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Beckham, White Sox have to shore up defense

Updated: March 12, 2014 10:50PM



GLENDALE, Ariz. — After establishing himself as a potential Gold Glove second baseman in 2011 and 2012, Gordon Beckham took a step backward last season. His 12 errors were the second-most among American League second basemen.

‘‘Stupid mistakes,’’ Beckham said. ‘‘I can make the plays — I’ve proved that. It wasn’t a lack of concentration. But there were certain times where it just didn’t work out. I had a terrible year defensively.’’

‘‘It just didn’t work out’’ pretty much explains the defensive collapse that greased the skids for the White Sox’ miserable 2013 season. A year after the Sox allowed the fewest unearned runs (30) in the AL, they allowed the second-most (80). Not one player was even nominated for a Gold Glove.

‘‘Getting hurt early [a broken hand that forced him to miss 47 games] and coming back, I never felt comfortable,’’ said Beckham, who was second in the AL in fielding percentage in 2011 and fourth in 2012. ‘‘And the way the team was going, it was just one of those things that compounded.’’

One theory is that the Sox missed catcher A.J. Pierzynski last season more than they might have thought. Though Tyler Flowers is a solid defensive catcher, Pierzynski is the type of personality who commands respect and keeps everybody’s focus at a high level. Defense is all about concentration, effort and presence of mind — basically what Pierzynski was all about.

Whatever it was, Beckham agrees that it was a team-wide funk. Alexei Ramirez led AL shortstops with 22 errors. He made 12 in 2012. Newcomer Conor Gillaspie made 16 errors and had the lowest fielding percentage among AL third basemen.

‘‘It was very strange . . . something nobody expected,’’ Beckham said. ‘‘It was definitely contagious. Instead of being, ‘I’m going to make the next play,’ it was like, ‘I don’t want to be the next guy [to make a mistake].’ When that [mind-set] gets into a team, everybody’s trying to not be the guy to mess up. That’s obviously the wrong way to go about it.’’

The good news for the Sox is that it can change right back in a hurry. The Tampa Bay Rays went from first in the AL in fielding percentage in 2011 (73 errors) to last (114) in 2012. Last year, they were second (59).

The early returns are promising. The Sox have committed four errors in 11 spring-training games. Gillaspie, starting his second full season in the big leagues, made two outstanding defensive plays Monday behind Chris Sale. Flowers shows signs of being a more demonstrative leader behind the plate.

Manager Robin Ventura likes what he sees.

‘‘So far,’’ Ventura said. ‘‘We are different. We have different people out there that potentially it looks better. We thought we were OK last year, and it didn’t work, so you continue to work at it.’’

Ventura said the focus was lacking at times last season.

‘‘Some of it [is focus]; some of it is physical,’’ Ventura said. ‘‘You have to have both of them to be good [defensively], and you have to want to be able to do it.’’

That’s where new center fielder Adam Eaton comes in. Eaton is expected to be an upgrade defensively and is eager to make the entire outfield better.

‘‘Being a good defensive player is just having that focus to bring that effort day in and day out,’’ Eaton said. ‘‘I wasn’t here last year, but by the sound of it, that’s how everything went last year — a little sour.

‘‘This year? I think everyone has the good mind-set of getting things going in the right direction. If I’m in center every day, I’m definitely going to bring that focus to the outfielders and keep us in check and make sure we’re going in the right direction.’’

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkPotash



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