Notes: Starters to be more aggressive
Pitching coach frustrated with laid-back approach
PEORIA, Ariz. -- After watching Javier Vazquez give up hits to 10 of the first 15 batters he faced during Sunday's "B" game against Arizona in Tucson, pitching coach Don Cooper finally reached his limit with the inconsistent White Sox starting pitching this spring.
Results don't exactly mean much in Cactus League action, as those statistics won't make the back of baseball cards and never get brought up in salary arbitration. But Cooper was bothered more by his starters' process on the mound than the poor numbers.
"Coming in every day and losing ballgames, I can live with that if our approach is good," the White Sox pitching coach said after Vazquez yielded five runs on 11 hits over five innings Sunday. "I'm on that now.
"They know they are on the team, and results to a large degree don't matter down here. After those first two innings, I mean coaches can get frustrated, too."
Cooper's frustration with the veterans in his rotation had built up to such a level after Sunday's first two innings that he instructed A.J. Pierzynski, catching Vazquez in the "B" game, to "pound everyone in and work soft away." Cooper's own thought process was that if his pitcher was going to get hit, he was going to work on having him get command of the fastball.
From that point on, Vazquez's effort greatly improved. He retired eight of the last nine hitters faced in this 78-pitch-outing, giving both Cooper and Vazquez pause for thought as to the early-game approach taken by these veteran hurlers.
Simply put, Cooper and manager Ozzie Guillen want their starters to be aggressive from the first pitch, a similar path traveled during a regular-season start. They don't want them out on the mound just to put in work, as their combined 10.80 ERA entering Sunday might indicate, even when the games don't count in the standings.
"[Javy] came out thinking, 'I'm just going to get my work in,' and he's out there for 20 minutes in the first inning getting that work in," Cooper said. "That's not the way to do it. So, we're going to talk tomorrow as a unit and make sure that no matter what happens in the game, we're preparing the right way for April 2."
"My first couple of innings were embarrassing and it doesn't matter if it was Spring Training," added Vazquez, who said he was throwing only 85-87 mph early on but finished with his fastball in the low 90s. "There's no doubt in my mind that we shouldn't be getting hit like this. We're not that bad. Basically, we have to pick it up as a group."
Pain in the neck: During his collegiate days as quarterback at the University of Michigan, Clayton Richard was known as a skilled runner who could avoid the sack during his very limited playing time. But the current Minor League hurler in the White Sox organization probably never faced a rush as fearsome as the one he almost encountered Sunday morning.
While closer Bobby Jenks was warming up in the bullpen to work one inning in the "B" game at the Kino Sports Complex, an errant throw from Richard struck Jenks in the neck. Jenks moved toward Richard, but according to Cooper, Great Falls pitching coach Curt Hasler quickly got Jenks to stay back to make sure he was OK.
"The kid is lucky that Bobby ... wanted to get him," Cooper said. "When you get hit with a ball, your initial reaction is that you get [upset]."
"Stuff happens. He just lost control of it and I was the recipient, right in the neck, just to the right of [the Adam's apple]," Jenks added. "I got [upset]. It didn't hit the jugular, so it was fine. Just muscle, or whatever you call it, tissue in there."
Jenks received treatment for a little soreness and stiffness in the neck but bounced back quickly to strike out three over 1 1/3 scoreless innings, throwing 23 pitches. The burly right-hander breezed through the first three hitters, and two extra hitters were sent to hit in the same inning to get up his pitch count.
Strangely enough, the accident involving Jenks' neck might have helped his effort.
"It made me stay on the ball longer," said Jenks, who hit 92 mph with his fastball and will next pitch Wednesday. "I felt great out there."
Opportunity knocks: After striking out Ichiro in the bottom of the first inning of Sunday's Cactus League game against Seattle in Peoria, Adam Russell basically could have considered the day a minor success. But Guillen not only was impressed with the way the 6-foot-8 right-hander threw the ball against seven Seattle starting position players, but also the way he bounced back from two previous outings producing three runs allowed on five hits over three innings.
"He showed me something special right there," said Guillen of Russell. "All of a sudden you're going to start at the big-league level one game against a good ballclub, you have a chance to get nervous. He showed up and throw the ball around the plate."
Russell, who allowed two runs on four hits over three innings, struck out Richie Sexson three batters after Ichiro. The North Olmsted, Ohio, native took pride in fanning the former top prospect for Cleveland but pointed to the Ichiro at-bat as a more defining moment.
"Striking out Ichiro, that was something I felt pretty good about," Russell said. "It gave me a lot of confidence going into the next few batters."
Around the horn: Rob Mackowiak finished 4-for-4 with two home runs and five RBIs during Sunday's "B" game back in Tucson. Alex Cintron scored three runs. ... Andrew Sisco struck out four as part of his first two-inning relief stint this spring against the Diamondbacks. ... The White Sox hitters had three balls go out of the infield over the first six innings of Sunday's Cactus League game against the Mariners in Peoria but sent 13 hitters to the plate in an eight-run seventh. ... During his seventh-inning at-bat, Brian Anderson received a serenade of "Happy Birthday" from White Sox fans in attendance. Anderson turned 25 on Sunday.
Up next: In his start last Wednesday against the Royals, Jose Contreras took a strong step toward the regular season with six strikeouts in four innings. Contreras gets the call once again at Tucson Electric Park on Monday, facing the Padres and former Cubs stalwart Greg Maddux.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.