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posted: 8/2/2012 9:51 PM

De Aza just the spark White Sox' offense needed

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  • Center fielder Alejandro De Aza has a solid .351 on-base percentage leading off for the White Sox this season.

    Center fielder Alejandro De Aza has a solid .351 on-base percentage leading off for the White Sox this season.
    Associated Press

 
 

Admit it, you were skeptical about Alejandro De Aza this season.

It's OK, many were.

Sure, it was a nice story when the White Sox' obscure outfielder produced after being summoned from Class AAA Charlotte at roughly this time last season.

But did anyone really think De Aza would continue putting up numbers (.329, 11 doubles, 3 triples, 4 home runs, 23 RBI) like he did in 54 games in 2011?

Doubtful.

Well, there actually was one big believer -- Alejandro Alberto Ceda De Aza himself.

He doesn't like talking about himself, but De Aza agreed to a rare interview on the Sox' last homestand.

"You never can be satisfied, you never can be comfortable in this game," said the White Sox' 28-year-old center fielder. "I'm never going to be comfortable with what I'm doing. I want to always do it better and get better."

De Aza has been plenty good this season, and he is a big reason the Sox are holding on to first place in the AL Central.

Heading into Friday night's game against the Angels at U.S. Cellular Field, De Aza is batting .287 with 6 homers, 42 RBI and a solid .351 on-base percentage. The leadoff hitter also is tied for second in the American League with 5 triples and ranks fifth in stolen bases (20) and seventh in runs scored (67).

As we mentioned, De Aza does not seek out attention. But while proving last season's impressive two-month run was not a fluke, he has earned respect from his teammates and coaches.

"No offense to any other guys that I've played with, but I think he's the best pure leadoff hitter that I've ever played with," Adam Dunn said. "It seems like he gives you a great at-bat, whatever the result. He's going to give you a great at-bat and he gets on and obviously he's a threat to run and he can steal bases.

"He's as good a leadoff hitter as there is out there, in my opinion."

While he is driven to keep improving, De Aza did ponder what he already has accomplished this season.

"So far, it's OK," he said. "I think I'm doing OK. I think I'm playing the game the way I'm supposed to play so we can win a ballgame. It's all about the team. When I'm in there, it's all about the team."

De Aza was out of the White Sox' lineup for two games after he collided with shortstop Alexei Ramirez in short center field at Texas last Friday.

Fortunately for the Sox, De Aza escaped with a slightly sprained left wrist. He played all three games at Minnesota earlier this week and went 7-for-13, so De Aza is back to being De Aza.

With his ability to do so many things on the baseball field, why did it take De Aza so long to nail down a starting job in the major leagues?

There are two reasons: injuries and opportunity.

In 2007, De Aza was named the Florida Marlins' starting center fielder at the end of spring training, and he got off to a great start.

But two weeks into the season, De Aza went down with a right-ankle injury that was later diagnosed as a hairline fracture. He missed four months.

In 2008 he missed the entire season with a left-ankle injury and faded into oblivion.

De Aza also dealt with wrist and knee injuries before and after the White Sox claimed him off waivers from the Marlins in October 2009.

"Injuries held me back for a long time," De Aza said. "There were so many times I couldn't play, I couldn't do anything. Sometimes my mind was so negative, but every day I was hurt, I would wake up and tell myself I was going to get better and I'm going to go play baseball again."

Once he did get himself healthy, the next hurdle was getting an opportunity.

It finally came this season, and De Aza continues to make the most of it.

"There are hundreds of guys down there (minor leagues) just waiting for a chance," said Sox hitting coach Jeff Manto. "If you're patient enough and you're ready to go when your number's called, things like this happen. He was just fortunate enough to get the opportunity, and he capitalized on it."

Manto is in his first season as the White Sox' hitting coach, and De Aza has helped him make a smooth transition.

"He's brought stability to the top of the order, that's what's most important," Manto said. "When you're looking for a quality at-bat and you want to slow the game down a little bit with a quality at-bat, he's always in the middle of it. He has the ability to take pitches, the ability to hit with two strikes, and he's not afraid.

"He's not afraid to take an at-bat deep into the count. And he wants to learn. There's always something he's asking about, something he's listening to. He's been nothing but a joy."

sgregor@dailyherald.com

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