Konerko looking to bounce back from injuries
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Chicago White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko watches batting practice during baseball spring training in Phoenix, Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
When his batting average swelled to .399 on May 27 last season, Paul Konerko wasn't seeking out any adulation.
And when he went in and out of extended slumps over the final four months, the White Sox' veteran first baseman wasn't making any excuses.
When his 14th season in a Sox uniform came to an abrupt end — thanks to 11 losses in the final 15 games — Konerko was sitting on decent numbers (.298, 26 home runs, 75 RBI).
But before reporting to spring training this week, Konerko's frustrations from 2012 bubbled over.
"I didn't love it," he said. "I didn't love the whole season. Team-wise, I loved it, but from my personal situation it was definitely a grind. Everything didn't come as easy as I wanted it to."
Never one to make excuses, Konerko did admit a lingering wrist problem. Being hit in the face by a pitch from Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija and being elbowed in the head by the Royals' Jarrod Dyson did not help his cause last year.
"When you don't have the best season you want, usually you just stink," Konerko said. "Sometimes, you get hit in the face, elbowed in the face, there are things that chip in. But usually the underlying reason is you just don't have it sometimes. That's just the way it is."
A floating bone chip in his left wrist that has bothered Konerko for years was surgically removed after the end of last season, and the White Sox' longtime captain admitted he could have had the procedure done earlier in his career.
"I knew two days after having it done, it was not going to be a big deal," Konerko said. "It (bone chip) was close to the surface and they popped it out of there; it wasn't a big situation where they had to go in and find it. I played a round of golf two weeks later. It's good."
Konerko has been very good since joining the White Sox in 1999 in a trade from the Cincinnati Reds.
But as he heads into the final year of his contract, there are obvious questions about Konerko's age (he turns 37 on March 5) and declining skills.
Konerko's RBI total from last year was his lowest since 2008, when he drove in 62 runs while missing nearly a month with an oblique strain.
But in fairness, he was batting fourth behind Adam Dunn, who set a franchise record with 222 strikeouts, the most in the major leagues. Moving Alex Rios up to No. 3 in the lineup and dropping Dunn to No. 5 is a serious option this season and would undoubtedly boost Konerko's run production.
Konerko started 105 games at first base last season and batted .312 with 20 HR and 59 RBI. In 38 starts at designated hitter, he batted .259 with 6 HR and 16 RBI.
Dunn is the Sox' other option at first base, and he started 51 games at the position last year, batting .212 with 13 homers and 27 RBI. In 93 starts at DH, Dunn batted .198 with 25 HR and 63 RBI.
Neither Konerko nor Dunn plays Gold Glove defense, but both players get the job done.
Dunn actually had a better UZR defensive rating (0.4) than Konerko (-5.8) at first base last season, but Konerko is still one of the best in the game at scooping errant throws out of the dirt.
Dan Johnson was the White Sox' top prospect at first base last season, even though he had major-league experience with Oakland and Tampa Bay.
Johnson signed a minor-league contract with the Yankees in late January.
Keon Barnum, drafted between the first and second rounds last June, is now the Sox' top prospect at first base. Barnum batted .279 with 3 home runs and 8 RBI with Advanced Rookie Bristol last season but played in only 13 games due to a shoulder injury.
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