White Sox hoping Baines can make a difference with hitters
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The White Sox' offense was better last season. Slightly better.
Under first-year hitting coach Jeff Manto, the Sox batted .255 as a team, up from .252 in 2011, Greg Walker's final year.
Under Manto, the White Sox ranked third in the American League with 211 home runs last year, way up from 154 the season before.
They also outscored the '11 Sox 748-654, and Alex Rios and Adam Dunn seemed to respond favorably to Manto's laid-back approach.
On the flip side, the White Sox ranked among AL leaders with 1,203 strikeouts, headed by Dunn's franchise-record 222. They ranked closer to the bottom with 461 walks.
They also posted a .318 on-base percentage in Manto's first year on the job, a tick down from the .319 OBP they had in 2011.
Clearly, the Sox' offense is still suspect just three weeks away from the regular-season opener.
Dunn remains a major work in progress, new starting catcher Tyler Flowers can also be a strikeout machine and second baseman Gordon Beckham is still trying to get over the hump with the bat.
More and more teams are employing two hitting coaches these days, and the White Sox named Harold Baines Manto's assistant in late November.
Baines has been on the Sox' coaching staff for nine seasons. He was ex-manager Ozzie Guillen's bench coach in 2004-05 before moving to first base.
Now, one of the greatest hitters in club history will try to help the White Sox' offense catch up to the standout pitching staff.
"I feel lucky to have (Baines)," said manager Robin Ventura. "With the way the game is going, a lot of different teams are (using two hitting coaches). Jeff is excited about it, too. In that situation, you have to have guys believe in the same things to work together."
Baines actually started working with Manto last season in an unofficial capacity, so the transition should be smooth.
"We have the same philosophy," Manto said. "Obviously, Bainsey, we're not going to compare careers by any means. But we have the same philosophy on hitting and it's going to be a great addition. All season long (in 2012), I leaned on him anyways.
"He was the guy I went to if I had a question about what he thought or I needed his opinion. We're both on the same page and it just adds a ton of validity as to what we're accomplishing with these hitters. It's going to be a great relationship and I think the players are going to be surprised at just how good of a hitting coach he is."
Daryl Boston, who spent the last 12 seasons coaching in the White Sox' minor-league system, takes over for Baines at first base.
And another former Sox player, Bobby Thigpen, is the new bullpen coach. He replaces Juan Nieves, who is the Boston Red Sox' new pitching coach.
"Obviously, I was hoping to get this job," said Thigpen, who saved 57 games for the White Sox in 1990 and is still the club's all-time leader with 201. "And I really like the makeup in the bullpen. We've got some arms that can come in and do a good job in Chicago."
Thigpen will work closely with Don Cooper, who is entering his 11th full season as the Sox' pitching coach. Under Cooper, the White Sox rank second in baseball with 881 quality starts since 2003.
Mark Parent is back for his second season as Ventura's bench coach, and Joe McEwing returns as third-base coach.
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