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Conor Gillaspie settling in at third base for White Sox

Updated: March 16, 2014 11:38PM

GLENDALE, Ariz. — With each passing day, Conor Gillaspie is tightening his grip on being the White Sox’ No. 1 third baseman.

Veteran Jeff Keppinger is hurt, 22-year-old Matt Davidson probably needs more at-bats in the minor leagues to tune his timing mechanism and Marcus Semien might be needed at second base if Gordon Beckham (oblique) isn’t ready.

Saying Gillaspie will get the nod by default is a bit strong, though. He provides balance in the lineup with a left-hand bat that has produced a .267 average and two home runs this spring. He batted in eight spots — everything but leadoff — as a rookie in 2013.

Gillaspie fits in multiple spots in the batting order, last season hitting .245 with 13 homers and 40 RBI. He batted fourth Sunday against Yu Darvish and the Texas Rangers, going 1-for-4 to extend his team-high hitting streak to seven games. He has been on base in his last nine games.

Semien might play third against lefties, a role Keppinger could have filled had he been healthy this spring. In the second year of a three-year, $12 million contract that hasn’t paid off — he hit .253 with 40 RBI last year — Keppinger has been limited to designated-hitter duty because of a sore right shoulder. He had surgery at the end of last season and still isn’t right.

“I just know it hurts really bad,’’ he said.

Keppinger, who plans to test the shoulder by throwing Tuesday, only has pain when he raises his arm in a throwing motion,’’ he said.

“It’s not pain from the surgery, it’s an impingement,’’ he said. “I’m tight in a certain area, and everything is not functioning right, so it’s causing pinching in there. Until I get that right, it’s going to keep hurting.’’

Opening Day on March 31 looks like a long shot for the soon-to-be 34-year-old.

“I can’t answer that, either,’’ he said. “I don’t know. A lot depends on how I feel on Tuesday when I throw, how quickly I come along, what their plans were for me when I was healthy. All those things play a factor.’’

Keppinger was acquired before last season to start at third, be available to play any infield position in a pinch (he could have been an option at second with Beckham hurt) and provide some offense after he had batted .325 for Tampa Bay in 2012. In general manager Rick Hahn’s new model of getting younger and more athletic, Keppinger is much less of a good fit, and not being able to play isn’t helping Hahn find a taker in a trade for the career .282 hitter.

Davidson is a key piece to the long-range plan, but he’s batting .192 this spring. He said the only hitting issue he’s dealing with is his timing.

“You want to open with the club but that’s not going to define my career,’’ Davidson said. “Paulie [Paul Konerko] said you see so many pitches in a year, how many will you be on time for. That’s been my problem throughout my career — I don’t have any problem with my mechanics. The problem is my timing.’’

He believes that will come.

“The number on the scoreboard isn’t where I want it to be, but I feel like I’m on my way to a very good 2014,’’ he said.


Twitter: @CST_soxvan

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