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Notes: Sox hitters eye .300 mark

Notes: Sox hitters eye .300 mark

CHICAGO -- First-base coach Harold Baines accomplished the feat eight times during the course of his illustrious career. Bench coach Tim Raines did it six times, third-base coach Joey Cora hit the target once, and it never happened for manager Ozzie Guillen or hitting coach Greg Walker.

Hitting .300 in a given season is the ultimate benchmark for an offensive player, but it's easier said then done over the course of a 162-game season and 550 or 600 at-bats. But entering Thursday's series finale against the Cardinals, the White Sox had four starters over the .300 mark and Tadahito Iguchi (.296) and Jim Thome (.288) closing fast.

The White Sox offense has found part of its fame and fortune over the past two seasons by hitting behind the runners, giving up at-bats for the good of the team. But it's the ability to stay focused when the trip to the plate is virtually meaningless that separates the elite hitters from the also-rans, according to Walker.

"Guys who are hitting .300, they still give at-bats away," Walker said. "They have mental lapses but not nearly as many as the Greg Walkers. They keep their same approach and take their base hits. They don't freelance, as Walt Hriniak used to call it.

"We are talking situations when there is nobody on base, or a game is out of whack, like [the] last [two nights], or we are behind and going through the motions. There's an art to it, something I never figured out as a player."

Walker added that even letting up in one or two low-key situations can lead to bad habits forming, along with an offensive streak in the wrong direction. It's a path followed by Joe Crede since the last month of 2005.

Not only did Crede finish strong in the regular season, but he maintained the same offensive approach through the 12 postseason games and into the 2006 campaign. Crede entered Thursday hitting .307, with 13 home runs and 49 RBIs.

A.J. Pierzynski (.326), Paul Konerko (.324) and Jermaine Dye (.305) also carried plus-.300 averages into action, and all three have had previous full seasons at or above the .300 mark. It would be a nice accomplishment for Crede, who has surpassed .300 in the Minors, but he wants to get it done in the overall team concept.

"With us winning last year, I felt like I hit .320 and I only hit [.252]," Crede said. "When you win, everything falls in place behind you.

"Hitting .300 is very tough to do, but it's a big deal among hitters. There are so many factors in the game, along with dealing with outside pressures. I mean, I had a good year in 2002 and I only hit .285."

While the manager is away... Guillen served his one-game suspension Thursday, stemming from David Riske's apparent retaliation pitch in the seventh inning of Tuesday's 20-6 victory, and the White Sox manager announced that the rest of his staff would be running the team in his absence.

Guillen's biggest concern, though, centered on the return of St. Louis' best player to the lineup.

"I don't know how my coaches will handle [Albert] Pujols," said Guillen with a laugh. "I told them don't let them get beat by him.

"But I don't run the game. I pull the trigger. We run the game here together. We make decisions together, and the coaching staff will continue to do the same stuff. I trust my coaching staff, and hopefully, they win."

Raines, the bench coach, was in charge of changing pitchers. Cora, though, was to handle the postgame media session.

"He wants to be a manager," Guillen said of Cora. "Now, he has the opportunity to deal with you guys."

A legendary miss: The Chicago media covering the White Sox might disagree with Crede, but the White Sox third baseman said he wouldn't have minded if Roger Clemens' 2006 return was held off until this weekend's series at U.S. Cellular Field.

"Actually, it doesn't really matter," Crede said. "He's a great pitcher, he's going into the Hall of Fame.

"It's neat to actually face those guys to say you faced them and do something well against them as well. If we miss him, we miss him. I don't think anybody's going to really lose any sleep over it."

Come on, Timo: Although his strong role in the clubhouse usually outweighed his part-time contributions on the field, the positive reaction from White Sox fans during the past three days shows that they have not forgotten Timo Perez. Neither have the reserve outfielder's one-time teammates, whom he visited in the clubhouse before the series with St. Louis began.

Even Mark Buehrle tried to get Perez's attention on the field Wednesday night after Perez singled off the White Sox left-hander.

"I've been joking with him since he came in the clubhouse during the first game and I told him to get out," said Buehrle with a smile of Perez.

Down on the farm: Lucas Harrell improved to 7-1, hurling six scoreless innings and striking out six, during Class A Winston-Salem's 7-2 victory at Frederick on Wednesday. Harrell is 6-0 with a 1.74 ERA and 36 strikeouts over his last 41 1/3 innings. Chris Kelly hit his 12th home run and drove in two for the Warthogs ... Lee Cruz had three hits, including two doubles, and drove in two during Great Falls' 9-6 win at Billings ... Daniel Jordan, a draft-and-follow signee this year, hit his first home run and drove in four as part of Bristol's 11-7 win over Johnson City. Josh Morgan added four hits ... Lance Broadway yielded three earned runs on eight hits over 6 2/3 innings, suffering the loss for Double-A Birmingham. Broadway currently stands at 4-5 for the season.

Still time: In-house All-Star balloting came to a close Thursday at U.S. Cellular Field. White Sox fans can still try to push Iguchi to the head of the pack at second base, along with support for other South Siders, by voting on MLB.com.

Coming up: With a White Sox record for consecutive winning decisions in his sights, Jose Contreras (7-0, 2.96) makes his 13th start of the season Friday in the series opener against Houston. Contreras has a 15-0 record with a 2.56 ERA over his last 146 1/3 innings, covering his last 20 regular-season starts. Contreras has not lost since last August against the Twins.

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

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