Notes: Thornton commanding the zone
Guillen looks to use lefty reliever in crucial situations
KANSAS CITY -- Matt Thornton's final line from Friday night showed 56 pitches thrown over 2 2/3 innings of relief, but only 26 of those pitches going for strikes.
As Thornton pointed out Saturday morning, though, those totals were a bit deceiving. The left-handed reliever has not continued his wild ways out of the White Sox bullpen, with 12 of those pitches outside the zone coming via intentional walks issued to Mike Sweeney, John Buck and Reggie Sanders.
Thornton's only unintentional walk in two appearances this season came on four straight pitches to Emil Brown with one out in the seventh Friday night. Brown came around to score, following Thornton's errant pickoff throw on the next play at first base.
"I was upset with myself that I threw the pickoff move away. You have to make that play," said Thornton, who entered this season with 71 walks issues in 93 2/3 career innings. "And that one walk, it was funny to me. I threw four straight balls, and I stepped off and said, 'What happened there?'
"Then, I was throwing strikes. You take away those intentional walks, and I only threw 44 pitches over 2 2/3 innings. I'll take that."
Ozzie Guillen praised Thornton's effort following Friday's 11-7 loss to Kansas City. The White Sox manager backed up that point during Saturday's pregame media session, characterizing Thornton as someone who is going to be very important to the White Sox.
In his two games, Thornton has closed out a victory with a big lead by working 1 1/3 innings on Opening Night and then was stretched out even further Friday. It's a challenge that sits well for Thornton and a role that might increase in significance if he continues to throw strikes.
"The more he shows me, the more I'm going to use him," said Guillen of Thornton. "Yesterday, he saved my bullpen. He did a tremendous job of keeping my bullpen out of the game. He's got a good arm. Everyone knows it."
During Friday's effort, Thornton originally was a bit dissatisfied with his slider in that he wasn't getting the immediate desired results from a pitch that he thought was working. After watching film Saturday, Thornton realized the break on the slider was right where he wanted it, and the results weren't coming because hitters were frozen by the pitches.
Most of Thornton's offerings were clocked on the Kauffman Stadium speed gun at 95-97 mph. One pitch actually checked in at 101 mph, which Thornton joked must have been accurate if the scoreboard said so. The speed on his pitches is really the last thing that concerns Thornton.
"I don't care about speed," Thornton said. "I'm making them put the ball in play, I'm getting bad swings, weak hits and they aren't hitting the ball hard."
In sync: Javier Vazquez and catcher A.J. Pierzynski appeared to have a good working rhythm during Vazquez's White Sox debut Saturday afternoon. Vazquez was as dominant as any White Sox starter to take the mound this season, allowing two runs over seven innings, while striking out seven.
"He was pretty darn good," Pierzynski said. "He made really one mistake, with the pitch to Sanders. Other than that, he was about as good as I've seen. It was very encouraging and a lot of fun to watch."
Vazquez feels good about the 2006 season and not just because of Saturday's strong performance. His mechanics currently are in good working order, after making some adjustments at the end of 2005 with Arizona. But he doesn't intend to put too much stock in one good start.
"I feel good about the season, but it's just one start. It's just one start," Vazquez said. "Hopefully, I can keep doing what I did today. I tried to just pound the strike zone and throw strikes. I was following A.J."
Waiting game: Although Guillen gave a much improved health update in regard to the knot in Jermaine Dye's left calf, there's a chance the White Sox right fielder won't be back in the starting lineup until Wednesday in Detroit.
"If he doesn't play [Sunday], yes," said Guillen of the possibility of resting Dye through Tuesday's off-day. "If he doesn't feel real good tomorrow, the extra day off will give me another day to have him recover better.
"I always like, when a guy is ready, to give him another day to see how he feels. If he doesn't play tomorrow, we might give him that extra day with the day off Tuesday to make sure he's 100 percent ready."
Lonely at the top: There's no denying the offseason improvements made by teams at the bottom of the American League Central, such as Kansas City and Detroit. But whether the opponent is a prime playoff contender or a team in a rebuilding stage, the defending World Series champions understand there's now a target on their collective backs that wasn't there last year.
Even if a team gets down by six runs early, as the Royals did Friday, they might push a little harder to knock baseball's best from the top.
"Definitely," said Jon Garland, the losing pitcher in Friday's four-run defeat. "When you are the defending World Series champion, every team is out to get you. I know that's how I was facing those teams. It's how teams will continue to be."
"You are the champs, and everyone wants to knock you off the pedestal," right fielder Rob Mackowiak said. "We will be ready for that and that's fine."
Down on the farm: Lance Broadway's first career start for Double-A Birmingham was one to remember, as the White Sox first-round pick from the 2005 First-Year Player Draft struck out 10 over six innings Friday during the Barons' 2-1 loss to West Tennessee. Broadway allowed one unearned run on four hits, while Brian West suffered the loss, giving up one run in 2 1/3 innings of relief. ... Anderson Gomes and Donny Lucy each drove in runs via triples during Class A Winston-Salem's 9-3 loss to Kinston. ... Nick Lubisich struck out six over five innings, but suffered the loss for Triple-A Charlotte in a 3-1 setback to Toledo.
Up next: Mark Buehrle makes his second start of the season, after lasting just four innings on Opening Night due to a 2-hour, 57-minute rain delay. Buehrle is 12-6 lifetime against the Royals, but only 5-4 at Kauffman Stadium.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.