Chicago Sun-Times
with sports reporters Daryl Van Schouwen and Chris De Luca

Walker and Oz looking to separate the men from the boys

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chi_g_gwalkts_600.jpgMINNEAPOLIS - In Greg Walker's world it's great to be a ghost right now.
Then again, the White Sox hitting coach has been dead so many times over the last three years - whether it was a South Side fan base wanting him fired or possibly even certain front-office members - being a ghost suits him just fine.
Walker is no longer stressing about his team's mechanics at the plate or playing Dr. Phil and trying to talk them out of straightjackets like he was throughout April and May. Now, it's about maintaining where all of his hitters are, and more importantly, keeping them there.
"I've been hands-off for a long time,'' Walker admitted on Sunday. "All I do is pat them on the back and tell them to go play. That's a credit to them. There's no doubt that our pitching hot streak helped our offense get better. We were winning 2-1 games and coming out feeling great about ourselves. Where as early in the year we were losing 3-2 and everybody felt terrible the next day - 'Gosh, we're not holding our end of the bargain up.' But you win those 2-1 games and everybody is saying, 'Man, we did great.' It changes the whole mindset of the offense.''
Walker is no stranger to working on the mental health of his hitters each year. Basically, that's the job description of hitting coach anyway. But 2010, now that's been a battle.
"I've been pretty consistent all season long with what I've said, and I think this was a talented team, but a team where nobody came into the year feeling good about themselves,'' Walker reiterated. "There wasn't a lot of warm and fuzzy, there weren't many chests stuck out, 'I'm ready to go.' There was a lot of self-doubt for different reasons - coming off bad years, coming off injured years, a year where you didn't get to play every day, such as an Andruw [Jones] or a J.P. [Juan Pierre], [Mark] Teahen changing teams, A.J. [Pierzynski] playing out what possibly could be his last year in Chicago, a lot of stuff going on.
"I felt like if we could weather the early storm we had a chance to be a good offensive team. Even through this stretch we have not been perfect. We've won close games, but I think what happened was we started pitching so well that our imperfections kind of got overlooked. So then we started gaining confidence and got better, we started hitting with runners in scoring position, everyone was loose, everybody is having fun on the bench, putting cups on each others' heads and laughing. Nobody even thought about [the hard times]. That's when the talent started coming out and everybody got well, got healthy and felt good about themselves.''
That doesn't mean the Sox offense is a well-oiled machine. Far from it. Reaching their expectations doesn't make them a perfect offense by any means.
"To be honest with you that's going to be the battle the rest of the way, keeping that mindset,'' Walker said. "There's not a lot to be done as far as coaching the rest of the way as far as I'm concerned. Everyone feels good about themselves as we sit here today, everyone is swinging the bat pretty dog-gone good. Mechanically, they are who they are. We are who we are as a team, we swing too early in counts too much, we do things that by the book doesn't hold up, but we have gutsy guys that will go out and get a big hit for you.''
What both Walker and manager Ozzie Guillen will now start watching for is which players can hold up under the stress of being the hunted rather than the hunter. The next 10-plus weeks are a staring contest, and it's about seeing who flinches.
"From now on, you separate kids from men,'' Guillen added. "People will be nervous and there's nothing wrong with being nervous. It's difference between nervous and having butterflies than being scared.
"Whoever is scared, believe me he's not going to be here. He might be on the ballclub, but he's not going to be on the field. This is my job and when [those players] ask me why not I'm playing, it's because I think you are scared. I'm too honest, that's my weakness. I don't see anybody yet.''

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This page contains a single entry by Joe Cowley published on July 18, 2010 1:46 PM.

Picking his poison was the previous entry in this blog.

Sox have made pitch for Dunn - ball is in Rizzo's court is the next entry in this blog.

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