
"Early on, I was still kind of figuring some things out," said Flowers of his work at the plate. "The spring was great, and I was able to stick with it for a little bit. Then it kind of slipped. Just getting back to work with Laker down there and communicating with Walk at the same time kind of concreted a couple of things. It seems to be pretty consistent."
While Flowers has knocked out 12 hits in 38 at-bats since his Chicago arrival -- including three doubles and his first career home run and triple -- his work behind the plate has been exemplary. His game-calling and connection with the pitchers made it easy for general manager Ken Williams to point to Flowers as the team's catcher in Pierzynski's absence.
"Without asking him, I think he feels a lot more comfortable here," said White Sox starter John Danks, who worked with Flowers in Saturday's 3-2 victory over Texas. "He follows the game plan and the scouting report to a 'T,' and he can notice whether certain pitches are working. That's all you can ask. He's a great catcher and has been hitting the [heck] out of the ball."
All of this production bodes well for Flowers in the present and makes him a huge plus as a backup to the durable Pierzynski in 2012. Playing once or twice per week is not the goal for any player, especially after getting a taste of the starting life.
Finding a routine as a backup in the big leagues still is better than playing every day again at the Minor League level for someone with little to prove there.
"Obviously, [backup catcher] is not a situation you would prefer, but I would get more out of it being up here for a whole season," Flowers said. "Just to be around this atmosphere and these pitchers and stuff like that. This is where I ultimately want to be.
"Kenny is not afraid to make moves with whomever, so you never know. I just try to do the best I can and hopefully something will happen."