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Williams, fit Jenks mend fences at SoxFest

Williams, fit Jenks mend fences at SoxFest

CHICAGO -- A message was delivered by general manager Ken Williams to closer Bobby Jenks on Friday's first day of SoxFest, at the Palmer House Hilton.

But this statement was far more positive than his words expressed in an MLB.com article about Jenks in late November. In fact, following a sit-down between Jenks, Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen on Friday night, Williams' sentiment couldn't have been much more complimentary.

"He looks the best I've ever seen him, and I'm really proud of this guy," said Williams of Jenks, speaking in tones more representative of a friend than an employer. "Just sitting here and looking at me and Ozzie, looking us right in the eye, addressing some of the issues head on, like men. I'm proud of him.

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"Good for him. Sometimes you have to push some buttons to ultimately get to that point."

Those buttons started lighting up at the offseason's outset, when Jenks complained to MLB.com about his conditioning being used by the White Sox as an excuse for a down season based on Jenks' lofty standards, although he had dropped 15 pounds during the 2009 campaign. Jenks was responding to Guillen's season-ending edict for all of his players to come back ready and in shape for the upcoming season.

Williams made it clear that if Jenks thought the conditioning problem was brought up too frequently, then he simply should take care of the issue. Apparently, Jenks paid attention to Williams' stern words.

Sitting in the hotel's Chicago Room, where the pre-SoxFest media session took place, Jenks looked phenomenally fit and healthy. The right-hander also explained that he has felt as good as ever throwing the baseball this offseason.

"I feel better this year than I have in a long time," said Jenks, who could not provide a definitive reason for why he felt so strong throwing. "I feel good right now."

As for the bit of drama in October and November, Jenks brushed it off as history.

"That's nothing. It's washed under the rug," he said. "All three of us have put it behind us. It's time to focus on baseball and not the stuff that goes on inside of baseball. That's where we are at right now."

"Yeah, if he's healthy and in shape ...," said Williams when asked about Jenks' keys for success. "It's one thing we talked about, and before I could get it out of my mouth, Bobby said he lost the weight the right way and he's strong. I talked about his flexibility, and he said he works on that as well."

This public challenge from Williams could have gone in a different, negative direction for the strong-willed Jenks, but instead the White Sox have one of the game's best closers on the cusp of what could be another banner 40-save season. Having other solid late-inning options, such as J.J. Putz and Matt Thornton, also will keep Jenks from being overused.

"There should be opportunities to get in there and get in a closer's role," said Putz, who is more than ready to tackle setup responsibilities. "Bobby won't close every single game."

Jenks, a 28-year-old father of four, recently avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $7.5-million deal. Now that he is seemingly on the same page as the White Sox and in great physical shape, he looks in line to earn this new salary and then some. It's the best news of the weekend for the White Sox.

"Certain things had to be addressed for us to have a chance to get the best out of him," Williams said. "Was it uncomfortable? Yeah, but so what?

"We are in a good place with Bobby Jenks. Bobby is going to have a big year. I think it's about to take off."

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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