Sox Flowers has big shoes to fill
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Associated Press Chicago White Sox's Tyler Flowers watches his home run off Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Blake Beavan during the sixth inning of a baseball game in August in Chicago. The White Sox won 5-4.
On the baseball calendar, this is the time of the year when A.J. Pierzynski rolled into the White Sox' spring training camp with the rest of the pitchers and catchers.
Pierzynski would squat behind the plate for the early throwing sessions, and he pretty much stayed in that position until the end of the season.
From 2001-12, the 36-year-old Pierzynski leads all major-league catchers with 1,512 games caught.
He's also been behind the plate 1,000 or more innings for 11 straight seasons and has been on the disabled list only once — in 2011 when he missed a month with a fractured left wrist after being hit by a Bruce Chen pitch.
Over parts of the past four seasons, Tyler Flowers filled the lonely role as the Sox' backup catcher.
From the dugout, Flowers grew accustomed to watching Pierzynski play five or six games a week.
"His work ethic, the way he worked day in and day out, good day, bad day, whatever it was, his routine and work ethic was the same," Flowers said of the workhorse Pierzynski. "I think that's why he was able to set all of these records, with innings caught, games, all that good stuff. He took care of himself."
Considering he played in 135 games last season and hit a career-high 27 home runs, you would have thought the White Sox would have extended Pierzynski one more contract offer.
And when you also consider Pierzynski's left-handed bat is a big need for the Sox, a two-year deal would have been warranted.
The White Sox had other ideas this winter, and the free-agent Pierzynski had to settle for a one-year, $7.5 million contract from the Texas Rangers.
A wildly popular player for the Sox from 2005-12, Pierzynski can expect multiple standing ovations when the Rangers visit U.S. Cellular Field Aug. 23-25.
As for Flowers, he is finally getting the chance to stand up and show he can play. The 27-year-old Atlanta native has been around long enough to know replacing Pierzynski is going to be a huge challenge.
"You don't want to be the guy replacing A.J. Pierzynski," Flowers said. "It's going to be tough to be that guy, but I think I'm capable of doing it. Hopefully the city will be open-minded, the fans. That's what I hope for, but we'll see how that shakes out. Ultimately it's up to me to do what I'm capable of."
How the White Sox' new starting catcher fares this season is anyone's guess.
While he has been with the Sox off and on since 2009, Flowers' only chance to get a regular shift came two years ago when Pierzynski was on the DL.
Starting for much of the final two weeks of August, the 6-foot-4, 245-pounder batted .194 (7-for-36) with 2 home runs and 7 RBI.
Last season, Flowers appeared in 52 games (41 starts) and batted .213 with 7 home runs and 13 RBI.
Needless to say, Flowers is looking forward to moving out of Pierzynski's considerable shadow and getting a shot at regular play.
"It's going to change everything for me," he said. "Trying to play once a week, once every 10 days, that was a challenge for me and something I've never done before. There was definitely a learning curve and I enjoyed the experience.
"I wouldn't really want to do it again. I'd rather do what I'm going to do this year. But again, it's up to me to prove I'm capable of handling this job. If I do that, I'll probably be around for a number of years."
Defensively, Flowers is an upgrade over Pierzynski. He has a better throwing arm, presents a bigger target and doesn't fire the ball back to the mound after a missed signal or poor pitch location.
"Tyler is no slouch behind the plate," White Sox starter Chris Sale said. "He's right there. He works hard, he studies video, he's got 15 sheets of paper on the desk before he starts. He prepares with the best of them and behind the plate, he's awesome.
"I think with consistent at-bats you're going to see a different guy this year. I think if anybody can step up and fill the void it's him."
Before reporting to spring training in Glendale, Ariz., on Tuesday, Flowers videotaped himself hitting at home during the off-season and forwarded them to hitting coach Jeff Manto and new assistant Harold Baines.
Before SoxFest late last month, Flowers had a cage session at the Cell with Manto and Baines.
"It went great," Manto said. "Bainsey and I had a chance to spend some time with him to make sure he was aware of his backside. That's what we're most concerned with, his collapsing. He did a great job making the adjustments all winter long."
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