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OAKLAND-- When the White Sox left spring training one month ago, the pitching staff appeared to be in shambles.
The Sox were dead last in the majors with an 8.19 earned-run average, also ranking at the bottom in home runs allowed at 50.
"I definitely don't think our pitching is as bad as what we've shown," closer Keith Foulke said on the day the Sox left Arizona.
The season still may be young, but Arizona already looks like a mirage.
Before Friday night's 6-4 loss to the A's, the Sox had a 4.09 ERA, third in the American League behind New York (3.67) and Boston (3.73). In addition, Sox pitchers had served up 17 home runs, third fewest among AL staffs.
Rookie Jon Rauch took the mound against the A's on Friday, hoping to keep up the pace and retain his spot in the rotation.
"He's on a regular schedule now," manager Jerry Manuel said before the game. "Hopefully he can give us a good outing. If Jon gets into trouble early, then [Jim] Parque is a guy who has stretched out, so we'll go to him."
Staked to an early 2-0 lead, Rauch experienced control problems again, walking four batters through the first five innings and making an errant pickoff throw to first in the fifth without looking to see if Paul Konerko was covering the bag. Konerko wasn't, and after Jeremy Giambi advanced on Rauch's error, Frank Menechino singled him home to make it 2-1. Jose Valentin committed two errors on the next play, allowing another run to score to tie the game at 2-2.
Rauch wound up allowing two unearned runs on three hits in five innings
Parque (0-1) entered in the sixth inning and gave up back-to-back homers to Terrence Long and Ramon Hernandez. He allowed three runs on five hits in two innings.
Sox catcher Mark Johnson hit a two-run homer in the ninth.
The Sox were 2-13 on the road last year against the three West Coast teams--Oakland, Seattle and Anaheim--and started out this season losing two of three in Seattle.
"For some reason, the West Coast always seems to be tough, regardless of who we're playing," Manuel said. "We have a little different club now when you factor in a Kenny Lofton on defense and offense."
While Lofton has rejuvenated the Sox, the effective pitching is the biggest surprise, especially after the horrible spring and opening series in Seattle.
"We all had confidence coming out of spring training," Sox ace Mark Buehrle said. "The bullpen kind of got ripped by everyone in the first week, but now they're on a streak. You don't hear much about them now. No one is saying good stuff about them. They just got off to a rough start, and I think they can get the job done.
"As long as this offense can score runs, the pitching staff will be all right."