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updated: 3/14/2014 8:54 PM

Fewer strikeouts show White Sox connecting with coach

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  • White Sox hitting coach Todd Steverson, left, gets ready for batting practice Friday afternoon at the team's spring training facility as manager Robin Ventura joins the discussion.

       White Sox hitting coach Todd Steverson, left, gets ready for batting practice Friday afternoon at the team's spring training facility as manager Robin Ventura joins the discussion.
    Scot Gregor | Staff Photographer

  • White Sox hitting coach Todd Steverson monitors batting practice at the team's spring training facility in Glendale, Ariz., on Friday. Steverson worked with the Oakland Athletics last season.

       White Sox hitting coach Todd Steverson monitors batting practice at the team's spring training facility in Glendale, Ariz., on Friday. Steverson worked with the Oakland Athletics last season.
    Scot Gregor | Staff Photographer

 
 

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It's spring training, so you have to be careful when looking at statistics in a positive -- or negative -- light.

Case in point: infielder Carlos Sanchez was optioned to Class AAA Charlotte on Friday despite leading the White Sox with a .538 batting average.

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Still, there is one number making the White Sox pretty happy this spring.

Heading into Friday's Cactus League game against the Indians, the Sox batted 496 times in exhibition play and struck out 89 times. Only the Toronto Blue Jays (78) had fewer strikeouts.

When he was hired away from the Oakland Athletics' system in late October to replace the fired Jeff Manto as hitting coach, Todd Steverson wasted little time hammering home his philosophy.

"Nothing good happens for a hitter outside the strike zone," Steverson said. "It's well documented that balls not over the plate aren't very hittable, so our job is to swing at strikes."

Last season, the White Sox had the worst offense in the American League. They scored the fewest runs and -- not surprisingly -- were near the bottom in strikeouts.

Steverson is still driven to get the Sox to consistently put the bat on the ball.

"They keep hearing it," he said Friday at Camelback Ranch. "I mean, why would you refute me? Why would you say, 'No, that's OK, I'd rather swing at balls in the dirt?' They've all been good pupils. Take a guy like (Dayan) Viciedo, he's making a concerted effort to swing at better pitches and it's been showing a lot in his at-bats. If he does get down in the count he's still able to put a strike in play and barrel it pretty good.

"If you're mad that I came over here and told you to swing at strikes, something should be wrong."

Everything is just fine, as it usually is in mid-March.

And while the White Sox are again scuffling to score runs, it's still the exhibition season and Steverson generally likes what he's been seeing.

"Camp's going well," he said. "We're putting a lot of balls in play, which is good. That's what we're looking for. I never like talking about strikeouts, but with the amount of balls we've been putting in play our strikeouts have been down. Now it's just a matter of putting together extended innings with situational hitting and understanding the situation of the game and what it entails.

"We're coming toward the end camp; we have a couple of weeks left. It'll happen. Spring training is a process, so from my standpoint the process to this point has been pretty good."

Newcomers Adam Eaton and Jose Abreu have been particularly good, as have holdovers like Alejandro De Aza and Viciedo. Others such as Adam Dunn, Gordon Beckham and Avisail Garcia have struggled, but every Sox hitter seems to be on board with Steverson's plan.

"He's a good hitting coach," Garcia said. "He has a lot of ideas that make sense with how you're going to hit. If you work hard, he's going to help you get better."

Manager Robin Ventura doesn't blame Manto for last season's poor offensive showing, but he is fired up about having Steverson on his staff and he likes the constant theme about making contact.

"It's kind of a mantra that he has," Ventura said. "He's been able to keep it up and keep it sounding different at times just so it's not the same just burying it into your head. He can have fun with it, he can be stern, he can lose his top, and all of those things have to work."

Only time will tell how Steverson handles an extended offensive slump when the real season starts. So far he likes what he is seeing.

"All these guys are talented," Steverson said. "Obviously I was not here (last season), but just walking in here and working with this personnel, everybody here has the ability to be least an average to above average big-league player. You can't ask for more than that. Talent-wise, we've got the talent."

• Follow Scot's baseball reports on Twitter@scotgregor.

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