White Sox ready for Cactus League
White Sox face Rockies at home in opener
TUCSON, Ariz. - Ozzie Guillen does not like the practice sessions taking place during the first two weeks of Spring Training.
In fact, the always outspoken White Sox manager used the word "hate" when describing the 10 days or so of work leading up to the actual on-field action.
So, count Guillen as one person in particular who can't wait for the first pitch of Wednesday afternoon's Cactus League opener against the Rockies at Tucson Electric Park. It's a time when the preseason evaluation process truly begins.
"I think [practice in Spring Training] is boring, but everyone does it," Guillen said. "It's a routine thing.
"Now, this gives me an opportunity to see what kind of players I have and what kind of team I am going to bring to Chicago. One thing about it is I love the competition the guys create."
Unlike last spring, when the 2006 roster was all but set for the defending World Series champions, Guillen will pay close attention to a number of personnel battles over the next month. The fifth starter's slot, the final one or two openings in the bullpen and the roster's 25th and final man eventually will whittle down 11 or 12 possibilities to fit the three or four openings.
But the start of Cactus League play does not mean the same thing to every player in camp. Some players use it simply as a way to get ready for the upcoming season. Others are trying to make an imprint on the men in charge. There are a few who might even be auditioning for jobs with other teams through strong play.
Here's a look at a few different viewpoints coming from the White Sox clubhouse, with Wednesday's spring debut on the horizon.
The accomplished veteran
During a recent conversation by text message with his wife, Jamie, Mark Buehrle poked a little fun at his slight change of status in the White Sox rotation for the upcoming season.
"I was texting her, and I said, 'Hey, I get to start the opener,'" said Buehrle with a wry smile. "Then there was dot, dot, dot, and then I told her, 'But it's Spring Training.'"
Jose Contreras will take the mound when the White Sox begin the 2007 regular season against Cleveland on April 2 at U.S. Cellular Field. Buehrle gets the call Wednesday against the Rockies.
Coming off the worst half of baseball over his stellar seven-year career, in which Buehrle finished 3-7 with a 6.44 ERA after last season's All-Star break, the three-time All-Star is not trying to reinvent his repertoire. He came into camp almost 10 pounds lighter and having started throwing earlier in the offseason, with that extra work having paid dividends during the early workouts.
Buehrle certainly won't begin to doubt his ability if he gets hit hard during Spring Training. But he certainly would like to carry this rejuvenated feeling throughout his March appearances, while getting in his requisite work.
"If you get beat around, it's not as big of a deal, but I want to show last year was a fluke and I can still get it done," Buehrle said. "I still want to go out and throw up zeroes and get guys out.
"Obviously, it's not as big of a deal starting down here. I'm still sure I'm going to be nervous on Wednesday."
The non-roster invitee
As a veteran of 14 big-league seasons, 754 games played and six different teams, Eduardo Perez had signing options other than the White Sox prior to Spring Training. But the affable 37-year-old also is a student of a game and understood there could be a fit in Chicago for a strong right-handed bat.
"If I didn't feel I could make the team, I wouldn't be here," Perez said. "I've played against the White sox for a few years and just this [American League Central] division, it's back-loaded with lefties.
"I knew the White Sox had a little problem against lefties, and I felt I could help the team. It's a championship-caliber team. We saw it two years ago, so why not again."
Perez hit .275 against southpaws in 2006, with nine home runs and 28 RBIs, and has 50 of his 79 career home runs coming off left-handers. Perez could be in the mix for the 25th roster spot, depending on the pace of Scott Podsednik's recovery from offseason sports hernia surgery and whether the White Sox decide to take 11 or 12 pitchers.
But Perez isn't putting any pressure on himself to impress the White Sox over the next few weeks. They know what he brings to the equation, and he's just trying to reaffirm their views in Arizona.
"After all these years of doing it, to be honest, my focus is just to be healthy and do the same thing I've always been doing," Perez said. "If I try to do anything different, if I tried to press, I become something I'm not."
The rookies on the roster bubble
Don't tell left-handed rookie John Danks or fleet-footed rookie outfielder Jerry Owens that Cactus League games basically don't hold a high level of importance.
"This is my big leagues right now," said Danks, who is taking part in his third Cactus League season and received an extended look from Texas last spring. "I don't have any real time in the show. This is it for me right now. To face hitters I grew up watching, it makes it a lot of fun."
This 21-year-old pitching phenom, acquired in an offseason trade with Texas, follows Buehrle and Jon Garland to the mound Wednesday against Colorado. If Danks pitches well during his handful of scheduled appearances, he could actually experience the Majors when the statistics are listed on the back of baseball cards. General manager Ken Williams mentioned Danks as one of three viable candidates for the fifth starter's slot, along with Gavin Floyd and Charlie Haeger.
As for Owens, he plans to play in Arizona as if it was the regular season in an effort to move from Triple-A Charlotte to the White Sox outfield.
"Some of the guys have the luxury of getting ready for the season during Spring Training," Owens said. "I have to make the team. I have to be in mid-season form, and I'm excited for the opportunity to show Ozzie what I can do."
The pragmatic approach
Leave it to catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who experiences physical abuse even during the Cactus League, to provide a solid summation of the spring's overriding theme.
"Just try not to get hurt and learn the new guys, that's all you can do," Pierzynski said. "I want to get to Opening Day healthy and ready to go."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.