Notes: Pitch counts elevated

Notes: Pitch counts elevated

CHICAGO -- The elevated pitch counts and stunted innings pitched totals coming from the White Sox rotation over the past four starts are very uncharacteristic of one of the most efficient starting fives in all of baseball.

Javier Vazquez had the lowest pitch count of the quartet, with 110, but he only lasted 5 2/3 innings. Jose Contreras hit 120, Jon Garland reached a rotation-high of 124 and Mark Buehrle exited Saturday with 118 pitches, after becoming the first White Sox starter to work into the eighth since Contreras did so against the Cubs on May 21. Only two White Sox starters went over 120 pitches in all of 2005.

When asked for a reason to describe the rise in pitch count, Buehrle pointed a finger at modern baseball technology.

"I think it's called Quest Tec," Buehrle said. "You see finesse pitchers struggling around baseball without getting the corners.

"I'm the most finesse guy on this team. I need my corners and those close calls. With that Quest Tec, it's no good."

Quest Tec, a device designed to give baseball a more uniform strike zone by tracking each pitch , was not in place at U.S. Cellular Field in 2005 , but is this season. But White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper won't lay the blame for his rotation's recent funk completely on this particular tool.

Cooper initially pointed to his pitchers' inability to throw first-pitch strikes and dictate the count, and then followed up that point with praise for tough-hitting opponents such as Toronto, Detroit and Texas, who have extended his hurlers. Cooper also pointed out that seven innings is the optimum goal for his starters, not so much eight innings, especially with his bullpen "still forming."

After this thorough explanation of his starters' issues, Cooper did make one more astute observation about Quest Tec's effect on umpiring in general.

"Right now, because of Quest Tec, they have everyone very conscious of both sides of the plate, and [the umpires] are not giving a hair on either side," Cooper said. "It means it's up and down in the zone more, and how often do you see a high pitch called? There's my point.

"If you are talking about guys like Buehrle or Garland or [Jamie] Moyer, these guys need the edges and the corners, and the corners aren't given. I mean, the plate is not round. It has to have corners on it.

"This is not meant as a knock on umpires, but it takes away from the umpire's individuality and personality in calling the game," Cooper added. "We have to deal with it, though, and make the adjustments."

Back in action: When Joe Crede was asked Saturday about the condition of his lower back, a painful area that had caused him to miss the first two games against Cleveland, the White Sox third baseman quickly shot down one course of action as a possible solution.

"I'm not going back on the disabled list," said Crede with a smile. "I'll go crazy with all that time off the field."

That disabled list suggestion was brought up to Crede, not made on his own. It turns out that Crede didn't even need three days of inactivity, let alone a 15-day respite.

One of the White Sox most valuable players, when factoring in his offense and Gold Glove-caliber defense, Crede returned to the starting lineup Sunday night.

"He's our guy," said first baseman Paul Konerko. "Our defense is always better with him in there. I hope his back is alright and that's the last time we hear about it this year."

Crede played the final three months of the 2005 season with two herniated disks in his back, but he said Sunday that his problem with back spasms won't adjust the daily program he has been using since Spring Training. Crede also added that he had no limitations placed on his Sunday return.

"I feel good enough to go out there and give it a try," Crede said. "I swung the bat and threw [Saturday] and everything felt good. Hopefully, everything feels good going into tonight.

"It was a sharp pain back there, but it turned out to be spasms."

To play or not to play? A decision regarding Jim Thome starting at first base during Interleague action will be made by manager Ozzie Guillen after consulting with Thome about his overall physical condition following his recent left groin problem. The prolific slugger could miss all three weekend games in Cincinnati, with two left-handers starting, but he is sure to play one of the nine Interleague games in National League ballparks.

"I cannot let this guy not play in nine games," said Guillen. "He has to play, at one point, first base at least one game. I don't know how we're going to do it or what kind of decision we're going to make."

Thome entered Sunday hitless in his last 10 at-bats, with four strikeouts, but still led the American League with 21 home runs and ranked second behind Cleveland's Travis Hafner with 53 RBIs.

Hail to the Victors: As Guillen walked into the White Sox dugout for Sunday's pregame media session, he happened to notice the football action being shown on the center-field Jumbotron. It was Arena Bowl XX from Las Vegas, with Mike Ditka's Chicago Rush battling the Orlando Predators.

The Rush claimed a 69-61 victory, bringing the first AFL championship to the city of Chicago. The lead stood at 55-34 when Guillen began answering questions, but he appeared to know a thing or two about the quick-strike Arena Football League.

"Nine minutes -- that's a lot of time," said Guillen, glancing at the scoreboard. "I hope they win."

Members of the Rush made an appearance at U.S. Cellular Field during Tuesday's game against Detroit.

Third to first: As suggested by Guillen, Rob Mackowiak began taking extra ground balls at third base with third-base coach Joey Cora prior to Sunday night's contest. Mackowiak's ability to play third will help Guillen with double switches in National League ballparks, and give Mackowiak a chance to get extra at-bats when Crede needs a day off. ... Alex Cintron made his eighth start in 11 games, giving regular shortstop Juan Uribe a mental health day, of sorts. Uribe is mired in a 1-for-18 slump over his last six games and has a .195 average. ... Tadahito Iguchi was 6-for-28 during the homestand, prior to his three-hit effort Saturday ... The White Sox held the best home record in baseball at 24-9, entering play Sunday.

Down on the farm: Josh Fields raised his International League-leading average to .338 with three hits, including his 19th double, during Triple-A Charlotte's 8-4 loss to Buffalo on Saturday. Fields is hitting .375 with six RBIs over his seven-game hitting streak. Boone Logan struck out two during 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief. ... Salvador Sanchez, Javier Castillo and Brenton Matheny combined for six hits and seven RBIs, leading Class A Kannapolis to an 11-2 victory over Augusta.

Up next: Contreras (6-0, 2.54) tries to tie LaMarr Hoyt and Wilson Alvarez for the longest White Sox regular-season winning streak since 1970 when he takes the mound Monday in Arlington against the Rangers. Contreras is 14-0 with a 2.31 ERA over his last 18 regular-season starts.

Scott Merkin is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.