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12/07/09 8:55 PM EST

Quentin, Rios key to White Sox offense

Outfield duo has plenty to prove after '09 struggles

INDIANAPOLIS -- Pitching and defense ultimately will lead the White Sox to the top of the American League Central at the end of the 2010 season.

Where results with the bat are concerned for the South Siders, manager Ozzie Guillen has narrowed his focus for success to a few individual players. And that focus has nothing to do with possible additions still to be made by general manager Ken Williams.

"I look in the lineup, and there's two guys going to be very important to this ballclub next year, very important: Carlos Quentin and [Alex] Rios," said Guillen, singling out two of his three starting outfielders. "If those two guys play the way they should be playing, I think this ballclub will have a good offense."

Quentin, 27, comes off an injury-plagued season during which he battled through plantar fasciitis in his left foot and the after-effects of season-ending surgery on his right wrist from 2008. His .236 average, 21 home runs and 56 RBIs in just 99 games stood as a decided drop from Quentin's Most Valuable Player-worthy effort in 2008, when he knocked out 36 home runs and 100 RBIs without playing in September.

Over Quentin's final six games, though, he blasted four home runs and drove in 10. That late surge pointed Quentin in the right direction, and that positive turn hasn't changed, according to White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker.

Walker paid a visit to Quentin in California in early November and returned with rave reviews following that week of work.

"Carlos looked better than good. He looked great. He's excited," Walker told MLB.com. "At end of the year, I know there weren't a lot of people watching, but during the last week of the season, he really was locked in. We got back to mechanics-wise things he did the year before that we have to make our top priority.

"He's good about working on mechanics and then fighting the fight when the game starts. I really feel outstanding about Carlos."

Rios was Walker's next offseason project, after he hit just .199 over 154 at-bats upon joining the White Sox as a waiver claim from Toronto. At $59.7 million owed over the next five years, the White Sox need Rios to perform better than his 2009 finish.

But Guillen stressed on Monday the career .281 hitter doesn't have to carry the team. Far from it, in fact.

"I told Rios, I said, 'Get on base twice in the game and give me two stolen bases. We don't need 40 home runs from you,'" Guillen said. "We want it, but I'd rather you get on base and steal bases and make this game a little bit better than worry about home runs and changing your game. I might bat him second. I might, just to make sure his game changes a little bit.

"His mechanics were bad, but I cannot put a finger on what he was doing wrong. Everything for him was wrong, even when he hit the ball right. When you're struggling, and you hit the ball right on the button and you're out, you dig yourself a hole."

As of Monday evening, Guillen has Rios penciled in as the center fielder and Quentin still was a possibility for left or right. The presence of Rios gives the White Sox a great deal of flexibility, in that he could move to any of the three outfield spots depending on the player acquired who most likely would fill the leadoff void.

This flexibility presents another reason for Rios' perceived importance. Guillen and Williams hope he forms a 1-2 punch with Quentin to punctuate the offensive attack.

"He showed who he was the last couple of weeks of the season," said Williams of Rios, who had 10 hits in his last 28 at-bats, albeit with the team out of contention. "It was important for Alex and Carlos to finish the season strong.

"It took [Rios] a while to get comfortable. He was frustrated and we were frustrated because we know what kind of player he is. This guy is a .280 career hitter with power, speed and defense. We are happy to have him."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.