In the spirit of the sold-out 2010 SoxFest, the reins for this week's edition of the White Sox Inbox have been turned over to reliever Matt Thornton to unofficially throw out the first pitch for the upcoming season.
And much like the White Sox high level of confidence whenever they give the baseball to the hard-throwing southpaw to protect a one-run lead in the seventh or eighth inning, White Sox fans can see the Inbox is in good hands.
Thornton takes a shot at 10 White Sox questions submitted by fans, and one college football question, which may or may not have been submitted by the usual author of the Inbox. Scott Merkin returns next week to take your questions.
Matt, what do you attribute your pitching improvement from Seattle to Chicago and then year after year with the White Sox? -- Bill, Chicago
The biggest change for me was trusting myself and attacking hitters with my best pitch. When I came over to Chicago in the spring of '06, I would pitch away from hitters and get into hitter counts.
After just a couple of talks with White sox pitching coach Don Cooper, things started to turn around for me after he pointed out to me that I was pitching around what I was good at. Since the early times with the White Sox, I have worked with Coop and bullpen coach Juan Nieves tinkering with things like moving on the rubber and pitch selection in certain situations.
Besides the fact that you have a 96-to-97 mph fastball, Matt, why do you think, especially in 2008-09, you have thrived in not only pressure situations, but also against both lefties and righties in any given situation? -- Clifton, Joliet, Ill.
The fact that I have gotten to know the hitters throughout baseball has helped a lot. But I truly love the late-innings situations that I am put in.
There is no better feeling than coming into a one-run game and walking off the mound with that lead intact. On the other hand, there is no worse feeling than coming into a game with a 1-to-3 run lead and walking off the mound tied and especially in a deficit.
Have a question about the White Sox?
E-mail your query to MLB.com White Sox beat reporter Scott Merkin for possible inclusion in a future Inbox column. Letters may be edited for brevity, length and/or content.
Not to mess with a good thing, Matt, but have you considered adding a cutter and giving starting a shot? -- Colin, Chicago
I actually throw a cutter. I started working on it in '08 and had some good results with it. It comes in from 90-to-92 mph and is not something most people can recognize by watching a game on TV or at the stadium.
Now, given the situations that I pitch in, it is tough for me to use my secondary pitches in certain counts and circumstances. I pick and choose the situations I throw my secondary pitches. I can't stand making a mistake with those pitches and getting beat.
Can you tell us about your experience with the World Baseball Classic? Would you do it again, Matt? How did it feel to represent your country? -- Brian, Palos Heights, Ill.
I loved the World Baseball Classic. The group of players they put together was great. I prepared myself the right way before I even reached Spring Training and therefore was able to hold up strong all season long. I told the general manager of Team USA that I am in the next go-round if they would want me on the team again.
Representing the USA was something that I thought I would never have the opportunity to do. When I got the call to be a part of the Classic, I was in awe and blown away that they would want me to be part of a team of some of the best big leaguers around.
How much will the team miss Octavio Dotel and D.J. Carrasco? What can you tell us about J.J. Putz that we haven't already heard? -- Dave, Lockport, Ill.
Almost every team has a change in its bullpen from year to year. It is just the way the business goes. Those two just happened to be the odd men out this year for different reasons. I am sure everyone will slide into their roles and do a fine job throughout this season.
J.J. talks more on his phone in one day than I do in a month.
Matt, who is the toughest hitter you've ever faced? Keep up the good work! -- Lora, Naperville, Ill.
The heart of the Twins' lineup. Joe Mauer is the best hitter in baseball and if you are lucky enough to get by him, you have Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer right behind him.
Matt, what recommendation would you give for getting an autograph from a player? -- Lisa, Schaumburg, Ill.
Be patient, be early and be polite.
Don't scream at them, don't throw things at them and understand that we have a lot of things going on during the day. The treatments that guys have to get, plus workouts and other things can really consume our days. If you don't mind not getting it in person, then mailing to the stadium will work for a lot of guys, too.
Do you have confidence in Scott Linebrink bouncing back in 2010 to pitch like he did in the first half of 2008 or 2009? Who is the funniest guy out of all the White Sox relievers? -- Tom, Chicago
If I was a betting man, I would put my house on it. Scott is a great pitcher, a great competitor and a strong individual. The rough patch he had last year is going to be a learning experience that I think all pitchers go through at one time or another in a career. I am a true believer that whatever doesn't break you makes you stronger. He is going to have a huge impact on our bullpen and team this year.
The funniest guy to me in the bullpen is actually not a pitcher. Bullpen catcher Mark Salas makes me laugh every day. He is the same person day in and day out and does a lot for our team that most people don't recognize.
I think you should be the closer in 2010. The hard- throwing lefty to close and Bobby Jenks or Putz as a setup man. What are your thoughts? -- Ty, Valparaiso, Ind.
I will embrace the opportunity to be a closer if my career path takes me down that road, but my job is to get the ball to Bobby. Bobby has had an excellent career thus far and last year was another solid season for him. I have said before that he has set the bar so high in his early years that it is really hard to live up to the expectations. The way our 'pen is shaping up now should be really exciting for everyone.
What do you think of the 2010 White Sox and the changes made by Kenny Williams? Wouldn't Jim Thome look good in that lineup? -- Mary, Phoenix
The moves made so far have been great. A lot of people forget that we made some huge moves during last season.
With the addition of Jake Peavy, our rotation is not getting the credit it deserves. And the veterans we have added this year are going to be great for our team throughout the year.
Mary, Thome would look great in our lineup. I like the possibility of around 30 homers and 90 RBIs.
As a fellow University of Michigan football fan, shouldn't the administration dismiss Rich Rodriguez at this point? -- Scott, Chicago
Don't just keep on hiring every two or three years. You need to give a guy at least five years before even entertaining the idea of looking for someone else.
They need to have a full year of recruiting and allow those recruits to get through four to five years. I like where the Wolverines have started to head and the youth they have should start to turn things around.
Matt Thornton is a reliever for the Chicago White Sox and is beginning his seventh big league season. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.