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Improved defense has been a plus for White Sox

Updated: August 3, 2014 9:46PM

Adam Eaton has been a ball of fire at the plate for the White Sox, having reached base in 20 consecutive games and owning a 10-game hitting streak.

But ask the electric leadoff man what excites him most in baseball.

“Defense is my favorite part of the game — and baserunning,’’ he said. “I believe defense is all about effort and thinking ahead in the game. You’re always trying to be a step ahead of the offense. It’s a lot of fun going after flies, running into walls and trying to throw people out.’’

Eaton is one reason the defense improved over the last month — though three errors and more than a few mental mistakes Sunday showed quality fielding remains a work in progress for the Sox.

“I wasn’t aware of what a good center fielder [Eaton] is,’’ manager Robin Ventura said. “You see balls hit here the last couple years and you wonder, ‘Where’s he going to be at?’ But he gets great jumps on balls, and it’s been a really good find.’’

The Sox knew improving the defense was critical after a 2013 season in which the team finished next to last in the majors in the field.

“If you don’t play defense, there will be games that get away from you,’’ second baseman Gordon Beckham said. “When you’re playing the game, you’re thinking, ‘I don’t want to be the next guy to mess up.’ It’s, ‘I want to be the guy who makes the next great play.’ That’s been the theme this year.‘’

Beckham and All-Star shortstop Alexei Ramirez are among the best double-play tandems in the game, and hitting star Jose Abreu is an improving third partner at first.

“[Abreu has] just gotten a lot better and more comfortable where he’s at on the field,’’ Ventura said. “We’re stretching him pretty far with shifts and things like that for him to get back [to the base] and get the footwork. It’s been an adjustment, and there were a ­couple clanks here and there early, but that’s not there right now.

“A lot of his game is just starting to mesh with being comfortable and understanding what we’re trying to get him to do.’’

The Sox have turned a major-league-leading 117 double plays. They still have committed more errors than 12 of the other 14 AL teams. But their total of 74 is much better than the pace of last season’s 121. Ventura, a six-time Gold Glove third baseman, credits Beckham as the key to the team’s middle ­infield successes.

“Alexei has a lot of range, a lot of flash, but he does get to a lot of balls other people wouldn’t get. But Gordon has a strong arm. His arm at second base probably profiles more as a third baseman. He’s very good at the pivot and stays in there. He’ll take a beating at second.’’

Ventura credits Beckham for not letting his offensive struggles affect his glove work.

“He understands that’s a big part of his game,” he said. “For as much as people want to focus on the offensive stuff, there are a lot of defensive things that he does, and nobody turns it and gets a lot of the double plays just because his arm is so strong.’’

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