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Flowers prepping for Major League starting gig

Flowers prepping for Major League starting gig

Flowers prepping for Major League starting gig
CHICAGO -- The reported departure of A.J. Pierzynski via a one-year deal with the Rangers, pending a Friday physical, means the Tyler Flowers era behind the plate for the White Sox unofficially has begun.

Flowers still is taking nothing for granted.

"Everyone is telling me that, but I would like to see it in writing," said Flowers with a laugh during a phone interview with MLB.com on Thursday night. "I've said it before. I'm not expecting a phone call.

"It's something you've got to earn. In my position, I haven't earned that right. I'm not A.J. I'm going into Spring Training to win the job."

Since the 2012 season came to a close, the idea of Pierzynski returning to the White Sox seemed less and less likely. Flowers pointed out during an earlier offseason interview that it was time for the White Sox to see what they had in him after acquiring the right-handed slugger from Atlanta as part of the 2008 Javier Vazquez trade.

That comment wasn't meant with any malice toward Pierzynski, as Flowers stressed again on Thursday the close bond formed between the two catchers during their final season in Chicago together. The bond wasn't always that strong, but it eventually transcended baseball matters.

"He was a very mature, positive influence on me this year, helping me understand baseball and life and fatherhood," said Flowers, whose first child, Mia, was born 3 1/2 months ago, with Pierzynski being a father of two. "We just kind of ended up evolving and talking about all sorts of stuff.

"This turned into a great relationship," said Flowers, who added that Pierzynski and his family would be on his holiday card list for life. "And I didn't anticipate it happening the way."

Forming a bond with the White Sox fan base might be a little tougher for Flowers. After all, he's replacing one of the franchise's most popular players in the last 20 years or so and an integral contributor for the 2005 World Series championship squad and every year since.

Pierzynski exited on a high note, knocking out a career-high 27 homers and driving home a career-tying 77 runs in 2012, while hitting .278. Flowers is considered a better defensive catcher than Pierzynski, and will be called upon to do the same stellar job in handling a young pitching staff and calling the game.

There also was an attitude or an edge, if you will, that Pierzynski brought to the White Sox, something seemingly missing before he arrived in 2005. As one-time manager Ozzie Guillen humorously stated, "If you play against him, you hate him. If you play with him, you hate him a little less."

Durability was never a question for the intense competitor, with Pierzynski posting 11 straight seasons of at least 1,000 innings caught that stands as the longest streak for any active catcher. But Flowers' job is not to duplicate Pierzynski's amazing eight-year run.

Instead, Flowers will present a power presence with a good batting eye, despite a high level of strikeouts coming along as part of the package. Flowers never has had more than last year's 136 at-bats at the Major League level, so he hopes judgment is reserved until he gets an everyday opportunity.

"Assuming I do what I know I'm capable of doing, I can win that job. But it will be strange not having A.J. around," Flowers said. "He's been a fixture in the city.

"That's a tough spot hopefully being the guy to replace him. It's an interesting situation where the [White Sox] fans and the city, I don't think they are too happy. I hope I get a fair chance, not just from the organization but also from the fan base, to show I'm capable of catching, helping the White Sox succeed and helping the White Sox reach the playoffs and World Series."

One surprise is that the White Sox don't intend to add another experienced veteran working behind Flowers, with Hector Gimenez and his 20 Major League at-bats getting the early nod. The organization has great faith in the 30-year-old switch-hitter, who finished 5-for-11 with the White Sox after his 2012 callup.

A fracture in Flowers' lower left hand, suffered in the second-to-last game of the year when he was hit by a Chris Perez pitch, has healed and he already has hit three times at 100 percent without "a wink of pain." Flowers plans to hit again on Friday in preparation for his first big league starting job.

Nothing is official in that particular area, although it appears to be Flowers' time to bloom with one of the two remaining players from the 2005 champions moving to Texas.

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. 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.

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