Inbox: Can Sox improve situational hitting?

Inbox: Can Sox improve situational hitting?

Inbox: Can Sox improve situational hitting?
I want to thank everyone who contributed questions to the various Inboxes during the offseason.

The Inbox will continue during Spring Training, so keep submitting. I'm sure more questions will cross fans' minds as the action in Glendale, Ariz., begins.

Let's take a look at a final round of concerns before I depart for Arizona on Tuesday and White Sox pitchers and catchers report next Thursday. That day marks the opening of the first Camp Ventura.

What can be done to improve the situational hitting? Moving runners over has been brutal the last few years.
-- Ted, Naperville, Ill.

White Sox fans would like to have their offense operate like it was 2005, when leadoff man Scott Podsednik would find some way to get on base, steal second and then move to third -- courtesy of No. 2 hitter Tadahito Iguchi's ability to handle the bat. Before the opposing team had settled in, Paul Konerko or another middle of the order hitter was driving in Podsednik, and the White Sox had given their exceptional pitching staff a lead.

Last year's team certainly did not shine in this particular area. But what you also had were some accomplished but struggling hitters, who simply were trying to make contact and put three or four good at-bats together -- let alone three or four good games. Trying to hit behind the runner or getting the ball in the air becomes a little tougher when you are struggling at the plate.

Players such as Gordon Beckham and Brent Morel should turn out to be solid situational hitters, and I think putting either one in the lineup's two-hole, could help their overall plate focus. I've heard Alexei Ramirez mentioned as a two-hitter, No. 2 hitter, but he seems better suited to be a run producer.

There's no question the White Sox also have to get better hitting in the clutch. As a team in 2011, the White Sox batted .218 with the bases loaded, and .239 with runners in scoring position. By the way, this failure was not for a lack of preparation on the part of Ozzie Guillen, hitting coach Greg Walker and the White Sox staff. I remember being on a back field at Camelback Ranch and watching a number of batting-practice sessions with Jeff Cox, I believe, calling out situations for the hitters, such as "runner on second, two outs," and then the respective hitter following through with a situational approach.

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When is White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf going to replace Kenny Williams? All Williams does is sign high-priced, used-up players. The White Sox need somebody that can build a winning team, and Williams isn't it.
-- Jeff, Waterloo, Iowa

I understand the fans' current disappointment, and so does Williams. The last three years have been very frustrating for the White Sox.  

But I can honestly state that when Adam Dunn was signed, as an example of these high-priced players of which you speak, only one e-mailer or friend of the many who contacted me or spoke to me predicted anything close to last year's debacle. Sure, there were concerns about his switch from first base to designated hitter, or the National League to the American League. But there was a lot of excitement about his addition. It's unfair to praise a deal at the time of the signing and then rip it in hindsight. I'm not saying Williams hasn't swung and missed. The Manny Ramirez waiver claim, as an example, simply did nothing for the team.

For now, it's Williams' show to run. And the organization is also lucky to have a high-quality baseball man in assistant general manager Rick Hahn, who is highly respected inside and outside the organization.

We'll see if Williams can build the farm system back up, while trying to keep this team competitive. I know the last time White Sox fans were this irked was before the 2004 season, when a new manager was coming aboard. Two seasons later, the White Sox won a World Series title.

Do you think the White Sox will be able to beat the Tigers this year after having a terrible record against them last year?
-- Michael, Chicago

Detroit's 13-5 mark against the White Sox perfectly symbolized the Tigers' dominance over not just the South Siders, but the entire AL Central in 2011. When the White Sox basically needed to win six September games against the Tigers to produce even a remote playoff chance, they lost three at Comerica Park and then three at U.S. Cellular. Guillen's crew was outscored, 111-62, and posted a 6.03 ERA vs. Detroit for the season.

Beating the Tigers is not exactly essential to winning the division or reaching the playoffs, believe it or not. Of course, it's better than the alternative. But if the White Sox can be competitive against the division favorite, around or just above .500, they have a shot. Winning against the entire AL Central, though, is crucial for a playoff berth.

Is there any chance that free agents like Jon Garland or Magglio Ordonez will come back to Chicago? How about Bobby Jenks?
-- Jorge, Chicago

Jenks is not a free agent, as he's currently trying to get healthy to pitch for the Red Sox. While there would seem to be a certain symmetry to Ordonez finishing his career in Chicago, I don't see where the White Sox would use him. Ordonez is not exactly a defensive wizard at this point in his career, and the White Sox have their starting outfield set.

Garland, meanwhile, agreed to terms on a Minor League deal with the Indians on Monday.

Will the White Sox hit for a team total of 200 or more home runs?
-- Jay, DeKalb, Ill.

Surprisingly, the 2008 season was the last time the White Sox surpassed 200 home runs. It's also the last time they won the AL Central. They launched 236 taters in 2006, and finished right at 200 in 2005.

Dunn and Alex Rios will bounce back. Konerko will produce his usual 25 to 35 long balls, and players such as Beckham and Morel will go deep more often. So, I say, 'Yes,' to the 200-homer plateau. And as much as the White Sox need good situational hitting, you can't win consistently at U.S. Cellular Field without the long ball's presence, as 2005, '06 and '08 show.

What can we expect from Zach Stewart?
-- Joe, San Antonio, Texas

As a starter, the right-hander was hit and miss in '11. He was one eighth-inning Danny Valencia double away from a perfect game at Target Field on Sept. 5, but also gave up 14 combined runs on 23 hits over nine innings in his last two trips to the mound. Stewart will start as the team's long reliever and serve as a sort of sixth starter in waiting, which seems to be a better fit.

What do you think of the Mitch Mustain signing? Will we see him during Spring Training?
-- Dave, Springfield, Ill.

You'll see Mustain in Spring Training if you like to watch Minor League games on the back fields at Camelback Ranch. The former Arkansas and USC quarterback is the ultimate project, having not played baseball in eight years. But the White Sox obviously saw something to make it worth taking a chance.

Scott Merkin is a reporter for Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.