Commentary

White Sox looking better already

Less Adam Dunn, more young talent a welcome sight during stretch run

Updated: August 30, 2011, 12:22 PM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Adam Dunn wears a wooly witness protection-style beard, but he's not going into baseball's version of an undisclosed location. "You see him right there," Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said, waving toward the outfield. "He's 6-7. You can't miss him. He's a big boy."

Yes, you can't miss Adam Dunn, the $56 million Rob Deer Lite, but all things staying the same, we'll be seeing less of him in a batter's box, which is good news for everyone but AL Central pitchers.

I'm guessing most of his time at the park will be devoted to Words with Friends, fantasy football and looking for the Longhorn Network on the clubhouse TV.

With a month left in the season, and the Dayan Viciedo era fully underway, Guillen sat down and talked with Dunn before Monday's game to explain his new, long-awaited limited role. Despite all the invective thrown his way, Guillen has always said that when Viciedo gets called up, he's going to play him.

A day after hitting a three-run homer in his 2011 debut, Viciedo hit fifth and was the designated hitter Monday night against the Minnesota Twins, which would placate a disgruntled fan if Alex Rios weren't hitting fourth.

While Dunn sat and Rios got booed off the field, Viciedo (2-for-3) and his Triple-A friends gave this team a little life.

[+] EnlargeAdam Dunn
Tom Szczerbowski/US PresswireAdam Dunn never shook his season-long slump after signing a big contract with the White Sox in the offseason.
Viciedo, Alejandro De Aza and Tyler Flowers were the extent of the White Sox's offense Monday night as the Sox won their fourth straight game for only the second time this season, beating the miserable Twins 3-0.

Five wins in a row equals the season's high-water mark. I'm sure there are plenty of good seats available to witness history being repeated.

De Aza doubled, stole third and scored on Flowers' sacrifice fly in the second. In the seventh, Viciedo singled and scored on Flowers' double to center. In the eighth, Viciedo's infield single scored Alexei Ramirez from second.

Flowers, starting for an injured A.J. Pierzynski, has nine RBIs in his past 13 games, including the club's first grand slam of the season on Sunday. He's getting rave reviews from the pitching staff, making Pierzynski look as expendable as Rios and Dunn.

Mark Buehrle, who could be an ace in the National League next season, pitched 7 2/3 scoreless innings in front of potential Cubs GM candidate Rick Hahn.

Guillen, who espouses the virtues of NL-style ball in the American League, likes the infusion of Triple-A talent. Me too. They don't make me fall asleep.

"It's the Chicago Knights right now," Guillen said before the game, riffing on the Charlotte expats. "But they play the way they played yesterday, I'll take it. I like to manage the kids. I do. Good organizations in the past, if you don't have people from your own minor leagues, then you're no good. And they don't play the game right.

"You start picking people, one guy from one organization, another guy from another organization, another guy, then they don't run the bases the same way, they don't go about their business the same way. There's a different way to teach. It's hard to put anything together. When you grow up with those kids, you're teaching from the minor leagues. You're telling them how to play the game."

I don't know if he directed that monologue as a knock on general manager Kenny Williams' free-wheeling philosophy, but he's not wrong.

Williams' recent big-money moves have been bad and the fans have noticed. Just 24,000 and change showed up on half-price night. Maybe Williams should be the one going to the Cubs.

Instead of trusting that Viciedo, who was signed to a $10 million deal before the 2009 season, could split time in right field and at designated hitter with Carlos Quentin, Williams swung for the fences by signing Dunn to a major deal to be the full-time DH that Guillen eschewed. We applauded Williams in December for his moxie, but his big cuts of late have ended in big whiffs. Just like Dunn himself. Guillen, who in the same breath blames himself for the team's struggles and says he knows he's a great manager, knows what people have been saying about his seeming stubbornness on the Viciedo matter.

He said he laughed when Viciedo homered in Seattle, telling bench coach Joey Cora that all his critics in Chicago are going to be saying, "It's all Ozzie's fault."

In reality, Guillen has been saying the same thing all season. He'd love to have had Viciedo earlier, but who do you release to get him on the roster? Quentin going to the disabled list finally got "The Tank" rolling.

(Guillen, of course, feels justified that his roster pick, Juan Pierre, has reversed his early season troubles. But to be fair, Pierre's struggles in April helped put this team in a hole.)

Speaking of Dunn, Guillen said the erstwhile slugger took the demotion news well. Considering Dunn is hitting .163 with less pop than Brent Lillibridge, how else could he take it?

In any event, as awkward as Dunn's and Guillen's $56 million conversation was, it had to be better than Bears coach Lovie Smith and running back Chester Taylor's talk. At least Dunn didn't think he was cut.

"We had a little chat," Guillen said. "It was nice. He understands my point. I understand his point. When you have communication, people know what you have in mind. Like I say in the past -- and I keep saying it -- I did it to a few players. I'm not going to kick the guy in the [blank] when he's down. I will figure out how I will play him. I will figure out the best chance for him and the club."

Guillen said Dunn's response was, "You have to do what you have to do. I know it's my fault."

"He understood," Guillen continued. "A lot of people will make excuses or blame the manager and say, 'It's his fault, not my fault that I'm not playing anymore.' I don't say I'm not going to play him anymore. He's just going to get a chance to be down there and energize this thing. And when I see it's time for him to play, I will put him in the lineup."

Personally, I think the best thing for both parties is for the White Sox to drop off Dunn somewhere on Buehrle's 1,200-acre property in Missouri. Let him roam around and kill something other than his reputation and White Sox fans' will to live. When Quentin comes back from the DL in a week or so, Rios can join him. Nothing personal, but no one wants to see those two play again this season.

Amazingly enough, the White Sox, after the season from hell, still have something to play for, as they sit precariously on the edge of the playoff race, just five games behind Detroit in the AL Central, and four in the loss column.

The Sox go to Detroit this weekend for a series, and then after seven against the Indians and Twins, the Tigers come to the Cell on Sept. 12-14.

"I think we have 30-some games left and we'll give it our best shot," Paul Konerko said before the game. "We're a little behind the 8-ball here, I think. We're six games back. That's not ideal being six games back with just over 30 to go. We're up against it. There's probably not another shift of momentum in a bad direction that we can probably recover from."

I know Sox fans want to quit this team, but I'm afraid to say they're going to have to pay attention to this team in September. At least, now they won't have to watch Dunn flail away while they ask themselves why Rios is hitting fourth.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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