Give credit to White Sox first-year bench coach Mark Parent for setting the tone early. There's work to be done and things to be fixed when spring training opens Feb. 22. And that goes for everyone, veterans included.
Parent, a 13-year veteran catcher who managed the Phillies' AA Reading club before joining the Sox to be first-year manager Robin Ventura's bench coach, was an imposing physical presence on the SoxFest stage over the weekend. He talked about Sox pitchers retaliating when Sox hitters get hit by pitches, and he addressed veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski's shortcomings against would-be base stealers
"A.J. has struggled behind the plate with the running game," Parent said to a SoxFest crowd over the weekend. "We're going to try to do things to help out, either with his mechanics, his release, his release times, throwing over, having pickoff [plays]."
How Pierzynski, 35, responds to extra work during spring training, is worth watching. He's been an ironman behind the plate -- he caught 1,000 innings for the 10th consecutive season in 2011 -- who prides himself on fitness and workout routines and no doubt is comfortable with his normal routines. He is also highly regarded for calling a good game.
Sox pitchers had issues holding runners, and shortstop Alexei Ramirez has required work around second base making tags. But Pierzynski has never possessed a gun for an arm and he had trouble at at times transferring the ball from his mitt to his throwing hand.
The Sox threw out 37 runners last season while allowing 135 stolen bases, which ranked last in the American League. One of two holdovers from the 2005 World Series championship team, Pierzynski's willingness to spend extra time with new staff on throwing and blocking drills during spring training would demonstrate the kind of veteran leadership rookie manager Robin Ventura and his staff need.
Opponents stole 94 bases in 118 attempts (80 percent) with Pierzynski catching. Of those 24 caught stealings, 11 were on pickoffs by Sox pitchers. Pierzynski threw out 13 runners, and Sox catchers won't have Mark Buehrle around to shut down would-be base stealers for them.
Tyler Flowers, 26, who showed flashes of good things when Pierzynski went on the disabled list for the first time in his career, figures to play more behind the plate. It makes sense for a team trying to inject some youth while giving the veteran Pierzynski more breaks, especially with Pierzynski in the final year of a contract paying him $6 million this season. A career .284 hitter, the left-handed hitting Pierzynski was a designated hitter seven times last season and might DH more this season.
Flowers hit five homers in 110 at-bats, but he batted .209. Baserunners were slightly less successful on 76 percent of steal attempts with Flowers catching. He has shown signs of promise, but needs to show more.