KANSAS CITY -- Before any criticism can be heaped upon Don Cooper's White Sox pitching staff, he quickly points out how only four games have been played in the 162-game season. He adds that the Red Sox, last year's World Series champions, had the same 2-2 record as the White Sox.
But like a stern but proud father, Cooper immediately demanded more of his staff that issued 19 walks over the last three games entering Saturday.
"It's four games," Cooper said Saturday. "But I will tell you, yesterday we need to pick that up. That [isn't] what we are looking for."
Cooper took umbrage at the depiction of the White Sox bullpen imploding in the first week. He praised Daniel Webb and Maikel Cleto, adding that Ronald Belisario made one bad pitch over three games and closer Matt Lindstrom had one good game and one bad game.
Three of the first four starts gave the White Sox a chance to win. Erik Johnson, who allowed seven runs on 10 hits over 4 2/3 innings in Friday's setback, did not follow that pattern. Cooper didn't see enough strikes from Johnson's fastball, slider or changeup.
"Erik was not nearly as good as we need him to be," Cooper said. "Everybody is capable. You give other teams help and they are going to … You gotta make them swing the bat to beat us. We can't shoot ourselves in the foot.
"[Walks] can't happen. They all [stink]. It sets yourself up. You are in tougher situations, higher-anxiety innings. Higher-stress innings we'll call them. But Erik is a rookie. There are going to be ups and downs and we are going to try on the next outing to turn a down into more of a positive."
This stretch of cold weather clearly favors the pitchers, according to Cooper. Even though it's early, he wants to see that edge work in his team's favor.
"Listen, hits and walks make up runs," Cooper said. "We've got to take care of the walk column for everybody. The other team has to hit us to beat us."
Konerko adapting to role as part-time player
KANSAS CITY -- Paul Konerko had a complete and thorough understanding of his full-time mentor, part-time player role coming into this 2014 season, marking the captain's 16th and final with the South Siders.
But even with that knowledge, Konerko isn't about to assess this change after just five games in this current campaign.
"To answer questions about any of that stuff right now is kind of not smart," said Konerko, who made his first start of the season at designated hitter Saturday with left-hander Bruce Chen on the mound.
Konerko had two pinch-hit appearances through the first four games, singling on the first pitch he saw in Wednesday's victory over the Twins and rapping a sharp grounder to third on the first pitch to end Thursday's loss. The playing situation for Konerko certainly is different, but the preparation remains the same.
"Pretty much half the games you don't play, you're engaged, you're getting loose, you're preparing to get in there like I did in a couple of games," Konerko said. "We're a few games in, four games in. You just do the best you can.
"That's the best way to put it. You don't try to overdo it. You try to make sure you're ready if you have to pinch-hit late in the game. I guess I'll have more answers on that as we go."
In preparing for the change in roles, Konerko sought out advice from others who had done the same thing at the end of their career such as Jim Thome and Mark Kotsay. He has implemented their advice on the work needed to stay ready along with his own consistent plan.
"You kind of have an idea when you might play," Konerko said. "So when it comes to your stuff in the weight room or your flips in the cage and all that, you can kind of plan it the right way, have a little more control over that, as far as the game itself when you're not playing, about when you get loose, how to peak at the right time for when you have to pinch-hit so you're not totally loose in the fifth or sixth inning when you're two or three innings away from hitting.
"Just that whole routine is stuff other guys have helped me with. Every guy is different so you kind of have to know your body and what works for somebody is not going to work for somebody else. But there are a lot of things to do that a lot of guys do that are good in that case when you're on the bench."
Beckham's absence a chance for Semien
KANSAS CITY -- Gordon Beckham was expected to be back in the starting lineup for Double-A Birmingham on Saturday night after he was a late scratch prior to Friday's contest. Beckham was scheduled to play second and hit second Friday during an injury rehab assignment to test his strained left oblique.
"Nothing serious, but just felt like something was aching him and didn't want to take a chance on it," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura of Beckham's absence. "He knows to be really cautious with it just because, if it happens again, it's going to be worse. Just the history of knowing guys who have the injury, you do it that second time and it's going to be worse."
Ventura expected Beckham to be back at designated hitter until he felt completely ready to play the field. While Beckham does his rehab work for an injury that landed him on the disabled list to start the season, Marcus Semien is trying to take advantage of regular playing time.
The rookie made his third start at second Saturday to go with two starts at third and has a homer and double in the last two games after opening the season in a 0-for-13 funk. Semien wouldn't have been a lock to break camp with the team if Beckham was healthy, with the White Sox possibly choosing to let him play every day and use Leury Garcia in a utility role.
But Semien has definitely kept his name in play to stick at the big league level when Beckham returns.
"You're looking at how it makes us better, how it makes him better, you bring all those things into consideration and him getting an opportunity is a lot different than not having had this time to be up here," said Ventura of Semien. "Not too many guys get an opportunity like this, especially in the beginning of the year to start up here and show what you can do.
"For him to get an opportunity, it makes your decision a little tougher when Gordon is coming back, whenever that is," Ventura added.
Third to first
• Tyler Flowers has eight hits this season through the first four games. He had 11 hits last April in 20 games. His seven straight hits represented the longest streak by a White Sox player since Magglio Ordonez had seven straight from June 6-7, 2001, per Elias.
• Adrian Nieto made his first Major League start Saturday, catching John Danks' season debut.
"[I'm] not necessarily wanting to take Flo out of it, but with all the day games we have, to be able to keep Flo fresh and be back in there tomorrow, you get this kid with his feet wet and get him in there," Ventura said. "Him and Johnny worked pretty good in Spring Training together."
• Courtney Hawkins homered for Class A Advanced Winston-Salem on Friday, while Micah Johnson added two more hits for Double-A Birmingham. Tyler Danish struck out six over five for Class A Kannapolis.