CHICAGO – When veteran Paul Konerko was brought back in the offseason, many wondered why. The White Sox had spent big money on Jose Abreu to play first base and Adam Dunn was still under contract and filling the designated hitter’s spot.
While the White Sox have been waiting all season for the extended win streak, they’ve avoided having their season sunk by a long stretch of losing. On Saturday, they dropped their third straight, falling 9-1 to the Royals.
It’s rough patches like this when Konerko believes he can have the most impact.
“I think the big thing is even as many years as I’ve played, the season is always a little bit longer than you think,” Konerko said after going 3-for-4 with a home run Saturday. “The more you play, you get a handle on that. Even being an older guy you still forget how long the season is. The easy thing to do right around now is to panic, and if you are not swinging the bat well somehow your season is kind of stamped for what it is. It’s going to go that way. There’s so much time left for a team and individuals.”
The even-keeled, veteran presence that Konerko provides is likely something that goes under the radar. His manager, Robin Ventura, is happy that Konerko is filling the role of hitting southpaws while also providing a strong clubhouse presence.
“If there’s a highlight (Saturday), Paul had it,” Ventura said of Konerko’s ninth-inning blast. “He’s swinging it against lefties. We knew that coming in that that was going to be his role, to come in and do that, and he’s been doing that. It’s not an easy thing to do. For him, all the accolades and everything else, this is one of those tough things he’s doing and he’s doing it very well.”
After delivering two singles against Royals starter Danny Duffy, Konerko is posting a respectable .776 OPS against lefties this season. It certainly is a far cry from the All-Star level that Konerko had previously performed at and many had grown accustomed to, but it’s clear the veteran has accepted and embraced his new role in his final season.
“It's all about the timing, it takes such a little miss to make an out,” Konerko said. “I'll stand in when guy are throwing bullpens. Anything where I can see more than just batting practice, just to try to make my eyes feel like they've seen some velocity. Because even though I've had thousands of at-bats, thousands of hits, you go five, six days without playing, sometimes it feels like two months. I think everybody knows when they're in that role they expect there to be some misses and some outs. There is more room for error when you're not playing all the time. But I think if you can try to focus, there are still some pitches, that if you're dialed in and mentally present, you can do some things.”
It appeared Saturday that Konerko was one of the few White Sox who were actually dialed in. For the second straight day, an opponent put up a five-spot in an inning. This time the defense failed Chicago, as three of the runs scored in the fourth inning were unearned.
Starter Hector Noesi cruised through the first three innings but then loaded the bases with no out in the fourth. It appeared that Noesi may have been able to get out of the inning with minimal damage, but Leury Garcia booted Lorenzo Cain's hard-hit ground ball, allowing two runs to score. Mike Moustakas then knocked in another run when he blooped a single into left field that Dayan Viciedo appeared to get a bad jump on.
“If we're not helping him on defense it makes a difference,” Ventura said. “It's just going to extend that inning and every time you extend that inning you give them a chance to put some runs on the board. It just kept snowballing to where you couldn't get out of that inning.”
All in all, it was another disastrous inning that a suddenly listless White Sox offense – which has scored a combined three runs during their three game losing streak – couldn’t come back from.
The Sox have faced some solid pitching over the past three days, with Cy Young winner Max Scherzer going on Thursday and the Royals getting strong efforts from Jeremy Guthrie and Danny Duffy. Duffy tossed seven shutout innings on Saturday, striking out nine while walking just one.
But Konerko will do his best to make sure no one puts their head down, regardless of how the team or individuals are performing.
“You have to keep grinding and working,” Konerko said. “There’s nobody that’s doomed to having a bad year. There’s just that much left. So you just got to keep trucking along.”