Defense shaky again, but hitting coach Ward fired

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You could point to shortcomings in the bullpen Sunday. Or a late-inning defensive gaffe.

But that would only obscure the full-blown epidemic that is the White Sox's offense.

"What's killing us right now," manager Jerry Manuel said after a 3-2 loss to Minnesota, "is that we're not scoring runs."

Manuel and the Sox did something about it Sunday night by dismissing hitting coach Gary Ward.

The move won't be announced until Monday, but Sox general manager Ken Williams confirmed that Ward is out after exactly two years on the job.

"We felt the need for a change and a different voice in an effort to get our offense jump-started," Williams said. "We continue to think very highly of Gary Ward and hope he has a major-league job again soon."

The Sox are expected to replace Ward with a coach from their own organization. Triple-A hitting coach Greg Walker, minor-league hitting coordinator Mike Lum and special instructor Harold Baines are the top candidates.

Baines spent about a week with the club in late April. At the time, Williams said Baines wasn't a candidate to replace Ward because "Harold doesn't want to come back and work full-time just yet."

Whoever gets the job will become Manuel's fourth hitting coach in less than six years, following Ron Jackson, Von Joshua and Ward, who was hired May 19, 2001.

Ward, who had questionable communication skills, presided over a spectacularly disappointing offense.

The Sox are hitting just .249, third worst in the American League. Their average with runners in scoring position fell to .232 after the Sox went 1-for-9 in that department Sunday.

That one was a two-run homer by Jose Valentin in the third inning.

After that, the Sox were blanked. They scored just six runs during the Twins' three-game sweep.

"We just have to continue to fight," Frank Thomas said. "It's going to turn. I know we keep saying that, but it will.

"It's no fun making outs all the time. It's very contagious. You can see the [long] faces in here."

Thomas was in the dumps after not capitalizing in the seventh when his team had a 2-1 lead.

With one out and runners at the corners, LaTroy Hawkins induced him into a 6-4-3 double play.

"That was huge," Manuel said. "Something that you don't expect is a double-play ball because he's pretty much been a fly-ball hitter."

Said Thomas: "It's easy to hit a sac fly when that ball's out over the plate. When he's sinking it in on you, you have to try to drive the ball hard to left field."

After Thomas entered the series on a tear, the Twins limited him to one hit in 11 at-bats. And that was an infield single.

"They really took me out of the game," he said. "I was like a [bull against a] matador coming in here, ready to bust [out]. They worked some odd pitches in some odd counts. They did a good job of not staying in the middle of the plate."

Despite their paltry output, the Sox took a one-run lead to the eighth.

Tom Gordon struck out hitter Matthew LeCroy before giving up back-to-back broken-bat singles.

With runners at first and third, Gordon tried to throw a slider down and in to Bobby Kielty. He bounced the pitch, allowing Torii Hunter to cross with the tying run.

"I got beat today," Gordon said. "They put the ball in play and made things happen. I feel bad for the team because we should have won that game."

Kelly Wunsch replaced Gordon with one out and runners at first and second.

A.J. Pierzynski hit a two-hopper to first that Paul Konerko snared and threw to second. Instead of holding the ball, Valentin tried to complete the double play. His throw sailed wide of Wunsch, allowing the winning run to score.

"I took my chance," Valentin said. "It wasn't the best idea."

The Sox committed five errors in the series and fell to 3-15 in games in which they've had a miscue. They are 17-8 when error-free.

Manuel knows that's significant, but he believes it's pocket change compared with the Sox's struggle to generate offense.

"Jose's trying to do what he can to win the ballgame," Manuel said. "The key right now is leaving men on base. We're projected to be a good offensive club, to score runs, and we haven't been able to do that."

In an effort to change that, the Sox will get a new voice Monday.

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