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White Sox GM sends a message in benching Rios, calling up De Aza

White Sox GM Ken Williams (right) sent message when he benched Alex Rios (bottom left) who dropped pop fly Monday

White Sox GM Ken Williams (right) sent a message when he benched Alex Rios (bottom left), who dropped a pop fly on Monday, in favor of Alejandro De Aza (top left), who hit a 2-run homer in the Sox' win over the Tigers on Wednesday. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times; AP; Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 2, 2011 12:43AM

Enough was enough. Maybe it was the fly balls that fell unchallenged in front of White Sox center fielder Alex Rios on Monday night. Or the benching a couple weeks ago that didn’t change much about Rios’ performance. Or his steady stream of ground balls to the left side of the infield. Or that .208 batting average.

Some combination of the above — coupled with a 25-man roster opening created by Wednesday’s trade of Edwin Jackson and Mark Teahen to the Toronto Blue Jays for right-handed reliever Jason Frasor and Zach Stewart —
apparently prompted Sox general manager Ken Williams to say he had seen more of Rios than he can handle.

‘‘I’m sending a message to everyone,’’ Williams said when asked if a new name on the lineup card was designed to motivate Rios.

Williams’ timing couldn’t have been better. Hours after Alejandro De Aza, 27, arrived from Class AAA Charlotte to step in for Rios and play center field against the Detroit Tigers in the Sox’ most
important game of the season to date, the left-handed hitting De Aza hit a two-run homer in his first at-bat and the Sox held on for a 2-1 victory.

‘‘Right on time,’’ manager Ozzie Guillen said.

Rios, who is making $12 million this season and is owed another $37 million over the next three years in a deal Williams took on when he claimed Rios off waivers from the Blue Jays in 2009, has been a source of frustration since Opening Day. Only Adam Dunn’s struggles have sheltered him from more heat.

De Aza’s homer, his first in 87 major-league games on a low-and-inside changeup from Max Scherzer (11-6), was like a blast of cool, refreshing air surging through U.S. Cellular Field. He also pounced on three fly balls in center.

‘‘Rios is going to have to take a back seat,’’ Williams said before the game. ‘‘We are going to see if De Aza can give us a little bit of a spark and provide us a way to manufacture some runs.’’

‘‘Spark’’ was an understatement.

‘‘He’s going to see some playing time, and hopefully he can help us,’’ Guillen said.

The matter of Rios’ salary will be a nonissue, Williams said.

‘‘Here’s what I told Ozzie: Do not worry about the size of the contracts,’’ Williams said. ‘‘Just worry about putting the players out there on a given day that can win. The size of the contract is not Ozzie’s problem. It’s not [chairman]
Jerry’s [Reinsdorf] problem. It’s not the coaches’ problem. That’s my problem.

‘‘Put the players on the field that can win. I don’t give a darn if one guy is making $400,000 and the other guy is making $12 million.’’

Those hoping to see Class AAA prospect Dayan Viciedo will have to wait. He can’t play center, and he’s nursing a sore thumb, anyway.

Those wanting to see Rios work his way out of the slump may see him in certain matchups, perhaps against left-handed pitching.

De Aza batted .322 with nine homers, 29 doubles and 22 stolen bases for Charlotte.

‘‘He’s going to give more speed,’’ Guillen said. ‘‘Better bat than Rios — at least I hope. When you hit .200, .209, whatever it is . . . I’m not going to say Rios on the bench.

‘‘I will talk to him about the situation. I hope he handles it the right way. It’s not an easy situation for anyone, but I have to put everybody out there that I think is the best for the team that particular day.’’

De Aza was 9-for-30 in 19 games for the Sox last season and also played for the Florida Marlins in 2007 and ’09. He’s a career .242 hitter in the majors.

‘‘I didn’t know I would be in the lineup until I came to the park,’’ De Aza said. ‘‘I see my name in the lineup, and I said, ‘What?’ I’m just going to play. That’s what I came here for.’’

De Aza provided the spark, and starter John Danks (six innings, one run) and relievers Chris Sale (22/3 perfect innings with help from Carlos Quentin’s diving catch in the ninth) and Sergio Santos (21st save) did the rest as the Sox won the rubber game of a three-game series with the American League Central-leading Tigers. The Sox trail them by 3½ games.

It was an eventful day — and an important victory, as one Sox fan reminded Reinsdorf after the game.

‘‘Congratulations! We needed that one,’’ the fan said.

‘‘You’re not kidding,’’ Reinsdorf replied. ‘‘Badly.’’

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