Ask Mark Gonzales

SportsBaseballFootballBrian AndersonChicago White SoxBobby JenksA.J. Pierzynski

The Tribune's White Sox beat writer answers reader questions throughout the season. This week, he addresses the hitting slump, Bobby Jenks and whether to fire Ozzie Guillen.

Mark, the starting pitching has been solid. The hitting has been terrible, especially with runners in scoring position. How many eight-hit shutouts have you seen? But, I still believe the hitting will come along with Podsednik and Thome returning soon. My concern is Bobby Jenks, who it appears has lost 5 mph on his fastball. Even though he has 8 saves, I haven't seen him have a 1-2-3 ninth inning yet! Was the Aardsma experiment a one-time thing, or do you think he could be the closer in waiting if Jenks can't get his fastball back? -- Jim Crestani, San Diego

Jim, I don't think Podsednik will return until early June—at the earliest—because of the baseball work he'll need to perform in addition to strengthening his adductor.

As long as Bobby isn't taxed and he doesn't blow many save chances, I wouldn't worry about him. His velocity finally is starting to increase, and the only reason why Aardsma was used in a save situation was because Bobby had been used frequently in previous games.

One of my Cub fan friends goes ballistic every time he sees A.J. Pierzynski play. He maintains that he is a dirty player, based on the collision with Michael Barrett. I say that it is not considered a dirty play if a baserunner knocks over a catcher standing on the plate without the ball. What do the baseball players think? --Art Gugerty, Ohio, Ill.

They agree with you.

Mark, I don't mean to beat the same old drum but why did the Sox see the Thome injury as a chance for Brian Anderson to get more at-bats? Why would they send him down and bring up Sweeney? I don't see the logic in this. --Leo, Chicago

There was no guarantee that Brian was going to get more at-bats with Jim on the DL. Brian needs work, and Sweeney got plenty at Triple-A Charlotte before his promotion. Let's see how much work Sweeney can get with all the off-days the Sox have had since he was promoted.

You mentioned Chuck Cottier. Do you know if he has retired or if he is still active in baseball? --Marcy, Harleysville, Pa.

Chuck continues to work hard as a scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was at the Sox's series in Seattle and Anaheim.

I know you'll never answer this comment because of your ethnicity, but I think Guillen favors the Latin ballplayers to the detriment of the team. He is enamored of Ozuna, who can't field a lick. I'll give him credit for hitting. He loves Terrero, who has a lifetime batting average in the .230s. Wow, what a hitter. He doesn't use Aardsma or Masset enough in relief, while in spring training, he professed that in order to pitch in relief, a pitcher had to throw strikes. That rule went out the window when the season started. I'm afraid that Guillen is slowly evolving into Jerry Manuel. --Dave Brick, Des Moines

Dave, sorry to disappoint you, but I'm responding to these comments. I didn't see Ozzie playing favorites when he kicked Damaso Marte off the team for five days in 2005. Ozzie has said repeatedly that he likes Terrero "as a fourth or fifth outfielder." I agree that Masset should be used more, but the starting pitchers are pitching deep enough into games.

I'd be more concerned if you said that Guillen was slowly evolving into Terry Bevington.

I'm perplexed by the lack of appreciation expressed by some Sox fans of the newly acquired Darin Erstad. I'm equally disappointed by the unwavering support by some of Brian Anderson. Erstad is still a beloved player of Angel fans who is widely known as the ultimate team player. He goes out and plays hard, day-in and day-out, always doing the little things well to win baseball games. When is the last time we could count on a Sox player for laying down a bunt in a crucial situation? Why do you suppose that Erstad has not gotten the recognition that he deserves while Brian Anderson's current performance is overrated? I don't understand why some even compare Anderson to Aaron Rowand and Joe Crede. What has he done to deserve those comparisons? --Ed Lasak, Riverside, Calif.

Ed, I'm wondering if some of those fans who were calling for Anderson to play more were the same ones who wanted Rowand back and questioned the Thome trade? Erstad started off slow, but unlike Anderson, has rebounded nicely. I can understand why fans still like Rowand, but Erstad is unselfish and intense.

It's too early to give up on Brian. Rowand and Crede rebounded from minor league demotions, and Brian can do the same.

OK, now I'm officially worried about our hitting. I can understand the first 10 games, facing very tough pitchers, stars align, and nobody hits, but it's now 25 games (almost 1/6 of the season), and we don't have anyone hitting over .275, only one over .250, and it seems as if over half the team is hitting near the Mendoza line. Has the rest of the league figured out how to pitch our guys, or are the mechanics and approach of everyone in the lineup screwed up? It also seems as if we score a large percentage of our few runs on solo homers—what happened to Ozzie ball—and if our current hitters can't work a count, do we need to re-educate them? Thanks for taking the time to answer a worried fan's questions! --Ron Reichman, Los Angeles

Ron, great to hear from you. I think we're watching the perfect storm: leadoff batter and designated hitter go on the DL, left-handed pitchers continue to haunt them, inability to string hits together, trying to hit a six-run homer instead of hitting a pitch the opposite way, etc.

The two wins at Anaheim were encouraging, but you can't overlook how helpless the Sox looked for the first seven innings against Bartolo Colon.

