Pitching, health keys to second half

Pitching, health keys to second half

CHICAGO -- Ask 10 different players or coaches on the White Sox staff for their respective key to success in the team's second half of the 2009 season, and four or five answers might be presented.

As the 73-game homestretch begins for the South Siders on Friday night at U.S. Cellular Field against the Orioles, two intangibles seem to stand out among the White Sox clubhouse where reaching the postseason is concerned.

Good pitching and staying healthy.

"Pitching is always a main factor, the whole entire season," White Sox setup man extraordinaire Matt Thornton said. "Pitching can get you to the postseason. When we pitch well, we play well."

"We have to stay healthy, obviously," said White Sox designated hitter Jim Thome, who has witnessed more than a few pennant drives during his storied career. "Basically, health becomes a big issue. Getting [Carlos] Quentin back is going to be big."

Quentin has been off the field for the White Sox since the first inning of a 17-3 victory in Anaheim on May 25, due to a painful bout with plantar fasciitis in his left foot. The All-Star left fielder continues to work through an injury rehab assignment with Triple-A Charlotte, doubling home two runs in the Knights' win on Sunday, which left his average at .333 (7-for-21) over six Minor League games.

Before the White Sox decide to return Quentin to Major League action, they want to make sure he can push himself running on the basepaths or in the outfield. If Quentin is deemed ready, whether it's against Baltimore, the series after against Tampa Bay or the following road trip to Detroit and Minnesota, he certainly would be a huge addition to the White Sox attack.

Scott Podsednik, arguably the team's most valuable player of the first half, would slide over to center field and continue on at the top of the order. First baseman and team captain Paul Konerko points to Podsednik's arrival on May 1 and his moving into an everyday role as a reason for the White Sox upswing from seven games under .500 on May 18 to two over at the break.

"You can point to that right there," said Konerko of Podsednik. "We are a different team with him than without him. That's probably the biggest thing, positive, that happened for us, getting him and what he's doing for us right now because that has set the tone for us. We've been a much better team since we got him."

Manager Ozzie Guillen spoke on Saturday as to how the team could add a major piece, even in the current economic climate, before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, only if it was someone who could clearly help the team get to the next level. The White Sox already added reliever Tony Pena from Arizona during the week before the All-Star break.

In the same sense, the White Sox will not completely mortgage their future by giving up top young talent such as Gordon Beckham, John Danks or Gavin Floyd. As important as pitching is for the White Sox ultimate success, basically don't expect Roy Halladay to be moving to Guillen's clubhouse, if the Toronto ace goes anywhere at all.

What can be expected is for Mark Buehrle to take the mound on Friday, in search of his 10th win, unless he threw enough pitches at Tuesday's All-Star Game to warrant a move back by a day or two. What can be expected is for Beckham and Chris Getz to continue to mature and develop, providing key contributions at the bottom of the order.

And what the White Sox hope to expect is a more consistent second half than their up-and-down first 89 games.

"Let's face it, we are in a division where we have a couple of teams right with us," Thome said. "It's hard not to scoreboard-watch early, but you have to understand that every game becomes important."

"Kind of Jekyll and Hyde," said Konerko, when asked to describe the White Sox first half. "It's tough to get off early with the weather. We have some big guys that swing the bat and that kind of comes as the weather gets warmed up. We have some young guys that are getting better as it goes and there's some inconsistency there, especially early, because it's a new experience and they are learning."

Now, ask Konerko if he likes where the White Sox stand at the start of the second half, 3 1/2 games behind the Tigers, and he won't express any sort of disappointment.

"Looking at the whole big picture of the first half, we are in good shape for the second half," Konerko said. "We would have taken coming out of spring, Opening Day, if you would have said, this is where we will be at the All-Star break, I think we would have taken it. In general, we are climbing."

Pitching matchup
CWS: LHP John Danks (7-6, 3.91 ERA)
Danks moves up a day in the rotation to fill in for Mark Buehrle, who pitched an inning in Tuesday's All-Star Game. Danks had a truly miserable opening to his final first-half start, walking the first four batters he faced last Friday night at the Metrodome. By the time Danks had faced six batters, the Twins had scored four runs and had runners on first and third and nobody out. But Danks picked off Michael Cuddyer from first, struck out Joe Crede and seemed to settle down, giving up just one more walk and only the four first-inning runs over 5 2/3 innings and 114 pitches. That first-inning uprising ended a scoreless string of 19 1/3 innings for the southpaw and was out of character for a hurler who had a 1.51 ERA during his five starts leading up to Minnesota. Danks is 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA when facing Baltimore this season and is 2-2 lifetime with a 4.56 ERA.

BAL: RHP Jason Berken (1-6, 5.87 ERA)
Berken won his big league debut and hasn't won again since then, falling to six straight losing decisions and struggling to keep a hold on his rotation slot. The right-hander has pitched past the fifth inning in just two of his past seven starts and has allowed at least four earned runs in four of his nine outings. Berken logged an 8.51 ERA in June but has pitched better in two July starts, perhaps saving his job in the process.

Tidbits
Beckham committed two errors at third base in the first-half finale at the Metrodome, giving him nine for the season. Guillen knows Beckham's defense has to continue to improve for the White Sox to contend, part of the overall expected strong defensive play for the team, but Guillen also knows Beckham is learning on the job. "This kid made a lot of big plays for us," Guillen said. "In the meanwhile, we're asking him to be a big league third baseman when he didn't play many games in the Minor Leagues. He's doing a good job. He's going to make errors. We have be patient with him. He'll continue to work. We'll continue to support him. At some time, you learn from mistakes." ... Jermaine Dye leads the White Sox with 20 home runs at the All-Star break, while Konerko's 60 RBIs lead the team. Konerko and Dye are the only starters hitting over .300, both at .302, but Podsednik (.299) and Alexei Ramirez (.281) are close. Buehrle leads the team with nine wins, while Floyd's 92 strikeouts lead the staff ... Beckham is batting .379 on the road (25-for-66), compared to .135 at home (7-for-52). He is batting .413 with 16 RBIs and 15 runs scored in his past 19 games ... Getz is hitting .405 in his past 11 games. ... Count Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire as one of the many individuals who understands that Buehrle quickly will bounce back from Sunday's Metrodome debacle. "He's a gamer," Gardenhire said. "He'll come back. He'll battle back. We put some good swings on him today."  

Tickets
 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• WCIU

On radio
• WSCR 670, WRTO 1200 (Español)

Up next
• Saturday: White Sox (Mark Buehrle, 9-3, 3.66) vs. Orioles (Jeremy Guthrie, 6-8, 5.35), 3:05 p.m. CT
• Sunday: White Sox (Jose Contreras, 4-7, 4.54) vs. Orioles (Brad Bergesen, 6-3, 3.54), 1:05 p.m. CT
• Monday: White Sox (Gavin Floyd, 7-6, 4.44) vs. Rays (David Price, 3-3, 4.70), 7:11 p.m. CT

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