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Conor Gillaspie emerges from crowd at third to earn starting job

WEDNESDAY

TWINS
AT SOX

The facts: 1:10 p.m., CSN, 670-AM, 97.5-FM.

The pitchers: Kevin Correia (9-13,
4.18 ERA) vs. Felipe Paulino (didn’t pitch in majors in 2013).

Updated: April 1, 2014 9:56PM



Here was an unexpected sound from Opening Day: ‘‘Batting third and playing third base, Conor Gillaspie.’’

Flash back to the first day of spring training, when the White Sox were paying lots of attention to third baseman of the future Matt
Davidson, who was thought to be in the mix to head north with the team. Highly regarded Marcus Semien, closer to being ready than Davidson, had taken lots of Gillaspie’s innings at third last September. And Jeff Keppinger, with two years left on a three-year, $12 million contract, was also in the mix.

Six weeks after the start of spring training, Davidson was deemed to be in need of more minor-league time, Semien was pressed into service at second base
because of Gordon Beckham’s strained oblique muscle and Keppinger couldn’t throw, leaving Gillaspie as the last man standing.

Not that he won the job by default. His short, compact stroke from the left side, occasional pop (three home runs in spring training and a double to the warning track in the Sox’ 5-3 victory Monday against the Minnesota Twins on Opening Day), strike-zone awareness and professional approach left manager Robin Ventura feeling comfortable about slipping him into the third spot in the batting order, which generally is reserved for a team’s best overall hitter.

That was a nice tip of the cap for someone whose
future was a topic of discussion during the offseason.

‘‘I tried not to worry about that,’’ said Gillaspie, who batted .249 with 13 homers and 40 RBI as a rookie last season. ‘‘I worked awfully hard this winter, logged a lot of hours doing things I thought would help me. Physically, there are things I needed to do differently.’’

Gillaspie knows what it’s like to be crowded out of a position. A supplemental first-round draft choice of the San Francisco Giants in 2008, he was dealt to the Sox during spring training last year because the Giants had more than enough talent at third.

Gillaspie is as serious-minded as his weighty
expression would suggest. He is coming to grips with the voice in his head that has told him that maybe, just maybe, he doesn’t belong. A major-league year older and wiser, he looked like someone who belonged when he doubled and scored from third on Adam Dunn’s short fly after shortstop Pedro Florimon lost his balance on the catch Monday. He seems to be getting the upper hand on those whispers.

‘‘Most people will tell you that mentally is where most guys can improve the most,’’ Gillaspie said. ‘‘It sounds kind of lame, but as a younger player, your mind will tell you things that are completely wrong. But you’ll try to convince yourself it’s the end of the world if you don’t get a hit. I don’t know how many times I went 0-fer last year, but it was a lot. If I don’t get a hit today, the
important thing is to relax and say, ‘That’s going to happen, get ’em the next day.’

‘‘Controlling those things, it’s always been a bit of a struggle. But my mind is telling me I’ve been in a lot of these positions. I’ve been in this clubhouse all last year, and I’ve failed on the field a lot last year. Your mind can tell you a lot of different things, but the key is to control it, stay calm out there and focus on the job you’re doing and do the best you can. Most important, try to have a good time. I know it’s hard sometimes when things don’t go well.

‘‘I’m looking forward to this year and looking forward to controlling those things.’’

Email: dvanschouwen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @CST_soxvan



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