Mark, when will Ozzie Guillen get fired? This string of losses is symptomatic of a bigger problem: the league has gotten accustomed to and adjusted to his odd moves and his players have gotten soft knowing he has little discipline in him. Could Razor Shines be our next coach? --JJ, Wood Dale, Ill.

J.J., Phil Rogers pushed for the Cubs to consider Razor Shines as their next manager, but Razor didn't get an interview. Ozzie is in a tough spot because two of his starters are out of the lineup, his players are trying but not getting the results. If he yells at them, they could tune him out because they're not dogging it.

But that's why he makes the big bucks and is signed through 2008 with a team option for 2009. He believes in this team, and they started showing signs of breaking through in Anaheim.

Why are the White Sox in such a slump? It can't be because Thome is gone because we were doing this before that! Do you think Kenny Williams is going to have to make some kind of blockbuster trade? Your time and consideration is deeply appreciated. --Andre Canady, Victorville, Canada.

Andre, I point to the perfect storm theory I mentioned earlier. I'm not sure that a blockbuster trade would solve the woes because of the way the team is constructed. If you trade Crede, you lose his Gold Glove caliber defense. If you move Pierzynski, you lose his durability and knowledge of the pitching staff. If Podsednik is out longer than June, Sweeney should get a longer look.

Mark, you picked Yanks to win it all. They will probably let you down. I am a Sox fan. So I don' t care who wins it all because the Sox are unlikely to do that this season. I am having the same feeling about this team as I did when they were swept at Yankee Stadium last season. You told us to be patient at that point. You thought they would catch up with the Tigers. Never happened. I am studying statistics. So I really believe in TREND. This Sox team is not the 2005 team any more. The good days are far gone. They always have problems: offense, first-inning pitching, and sometimes defense. We need to retool this team. Maybe I am too pessimistic. I will check back with you in June or July. --Jian, Chicago

Jian, I didn't see Journey's Steve Perry show up in Anaheim, so maybe he's singing "Foolish Hearts" somewhere else. I'm not losing sleep over my Yankees pick, which I based partly on Roger Clemens' return. I picked the Cardinals to go all the way in 2006 and wasn't gloating or celebrating.

You didn't ask me if Sox fans should be patient after losing two of three at Detroit after the Yankees' series.

Any suggestions on how to retool the team without sacrificing the future?

Mark, I know hindsight is 20-20 and I know Jim Thome is a great guy etc. But, as soon as Aaron Rowand left and the Thome came over, the Sox became very old AND slow. Rowand provided a spark and his defense cannot be overstated. Any truth that Williams is trying to Aaron back? --Michael Klempin, West Frankfort

Kenny wouldn't mind having Aaron back, but not at the expense of a reliever. The bullpen is jelling pretty well, considering the retooling that went on in the off-season. But it's also time to find out more about Ryan Sweeney while Brian Anderson is getting his stroke back at Triple-A Charlotte.

To me, it seems like the Sox's problem right now is their inability to grow home talent. Hardly any of the Sox roster is originally a Sox product. Meanwhile, the Twins and Indians rosters seem to be full of players who have stepped up from their minor league systems each year to contribute. Is this as big of a problem as I think it is? --Jeremy, Champaign

Jeremy, baseball has become such a transient sport, but you need to develop home-grown talent to either fill areas for a long time or trade for a specific need. Kenny Williams made several trades in the off-season in part to fortify the pitching at the upper levels of the minor leagues.

The only areas of concern for the Sox in the minors is second base and catcher, but catching is one of the toughest positions to produce top-notch players.

Hey, those guys playing in place of Anderson sure are ripping it up! Great fielding too. Boy, that Ozzie, what a genius! Do you think "the mouth" survives beyond July 15? I'm predicting not. More precisely, I'm hoping. --Jeff Hartnett, St. Louis

Let's see what happens on July 15. Or July 31, for that matter, as we find out before then whether the Sox are buyers or sellers around the trading deadline.

Mark: Love your work on the Sox. I'm wondering if Ozzie and Walker talk to the team about team offensive goals. I remember one coach somewhere always focused on his team getting 10 hits and scoring in at least four of the innings—helped them grind out victories that way. Seems like with the pitching as strong as it's been, those would be great goals leading to many wins. Ya think?? --Dan Cronin, Sarasota, Fla.

Dan, thanks for the kind words. First, Greg Walker is a solid hitting coach who works hard in all areas with his hitters, whether it's extra hitting or watching videotape. He's unfairly getting blamed for much of the hitters' problems.

I think it's a little dangerous to put specific numbers as goals. The sole object is to win, and that means doing whatever it takes to sustain rallies, whether it's executing bunts, hit-and-run plays or hitting the ball the other way, as A.J. Pierzynski did to get the game-winning hit Sunday.

John Papadakis, a former college football player who operates a successful Greek restaurant in Southern California with his brother Tom, showed me a clip Saturday night of a speech he made before a game four years ago.

"Only TEAMS win."

Words to live by.

Why haven't the Sox brought up Wiki Gonzalez for Molina? He's hitting well in AAA and already has major league experience. Molina just isn't ready for prime time, and Hall's return is still in the air. --Tre, Champaign

Gustavo does a solid job of handling Buehrle. I agree that Molina isn't ready for prime time, but the Sox are asking him only to handle the backup duties. If A.J. got hurt and Hall wasn't ready, I'd agree Wiki should get the call unless they can upgrade.

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