BOSTON -- After pitching one hitless inning for Triple-A Charlotte on Monday night, Dustin Hermanson was activated from the disabled list prior to Tuesday's contest and rejoined the White Sox at Fenway Park.
But the journey to the Majors for Hermanson was far greater than a simple trip from North Carolina to Boston and much more involved than the normal route traveled by a Minor League callup. Back in March, during Spring Training in Tucson, Hermanson's continued back issues made it look as if he might never pitch again.
In fact, there were a number of moments along his six-month rehabilitation process where Hermanson had doubts himself. The right-handed veteran made it back, though, with hard work and perseverance, and pronounced himself ready to work back-to-back days for the White Sox if needed.
"I have to say I'm probably proud of myself," said Hermanson, who was minus his trademark beard, because of his respect for the no facial hair policy with the Knights. "I've worked as hard as I ever have in my entire life.
"The back is, I'm never going to be the same as I was before. But it's a lot better than it was the second half of last season."
Hermanson, 33, was a standout among the sea of White Sox success in 2005, producing 34 saves and a miniscule 2.04 ERA, but he was basically inactive for most of the final month and the postseason because of his back problem. Hermanson had two Minor League rehab stints in 2006, but saw a distinct change during his most recent stint due to a move to an almost daily weightlifting program and a move away from his spring back treatment.
Along with getting into the best shape of his life, Hermanson rediscovered success as a pitcher, instead of a thrower with a 100-mph fastball when he first came to the Majors in 1995. With this current approach and the feeling of good health, Hermanson not only is thinking about contributing in 2006 but also believes he can pitch in 2007 and beyond.
"I've been taking it day by day by day, and I don't want to jump ahead of myself," Hermanson said. "But I didn't think there was a light at the end of the tunnel a couple of months ago.
"I'm never going to be able to throw as hard as I used to. I don't throw in the mid-90s any more, I'm in the mid-80s. I hit 90, 91 but I'm using a lot more of my stuff. I have a lot of different arm angles now. So, I'm playing whiffle ball out there, and it's kind of fun."
Impressive opening: Ryan Sweeney's single to right leading off the sixth on Tuesday was the rookie's first of what could be many hits in his Major League career. Sweeney got the start in right against Boston rookie Kason Gabbard, with Jermaine Dye on the shelf due to back spasms.
"It feels awesome," said Sweeney of the start. "I kind of got a taste by going into the outfield the other night and then running the bases [in Kansas City]. It was different running the bases up here. Hopefully, it's going to be exciting to get my first start and in Boston. That's pretty crazy."
Sweeney also displayed his speed in the sixth inning, moving from second to third on a wild pitch that barely got away from catcher Doug Mirabelli.
A visitor to the Far East: Guillen expressed interest in managing the Major League All-Star team scheduled to tour Japan from Nov. 2-8, although it could come immediately after the finish of the World Series.
"I expect to be in the World Series, and as soon as that Series is over, I'll be on my flight to Japan, if they want me to go," Guillen said. "They should bring me, take some spicy [stuff] to Japan. The guy who American people say is crazy is in Japan. Let's see what this [guy] has to say."
On the job training: Pitchers Boone Logan and Charlie Haeger already have pitched for the White Sox since being called up on Sept. 1 when rosters expanded, and Sweeney made his first career start Tuesday. But Chris Stewart, the fourth Minor League promotion, only will see action in extreme circumstances such as an injury, extra-inning contests or the day after a clincher or an eliminating contest.
But just being part of the big-league roster serves as reward enough for the catcher. It's almost as if Stewart continues to go through his own little baseball school, with veterans A.J. Pierzynski and Sandy Alomar Jr. as the teachers.
"That's why they brought me up here," Stewart said. "I try to take a look at Sandy and A.J. and pick up little things up here they do differently than down in the Minors. I'm just going to keep learning and get better every day."
Stewart hit .267 for the first-place Knights this past season, with three home runs and 27 RBIs. But Stewart was most proud of his mental development as a player.
"I'd say every year in the Minors I learned a little more," Stewart said. "This year, I learned how to work to pitchers' strengths and attack hitters' weaknesses by utilizing those strengths. I'm learning more about calling the game."
Down on the farm: Ernie Young doubled and homered and drove in two, but Charlotte still fell by a 5-4 margin to Richmond on Monday. Young now has 13 home runs and 68 RBIs. ... Brandon Allen launched his 15th home run and drove in two, leading Class A Kannapolis to an 8-1 victory over Greenville. ... John Shelby doubled and drove in two runs during Great Falls' 10-2 win at Helena.
Up next: Luck has not exactly been on the side of Jose Contreras (11-7, 4.23) during his career starts at Fenway Park, posting a 1-3 record and a 13.50 ERA. The big right-hander, who starts Wednesday night's series finale, has struggled away from Boston of late, with an 0-3 record and a 9.78 ERA in his last four starts.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.