5/24/2014 6:51 P.M. ET
Ventura: Good starts by Alexei, Flowers no fluke
By Joe Popely / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- Nearly two full months into the season, White Sox manager Robin Ventura is comfortable with asserting that the breakout seasons from Alexei Ramirez and Tyler Flowers are not just a flash in the pan.
Ramirez, who smacked his seventh home run in Friday's 6-5 win over the Yankees to surpass his total from last year, was hitting .325 with an .858 OPS entering play Saturday. He's also come through with a number of clutch hits and sports a .982 fielding percentage at shortstop.
"It's not a fluke by any means," Ventura said of Ramirez's season to date. "Once you get closer to June and he's still playing the way he's playing, it's impressive and I think people take notice. I know he takes a lot of pride in going out and playing every single day. He doesn't want a day off and that's part of his charm and energy, and when he's swinging the bat like that, you can pretty much bat him anywhere. Hopefully, there's guys on when he comes to the plate."
Ramirez, who committed a career-high 22 errors and hit a career-low six homers in 2013, was criticized by some fans for lacking focus. He'd be the last person to make an excuse, but Ramirez was grieving after the death of his father-in-law during Spring Training last season. Given time to heal, Ventura thinks his shortstop is in a better place.
"Everybody takes criticism. That's part of playing baseball. You just have to be able to weather it," Ventura said. "I think last year there were a lot of external factors that affected him that aren't there this year, and he's able to really focus and get into the playing part of it. He feels good. He felt good even in Spring Training. It's been a nice start for him just mentally and physically."
Flowers, meanwhile, was widely criticized for his poor 2013 season, during which he lost the starting catching position to Josh Phegley. This season, he's found a swing that matches his abilities behind the plate. Flowers was hitting .312 in 43 games entering play Saturday.
"It started early in spring," Ventura said. "You talk about the offense of guys going up -- if you're not scoring runs and you're not hitting, it's easy to sit there and you see people point fingers at different people that they're not pulling their weight.
"Flow has been a big part of us being where we're at. He's taking the ball the other way, he's balanced, strikeouts are down. He's hit a couple of big homers for us. He's had a nice little stretch here while playing a very demanding position. He's in a nice spot."
Semien still valuable in part-time role for White Sox
CHICAGO -- White Sox infield prospect Marcus Semien achieved personal goal No. 1 when he made the club out of Spring Training. He was thrust into the lineup immediately due to Gordon Beckham's injury and later played a solid third base while Conor Gillaspie was on the shelf.
Now that both Gillaspie and Beckham are healthy, Semien's playing time has decreased. He started nearly every game through May 7, when Gillaspie returned, but has since played in just five games, starting three.
Semien was hitting seventh and playing third on Saturday against the Yankees and left-handed pitcher Vidal Nuno, Semien's first start since Monday in Kansas City. White Sox manager Robin Ventura is pleased with how Semien has adjusted to his part-time role.
"He's handled it. The other option is he's not here, so he's handled it pretty well," Ventura said with a laugh. "For him, I think there's some of it that he came up and he was playing every day, and it becomes tougher when you're doing that. You're seeing who you get on a daily basis and you're realizing this is the best of the best that you get every day, so I'm sure a breather wasn't all that bad for him. But he's going to play."
Semien is a valuable component off the bench in multiple ways. He's able to play second, shortstop and third, has shown the ability to come through in the clutch and late-game situations and gives Ventura the flexibility to play a righty with some power against left-handers instead of the left-handed-hitting Gillaspie.
Ventura noted that the hot hitting of Gillaspie and Beckham has made it tough to get Semien in the lineup, but added that Gillaspie simply needed a day off regardless of facing a left-handed pitcher.
But is there concern the 23-year-old Semien won't get consistent enough at-bats to develop properly? The short answer is, no. Ventura is confident he can find his versatile infielder enough opportunities.
"I mean, I don't see it as he has to be sent down, but you're looking at you'd like the guy to get some consistent at-bats, and part of it is doing this," Ventura said. "It's helping him and it's helping us, so that's the best part."
White Sox find ways to stay loose in clubhouse
CHICAGO -- There are several races going on in the White Sox clubhouse at any given time. But it's not for who can get the most steals, home runs or RBIs.
The races are instead between a couple of remote-control dragsters owned by Chris Sale and Adam Dunn. It's one of many ways White Sox players stay loose during the grind of the 162-game season.
"I don't know, maybe it's the youth movement, although all the guys with the remotes are the older guys," said a laughing Tyler Flowers of the remote-control vehicles in the clubhouse. "You know, it's been like that since Spring Training. I think we've established that we're going to work hard. Whatever it is -- Spring Training, now, playing the game -- we're always hustling, not quitting. I think those are the kind of things that almost enable you to continue to do that on the field. You've got to kind of have a break and cut loose.
"We're at the field and around these guys more than our families, so we've got to kind of entertain ourselves and each other to stay loose, and keep the emotion and everything and the adrenaline and the excitement on the field."
Dunn and Sale's dragsters are easily the most expensive models in the clubhouse. Sale won the race while Dunn's dragster rammed into the leg of Adrian Nieto, who was sitting innocently at his locker, jarring loose Dunn's front right wheel. Flowers is the de-facto mechanic in charge of all repairs.
As Flowers mentioned, the elder statesman of the clubhouse, 38-year-old reliever Scott Downs, was also driving around a remote-control car. Players have also messed around with a miniature remote-control helicopter.
Flowers said the fact that the team's veterans are leading the shenanigans has helped young guys feel comfortable in the mixed-age clubhouse.
"I think it just probably helps with that relationship, especially with the number of young guys we have," he said. "I mean, we still have a few rookies, not like we did last year when we had all those rookies, but I think it kind of opens up those lines of communications almost, it kind of breaks that barrier. At least when I came up, there were a number of veteran guys here where you were almost more hesitant to say anything stupid or say anything.
"I think it definitely breaks that up where guys are a little more comfortable with each other, and I think that carries over to the ballgames and in the dugout, everything."
• Ventura was asked about Sale, who said he typically feels most sore two days after starts.
"Yeah, he said he's feeling good, and he's flying a helicopter inside, so mentally he's pretty good," said Ventura.
• Gillaspie was unable to pinch-hit in the 10th inning of Saturday's loss because of a sore left Achilles. Gillaspie said postgame that the injury was nothing serious and he would be ready to face the Yankees on Sunday.
Trailing by one run and with Yankees closer David Robertson on the mound, the White Sox used Alejandro De Aza to hit for Adrian Nieto. De Aza struck out, with Robertson also fanning Leury Garcia and then Beckham with Adam Eaton on second to pick up his 10th save.
• Adam Dunn hit his 10th game-winning home run in Friday's 6-5 win, tying him with Jason Giambi and Albert Pujols for second most among active players. Boston's David Ortiz leads the way with 11.
Joe Popely is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.