03/27/2013 6:47 PM ET
Axelrod appreciates opportunity to make impact
By Scott Merkin and Tyler Emerick / MLB.com
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The expectation, or at least the hope, at the start of Spring Training was that John Danks would break camp as part of the White Sox starting rotation. That hope held true despite Danks coming off of Aug. 6 season-ending arthroscopic shoulder surgery.
Even with Danks as the preferred candidate, Dylan Axelrod never allowed himself to think about roster permutation as he worked hard over the six weeks in Arizona. And with Danks starting on the disabled list to build up velocity and command, Axelrod will get the opportunity he's long desired as the fifth man in the rotation.
Manager Robin Ventura made the news official after Tuesday's contest.
"It's a great feeling," Axelrod said. "I've been working toward this for a long time. It's been a dream of mine to be a starting pitcher in the Major Leagues. So I'm getting a great opportunity obviously. I'm going to try to run with it.
"I really just let it go. I just decided to do my best and however it turned out, it turned out. I was proud of myself for not looking into things. I did a good job of just being me and not looking over my shoulder."
Axelrod will start April 6 against the Mariners and believes his pitch count can get up toward 90 or 100. He'll throw around 90 when he takes the mound Saturday in Milwaukee during an exhibition game.
Ventura stressed that Axelrod is not a one- or two-start experiment. He will get a chance to prove himself with Danks gone, a fact Axelrod appreciates.
"That's nice to hear," said Axelrod, who has made 10 starts among his 18 Major League appearances but was in Independent baseball as recently as 2009. "I feel comfortable having a routine and having that assurance definitely helps, knowing that I'm going to start every fifth day or what have you. Not going back and forth between the starting rotation and bullpen will benefit me with my routine."
Ramirez day to day after being hit by pitch
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez left Wednesday's game against the Indians with a right shoulder contusion after being hit by a Daisuke Matsuzaka pitch in the second inning. The club listed him as day to day.
"X-rays were fine, nothing's broken, it's just the muscle," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "He'll be fine. You just worry about it at the end, getting guys out of here healthy."
In 56 at-bats this spring, the 31-year-old had 15 hits, including four doubles. The White Sox will play two exhibition games against the Brewers in Milwaukee this weekend before hosting the Royals on Monday to open the season.
"We'll see how he feels," said Ventura when asked if Ramirez will play in Milwaukee. "I don't worry about at-bats with him. It's more of how he's feeling."
Flowers' mechanics, accuracy key to slowing runners
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- There was a short period during this extended Spring Training that concluded Wednesday when White Sox starting catcher Tyler Flowers lost his desired form for throwing out basestealers.
"I got it back," said a smiling Flowers, who had a 30 percent accuracy rate last season (12-for-40) in nailing runners.
Ask Flowers the key for getting the ball to second and he responds with the idea of simply throwing it hard. But as much as getting the ball away quickly also is an issue, accuracy on the throw is an even more important factor.
"A 2.2 [seconds] and accurate is better than a 1.8," said Flowers on the timing/accuracy combination. "You get [a throw] from the waist down, obviously that's much easier to make a quick tag than if it's at their head or above their head.
"It's accuracy in conjunction with being quick. But accuracy is more important than trying to throw 1.8 or something."
White Sox bench coach Mark Parent, who works with the catchers on controlling the running game, said that when Flowers has been right mechanically, he's been really good. There have been other days when his mechanics were a little less than perfect.
Take Sunday's intrasquad Minor League game, where Flowers caught John Danks. He had three chances to throw out would-be stealers and had bad mechanics on the first one but corrected his issue and was pretty good on the next two.
"All you've got to do is tell him," Parent said. "It's about getting his turn, being aggressive and anticipating the guy running more.
"If you are a big guy and you are a little bit open, you end up a lot more open. He has to stay turned and get his shoulder lined up. He's got more than enough arm. He just has to anticipate the situations and not get caught being late."
