GLENDALE, Ariz. — In last Thursday’s Cactus League game against the Brewers, ace starter Chris Sale was on the mound for the White Sox, and regular third baseman Jeff Keppinger, shortstop Alexei Ramirez and second baseman Gordon Beckham were all in the starting lineup.
Yes, it was just a meaningless spring training game, but the Sox turned 3 double plays behind Sale in an 8-3 win.
That means a lot.
“I made some pitches when I needed to, and when the defense plays like they have behind me I want to use them,” Sale said. “The double plays helped keep the pitch count down, and that’s what you shoot for. I’m not going to be as sore the next day and will bounce back a little quicker.”
So there you have it.
Good defense not only helps win games, it keeps the pitching staff fresh.
Fortunately for the Sox, the defense is solid.
Last season, the White Sox led the major leagues with a .988 fielding percentage while committing the fewest errors (70) and allowing the fewest unearned runs (30).
You can make a case that the Sox’ defense is going to be even better this year considering Tyler Flowers is an upgrade over A.J. Pierzynski at catcher, and Keppinger should be better at third base than the 2012 trio of Brent Morel, Orlando Hudson and Kevin Youkilis.
“I think defense, it’s obviously really important,” said Beckham, who committed just 7 errors in 698 total chances last season while earning strong Gold Glove consideration. “If you’re making plays not every other team makes, or you’re making less errors, you’re getting your pitcher off the mound quicker and that lets them rest. They don’t have to throw as many pitches and can get deeper into games. Then you can get it to your bullpen late.”
The White Sox’ infield plays standout defense, and the outfield isn’t too shabby, either.
In addition to having one of the best offensive years of his career in 2012, right fielder Alex Rios also ranked among American League leaders with 9 outfield assists.
Alejandro De Aza doesn’t have a powerful throwing arm in center, but he has above average range and isn’t afraid to make difficult catches.
Dayan Viciedo was surprisingly good in left field last year, and the natural third baseman ranked fifth in the AL with 13 assists.
For as good as they were on defense a year ago, starting pitcher Jake Peavy was the Sox’ only Gold Glove winner.
“I certainly don’t think defense gets overlooked here,” Peavy said. “We stress, stress, stress the defense. Pitching and catching the baseball, you have to do that. We did that last year and we’re focused on playing good defense again this year.”
Under rookie manager Robin Ventura last season, the White Sox went through full-blown defensive practice sessions before the first game of every series.
Most teams just take groundballs during batting practice, but the Sox took it to another level and it paid off.
“There’s a routine Robin and (third-base coach) Joe (McEwing) like to do,” Beckham said. “It just gets you focused a little bit on playing defense and it’s something they like and we don’t mind doing it.
“There’s always room for improvement. If you stop working at it, you’re definitely going to get worse. From what we did last year, we’ll just try to stay the same.”
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