Fitting end to 1st half

SportsBaseballPhilosophyU.S. Cellular FieldKeith FoulkeDamaso MarteTodd Ritchie

As the White Sox ended the first half with a 9-3 loss to Cleveland on Sunday, several clues to their puzzling season were scattered around Comiskey Park.

Right-hander Todd Ritchie was bombed again, sliced and diced during an eight-run third inning to fall to 5-11. Second baseman Ray Durham suffered another concentration lapse, dropping a routine relay throw and giving scouts one more reason to advise their general managers to let Ken Williams' phone calls go straight to voice mail.

And Cleveland outfielder Milton Bradley hit a grand slam immediately after pitching coach Nardi Contreras came out to visit Ritchie, adding evidence for those fans who would like to see Contreras chained to the Sox bench.

Manager Jerry Manuel, who spent much of the day trying to deflect questions about the ongoing Frank Thomas saga, said the Sox will try a different pitching philosophy when the second half begins Thursday night in Detroit.

"I do believe you'll see our approach will be a little different," Manuel said cryptically.

But Manuel declined to give away any of the new Sox philosophy, waiting for everyone to figure it out for themselves.

"Hopefully, if we see some improvements, you'll be able to identify what direction we're going in and why," he said.

Let the guessing game begin, understanding that the operative words in the current pitching philosophy are "pitch count." Will Manuel begin to put more faith in Mark Buehrle and Jon Garland late in low-scoring games? Will Ritchie and Dan Wright be yanked earlier with Keith Foulke becoming the full-time, midgame middle reliever? Is Damaso Marte the new closer?

These are all questions to ponder during the All-Star break, which has the Sox limping in at 42-46, 7 1/2 games behind division-leading Minnesota.

"I continue to be optimistic about the second half," Manuel said. "We're not completely out of it."

Big uproar: The Frank Thomas controversy is spilling over into the clubhouse, though few Sox players believe Thomas is really being "benched."

"It's not always just about Frank," Paul Konerko said. "It's about a team and finding out what's the best thing to do for this team. That could be that Jeff Liefer needs to get some at-bats.

"Management has to find out where are we going with this. Who do we have to get rid of? Because there's obviously a logjam with some of these guys, and it's not right. Some of these guys need to go play somewhere, whether it's here or somewhere else."

Staying the course: Ritchie allowed six runs on seven hits in two-plus innings, his shortest outing since Aug. 19, 2000, when he was with Pittsburgh. Ritchie's earned-run average climbed to 5.82, and he's 2-7 with a 8.59 ERA over his last 10 starts.

Manuel said the Sox made some adjustments in Ritchie's delivery, but he continues to leave balls out high and over the plate. Manuel will stick with Ritchie for now, referring to him as a "second-half" pitcher.

"We're going to have to give him the benefit of the doubt and give him every opportunity to turn it around," Manuel said.

Ritchie went 6-6 with a 4.97 ERA after the break with the Pirates last year. He's 16-12 in second halves over his career, with a 4.53 ERA.

Go figure: Though the Sox head into the break averaging 5.4 runs per game, the second-highest total in the league behind the Yankees, the offense sometimes gone into a deep sleep against undistinguished opponents. Cleveland's Ryan Drese, who entered with a 5.76 ERA, held the Sox to three runs on four hits over seven innings.

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