As for time to second, Parent's desired number is very basic.
"Out," said Parent with a broad smile. "Tyler is like 1.95, if he could stay there, and that's easy for him. It has to be accurate and so his mechanics have to stay right. It's tougher for a big guy because you have more moving parts."
Velocity final piece of Peavy's comeback
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Along with feeling great throughout his Cactus League work, Jake Peavy has noticed a slight uptick in velocity. The right-hander, who makes his final Cactus League start in a Minor League game on Thursday at Camelback Ranch before taking the mound Wednesday against the Royals in Chicago, got up as high as 94 mph and was regularly near 93.
Peavy's average velocity was 90.7 mph in 2012, 90.4 in 2011 and 91.1 in 2010, when he had season-ending surgery for a detached lat, compared to 93.9 in 2007 when he won the National League Triple Crown of pitching with the Padres, according to Fangraphs.com. The 12-year-veteran is not big on radar readings, but he likes the position he's currently in as opposed to trying to find any way possible to retire hitters as he was in 2010 and '11.
"When you are used to pitching a certain way and being able to do certain things with the baseball and you go out and can't do these things, you have to find ways to reinvent yourself and get guys out," Peavy said. "Is that fun? Absolutely not.
"I pitched so long one way. Is it fun when that happens and you've just been traded to another team? It's awful. But we've weathered the storm as best we could. It wasn't pretty at times, but at the end of the day we came through it. You learn a lot in those times. You learn a lot about your teammates, people who care about you. You learn a lot about yourself."
There has been nothing different employed by Peavy to change the velocity, aside from being more than two years removed from his July 14, 2010, surgery. Changing speeds on almost every pitch remains key for Peavy, but the velocity gain certainly won't hurt a pitcher who threw 219 innings and four complete games last season.
"You want to vary the number on your breaking balls. You want to vary the number on your fastballs," Peavy said. "So, I'm excited that it might potentially be a little bit more there because hand speed is important. When your fastball is a little bit harder, your hand speed is good and your breaking ball will be a little bit sharper.
"If I can get back close to some of the numbers I used to do in San Diego, you would think my stuff would be a little bit better, which translates into a little more success. I feel fortunate. I hated to have to go through it, but in life you learn in everything you go through. It was a good learning experience."
Thornton ramping up toward season opener
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Matt Thornton's back-to-back days of throwing come with Thursday's off-day in between after he takes the mound for Wednesday's Cactus League finale. The veteran left-hander gets two days off before the season starts and feels great after battling through triceps soreness early in camp.
"Just stay where I'm at and things are coming together," Thornton said. "The slider is getting good. Fastball location has gotten better. I don't know my velocity but from what I can tell from the reaction of the hitters, it's getting better.
"I'm getting to a place where I feel pretty good. So, stay healthy, finish Spring Training strong and get ready to go."
Thornton hopes to mix in a couple of different variations of offspeed pitches, based more on location, along with his plus fastball.
"My breaking ball last year was slower and it was very effective when I kept it out of the zone," Thornton said. "But [White Sox pitching coach Don] Cooper and I talked about how it stays in the zone if I don't bounce it in there. I'm working on the harder breaking ball and keeping that slower breaking ball in there for the right situations.
"I talked to the catchers, Coop has too. Get a good mix and go out there and have a good time."
Third to first
• Alex Rios is hoping to return to the White Sox lineup Friday night in Milwaukee. The right fielder has missed the last five games because of lower back stiffness.
• Hector Santiago gets the start on Friday in Milwaukee. Gavin Floyd will start Saturday afternoon, followed by Dylan Axelrod.
• A very limited number of standing-room-only tickets are available for Opening Day on Monday at U.S. Cellular Field, with first pitch against the Royals at 3:10 p.m. CT. Tickets are available for the remainder of the homestand against the Royals (April 3-4) and the Mariners (April 5-7).
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. Tyler Emerick is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.