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‘Hungry’ White Sox aiming for a knockout April

Catcher A.J. Pierzynski (left) pitching coach DCooper left-hander Mark Buehrle know whglory October tastes like but they’ll start this year

Catcher A.J. Pierzynski (left), pitching coach Don Cooper and left-hander Mark Buehrle know what the glory of October tastes like, but they’ll start this year with trying to make a knockout statement in April. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

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Updated: May 1, 2011 12:38AM



Paul Konerko looks around the clubhouse and likes what he sees.

He’ll make his club-record 11th consecutive Opening Day start Friday in Cleveland, so Konerko, the White Sox’ captain, knows a good team when he sees one. He knows a weak team when he sees one, too. He has watched teams play above expectations (2005) and below them (2007).

He likes the preseason buzz, but he also knows what it’s worth.

Zero.

‘‘Every team is optimistic right now,’’ Konerko said. ‘‘Every team thinks they’re going to have a great year.’’

The all-in, feel-good Sox have oozed confidence since the first days of camp, when center fielder Alex Rios matter-of-factly declared them the team to beat in the American League Central.

These Sox know they’re good enough to win it. Now it’s finally time to go out and prove it.

‘‘This team we have — with our lineup, bench, pitching staff — it’s a great package,’’ closer Matt Thornton said.

If it ends with Thornton, it starts with the rotation. With or without Jake Peavy, the front four of Mark Buehrle, Edwin Jackson, John Danks and Gavin Floyd promises to be the anchor, Danks said.

‘‘With our rotation, you are not going to have very long losing streaks,’’ said Danks, a 15-game winner in 2010.

The Sox especially don’t want one out of the gate. To avoid a repeat of last season’s 4-9 start and 9-14 April, manager Ozzie Guillen gave more at-bats than usual to his starters during the last week or two of camp. Guillen, 93-70 overall in the first month during his seven seasons in charge, is two games under .500 during the last four Aprils.

‘‘We have to make a point of getting off to a good start and making an early push,’’ Thornton said, ‘‘hopefully taking it all the way to the World Series.’’

A few days after Thornton mentioned the ‘‘WS’’ words, minor injuries to shortstop Alexei Ramirez (lower back) and prized rookie Chris Sale (neck) cropped up — stark reminders of how sensitive that feel-good barometer can be.

Staying optimistic ‘‘through the ups and downs’’ of a 162-game season is key, Konerko said.

Guillen knows he has the horses to win the division. It’s his job to know when to go to the whip. He doesn’t think he’ll use it much.

‘‘That’s what counts — knowing when the guys go out there, I know they are hungry,’’ Guillen said. ‘‘They want to get the real thing going on. I’m very optimistic about this ballclub. Everyone is ready.’’

The talking is over. It’s time to play ball.

‘‘We have a good group here,’’ Konerko said. ‘‘We have enough in every area: pitching, bullpen, starting, lineup and defense. It’s a matter of executing and making it happen.’’



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