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Paul Konerko is sold on Sox’ spring focus, fire

A “dialed-in” Paul Konerko has banged out 18 hits his last 38 at-bats.  |  Marcio Jose Sanchez~AP

A “dialed-in” Paul Konerko has banged out 18 hits in his last 38 at-bats. | Marcio Jose Sanchez~AP

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Updated: April 30, 2012 9:45AM

GLENDALE, Ariz. — This spring training will be a memorable one for Paul Konerko, who has played in more Cactus League games than he cares to remember.

Konerko likes the vibe in the dugout, he’s impressed with how White Sox veterans and young guys are playing, and he’s glad to see some grinding going on.

“These games out here, especially lately, have been the best spring-training games as a team I’ve been on,’’ said Konerko, who is entering his 15th season in the major leagues.

Spring-training wins and losses mean little for numerous reasons, so for what it’s worth, here’s the numbers on the Sox: They’ve won eight of their last 13 after starting 3-10. With five Cactus games and two exhibitions in Houston left before Opening Day on April 6, manager Robin Ventura has won more spring games than Ozzie Guillen won in 2006, ’07, ’08 and ’11.

It’s the way the Sox are winning that has Konerko’s attention.

“There is some intensity that I haven’t seen in a while, so that’s good,’’ Konerko said. “We’re getting into some of those good habits already. On 3-2 counts, guys are fouling off pitches, fouling off pitches, so the habits are being built. The quicker we can get into it and keep that up, that’s what it’s going to take. ‘’

The victories don’t carry over to the regular season, Konerko said, but patterns and matters of course do.

“All you’re down here for is to build habits,’’ Konerko said. “Anytime you’re here doing those things well it can’t be a bad thing. It has to translate into the season personally or as a team. We have to keep driving it home and drive it in. Let’s not make a big issue of it but keep driving forward and see how good we can get.’’

The Sox are stacking up on paper as a middle-of-the-pack team in the American League Central — or worse — according to prognostications. General manager Ken Williams said the Sox will have to “grind” their way to some wins to be a contender, and there’s that word again. Konerko likes it, too. So what exactly does “grind’’ mean?

“It’s pitch to pitch,’’ Konerko said. “It’s a focus that has to be there literally on every pitch on defense and on offense where everybody is constantly trying to do the right thing. There are so many games and situations, sometimes it can get away from you.’’

It’s tough to pinpoint why the Sox are playing a little better overall than they have under Guillen. The drills and preparation in camp are universal with no secrets to success. It might have something to do with the energy brought by a new manager and coaching staff. Guillen’s only winning record in spring training was his first season (15-13).

“I don’t know what it is,’’ said Konerko, whose three singles in four at-bats in Wednesday’s split-squad loss to the Rockies gave him 18 hits in his last 38 at-bats. “I even find myself dialed in more on these games than in past years. It seems like a lot more guys are swinging the bat well throughout the lineup than in past years. Guys are getting on base, running around, it’s more fun, but there definitely seems to be more of a focus out there.

“We never used to get to where we are at until we’d leave town. That’s good. I’m happy about that.’’

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