3/13/2013 10:09 P.M. ET
White Sox pitchers prepare to swing bats April 9
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Exactly 14 days remain before the White Sox end a 6 1/2-week stay in Arizona.
That stint is followed by two exhibition games at Miller Park against the Brewers, Opening Day on April 1 at home against the Royals and five more games to be played at U.S. Cellular Field on that initial homestand.
Yet even with all that is ahead of the team, the White Sox starting pitchers have already started sizing up the Washington Nationals and their first road series beginning April 9. But it is not sizing up in the way one might think concerning pitchers.
Those talented starters are eager to take cuts against the vaunted hurlers serving as the backbone of the defending National League East champs.
"They are trying to line themselves up, weather permitting, to see who is going to get [Jordan] Zimmermann and [Stephen] Strasburg," said a smiling White Sox hitting coach Jeff Manto of a group with whom he rarely works. "They are all fired up."
American League pitchers picking up a bat during Spring Training is somewhat akin to an 11-inning Cactus League game -- it rarely if ever happens. With Interleague Play not starting until May 18 at Wrigley Field last season, the White Sox starters did not have to hit in the cages or take batting practice until late April or early May.
Scheduling changed for 2013 with the Astros' move from the NL to the AL, meaning there will be 20 Interleague games played over eight series. That road opener in the nation's capital stands as the only April Interleague action for the White Sox, but the starters have already worked with White Sox Major League advance scout/special instructor Bryan Little in the cages at Camelback Ranch.
Eventually Jake Peavy, Chris Sale, John Danks, Gavin Floyd and Jose Quintana might even get their chance to swing in a Cactus League game. Going deep is the dream of every pitcher, whom designated hitter Adam Dunn humorously refers to as the kickers of the team. It's realistically more about being able to put down a bunt or two in the course of victory pursuit.
"We've got to be able to do that," Danks said. "That's going to not only help the team that inning, but that will buy us another inning on the mound, save a bullpen. The better we can handle the bat, the better it is for everybody. We know that and take pride in it. We are all competitive. None of us like to fail."
"All of them love it, and it's a good change of pace," Manto said. "They all think they can hit home runs and hit .300. And we all think we can throw strikes. It's always that fun competition."
Of the five members of the starting rotation, Peavy stands as the most accomplished hitter. He's just 1-for-13 since joining the White Sox but is a .177 career hitter with two home runs.
It's either Peavy or Floyd who gets the nod for best with the bat from teammates. Although Floyd is 3-for-54 lifetime and 1-for-12 with the White Sox, he has been most known to clear the fences at U.S. Cellular when pitchers actually get to swing.
On the opposite end of the spectrum sits Danks, who is 1-for-19 lifetime but has drawn a walk. Those numbers do not stop Danks from joking that his swing is not as bad as Mark Buehrle, his good friend and former teammate.
"He also has a homer, so he can get me back," Danks said with a laugh of Buehrle's 2009 blast to right in Milwaukee. "But he looks like he's never held a bat in his life before."
This Spring Training, talk about pitchers' offensive prowess is an offshoot of Interleague being spread out throughout the 2013 campaign, instead of one series of May and the bulk to be played in June. That change also means the Cubs and White Sox are down to four contests, with two at U.S. Cellular on May 27-28 and two at Wrigley Field on May 29-30.
There does not seem to be an overriding feeling concerning the schedule change on the White Sox's side, with the South Siders done with Interleague after hosting the Braves from July 19-21, aside from breaking up the pitching preparation via a few March moments with the bat.
"It's a little different to get right into the year and here we are in Washington." Danks said. "But I really don't have an opinion either way. You are going to play the same amount of Interleague games."
"We'll see this year how it goes," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura with a wry smile. "I'm going to hold back judgment, and then I'll let you know later."
Of course, if the White Sox are relying on their pitchers' hitting to get them by the Nationals, Mets, Cubs or Phillies, they are probably not looking at much success during those 10 Interleague road games.
"It will be fun to get in there and mess around a little bit, but also give ourselves a little bit better chance than just sitting in there and giving a free out," Sale said. "Usually Interleague is when it's warm and you don't have to worry about cold weather. Inside fastballs might not be as fun to turn on [in April]."
"Once we show up in Washington," Manto said. "I don't know how excited they are going to be."