Pierre shrugs off comparisons
Hot streak would make departed Pods a distant memory
CHICAGO -- A left-handed-swinging leadoff hitter exists in the American League Central who held the top batting average in Major League Baseball entering Monday's action at a robust .457.
He has six multihit games, three games of three hits or more, seven stolen bases and has even flashed the leather in left field -- certainly not his forte in previous years. This individual also maintains a special place in the collective hearts of White Sox fans -- as a former member of the team, that is.
That particular player, Scott Podsednik, now is a featured performer for the Kansas City Royals, following career rejuvenation with the White Sox in 2009. The free agent had a desire to return to Chicago, and the White Sox made an early offer, but Podsednik ultimately opted to join a division rival.
Juan Pierre leads off for the 2010 White Sox, clearly too valuable to ever be considered anyone's second choice. The South Siders gave up two solid pitching prospects in John Ely and Jon Link to obtain a player from the Dodgers in December whom they had coveted for years.
But this particular left-handed hitter possessing the speed desired at the top by the White Sox isn't hitting .457. In fact, he's not even hitting .257. So, the comparisons with Podsednik are bound to happen, especially with the White Sox off to a sluggish 4-9 start.
"I know that makes for a good story, so it's all good," said Pierre. "I'll probably be hearing, 'Get Scott Podsednik back' from the Chicago fans, but it comes with the territory. So much is given, much is expected."
"It's part of baseball," said White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker. "With a guy like Juan, look at how he has been a good player for a long time, he's healthy and working his tail off and having good at-bats. That means he has a lot of hits left in him the rest of the year."
Those hits might have started Sunday. Pierre knocked out two singles and drove in his first run during the White Sox 7-4 loss to Cleveland, the team's fourth consecutive setback and the fifth straight overall to the Indians. Pierre also swiped three bases, moving him past DeLino DeShields for 45th place on the all-time steals list.
Although Sunday's showing simply boosted Pierre's average above the Mendoza Line to .208 and raised his steals total to six, Pierre has begun a steady climb back toward excellence. He already feels better in the season's second week than he did during his first week as an American Leaguer.
"Along with just not finding any holes, my timing was off," said Pierre. "The results still are not great, but I'm feeling better. It's a work in progress."
"To us, this is one of the biggest keys we have for the ballclub," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. "He went through this before and came out OK. When you are a veteran player and know what you are doing, he's the type of guy who won't panic."
Actually, Podsednik, 34, and Pierre, 32, hold a few career similarities. Both have membership in good standing as part of the exclusive elite leadoff fraternity. Both good-natured but somewhat reserved players, they would rather work at refining their individual craft as opposed to seeking out media attention.
Podsednik actually was out of baseball at the start of the 2009 campaign, and by his own admission, appreciated and enjoyed the game more when given a second chance in May by the White Sox. There were lingering doubts about his defense and a few key 2009 baserunning gaffes, as well as the free agent's ability to stay consistently healthy, possibly blocking a multiyear offer.
To Podsednik's credit, at least through the early going, he has put up staggering numbers behind a changed offseason conditioning program designed to keep him free of injuries. Pierre can relate to doubt, although not on the injury end.
Despite averaging 197 hits in every full season played from 2001-07, including four efforts of at least 200 hits, the career .300 hitter seems braced for criticism whenever slumps ensue. Pierre might be bloodied, but he's too strong to be defeated.
"Somebody is going to say something, especially when I don't hit," Pierre said. "I learn not to pay attention to it and trust in what I do every day to get prepared. At the end of the year, [success] will be there for me more times than not.
"My track record might show up, but if you don't get it done, in this game it's what have you done for me now. Then, as far as my career has gone, if I don't hit, usually stuff happens. With or without the track record, I have to perform to stay in the lineup."
No comparable internal option exists for the White Sox, so Pierre is seen as an essential part of turning around this .222 team average and erratic run output through 13 games. Pierre ultimately will be judged on his own merits, but in the interim, he has to deal with rectifying this slow start, beginning Tuesday against the red-hot Rays, while hearing about the torrid tear produced by favorite son Podsednik.
"That's how it works," Pierre said. "I know Podsednik got off to a great start, but I don't compare myself with him."
"Don't worry about it," said Guillen. "We know the way Podsednik is playing, and good for him and the Kansas City Royals. We offered him a contract, but we no have to worry about that. It's not how you start, it's how you finish."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.