No lift-off for sputtering Podsednik
Speedster has not been setting the tone at the top
DETROIT -- If a drive to succeed and showing unwavering perseverance to reach the Majors can make big-league success any sweeter, then Scott Podsednik should be enjoying this two-year run of White Sox greatness more than any other player on the roster.
After all, Podsednik had turned 27 by the time he was a full-fledged, everyday player as a Rookie of the Year candidate with Milwaukee in 2003. His journey, which began as a third-round selection by Texas in the 1994 First-Year Player Draft, included stops with seven different Minor League teams over parts of nine seasons. There even was a brief layover with the Kane County Cougars in 1997.
Yet, Podsednik is the first to admit that he doesn't always enjoy what he has. It's not that he doesn't appreciate a nice salary and the accolades coming from being an All-Star and the igniting force on the 2005 World Series championship squad.
It's more about Podsednik handling his on-field struggles, becoming far and away a harsher critic than any fan or media member could endeavor to become while chastising the fleet-footed leadoff man's struggles. And currently, Podsednik finds himself in the middle of a slump, in the midst of a season producing red-hot streaks offensively and the ensuing ice-cold depths.
"There really has been no middle ground for me, no consistency," Podsednik said. "I've either been hot or cold. For whatever reason, and I have my own ideas of why. I'm not going to sit here and make excuses and share those ideas, but it has been an up and down year."
"He fights the game," added White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker. "I see his swings in the game and [they are] not the swings he takes in batting practice. He works every day. He comes to play every day. But he's lost that swagger he had in the first half last year, where he played the leadoff position as good as anyone I've been around."
With left-hander Kenny Rogers on the mound for Tuesday's second game of a four-game set at Comerica Park, right-handed hitting Pablo Ozuna replaced Podsednik in left field and at the top of the order. Ozzie Guillen made it clear before the contest that a platoon situation had not developed, even with Podsednik hitting .226 against southpaws and .275 against right-handers.
Guillen plans to put Podsednik back in the lineup against all challengers once he starts swinging the bat with authority, and right now, Podsednik remains stuck in a 2-for-12 rut on this seven-game road trip and a 4-for-24 swoon over his last nine games. Podsednik also had one stolen base in his last 15 games.
For the month of August, Podsednik's average sits at .197. That mark follows a .287 average in July, .245 in June, .318 in May and .233 in April. In 2005, aside from when Podsednik battled a groin injury and hit .211 in August, Podsednik's average never dipped below .296 in the other five months, and he finished the season hitting .337 in September.
A strong finish is on Podsednik's agenda once again in 2006, and the White Sox need him almost as much as strong pitching to make a run at the postseason. Having Podsednik consistently on base makes the combination of Jim Thome, Paul Konerko, Jermaine Dye and Joe Crede that much more potent.
As Walker pointed out, Podsednik has done some things better than his standout campaign of 2005. His RBI total of 42 long ago surpassed last year's final number of 25, but Podsednik needs to trust in the part of his game making him most valuable to the White Sox.
"He's got some big hits, but he has not been on base as consistently lately and hasn't created havoc on the bases like he did last year," said Walker. "He's not confident in his bunting, and he's putting too much pressure on himself.
"Sometimes in this game you dig yourself a hole. But he knows what we need of him, and he's trying to make it happen."
By his own admission, Podsednik would be classified as a workaholic. That attribute goes back to Podsednik's fight to reach the Majors and the concern of making a career for himself, as opposed to enjoying the fruits of his labor.
After a recent game in Toronto, Guillen saw Podsednik taking flips following a hitless effort in the setback. Walker admitted that Podsednik has taken a few days off from hitting here and there, and if he thought it would help Podsednik, he would recommend another break.
But Podsednik wants to stick with his routine. He simply wants better results.
"At least I can go home at night and say, 'You've done all you could,'" Podsednik said. "That drive, at times, has helped me get to the big leagues, but it also hurts me at times.
"Coming up through the Minor Leagues, I was always told that it's not as hard to get to the big leagues as it is to stay. Once I got here, I told myself, 'Now, you are here. Let's work your tail off on trying to prove yourself and to stick. Let's try to remain consistent and continue to be an impact player.'"
"There's no question I get in my own way a lot of times," Podsednik added. "I'm very critical of my own game and put a lot of added pressure on myself. Maybe one of these days I'll learn to ease up a little bit, but I'm definitely my own worst enemy when it comes to going out there and competing."
Working in the final year of a three-year deal he signed with Milwaukee, Podsednik currently earns $1.975 million (with incentives) and will be an unsigned four-plus arbitration eligible player at the end of the year. With talk of Josh Fields getting some action at the corner outfield positions during winter ball in Venezuela, and the 2004 first-round draft pick moving closer to being Major League-ready, Podsednik could be the odd man out of the 2007 equation.
Then again, the White Sox still need a capable leadoff man to make their offense go. In the present, they need a quality leadoff man to help keep their playoff aspirations afloat.
"He understands the battle from here to the field, and how he has to handle the situation mentally," Walker said. "He knows it, and he's not giving in."
"Just a year ago, I was a pretty decent player and this team as a whole won the World Series," Podsednik added. "You have to step back and look at those things at times. But it goes back to my mental approach. It all boils down to easing up and trying to go out and having a little more fun some times."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.