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Konerko solid with role as part-timer for White Sox

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Updated: April 18, 2014 12:11AM



There has been some hand-wringing from fans and even the media over the limited amount of playing time Paul Konerko has received in the first 16 games, but those who were paying attention to Sox management and Konerko in December after the popular team captain decided to play one last season have to wonder why.

Konerko, chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, general manager Rick Hahn and manager Robin Ventura were all on board with Konerko returning and were clear about his role — to be a designated hitter against left-handed pitching, back up Jose Abreu at first base and pinch-hit. And that’s exactly what he’s doing.

It didn’t matter that Konerko was the sentimental desire of many to be an Opening Day starter. Right-hander Ricky Nolasco started for the Minnesota Twins, so left-handed-hitting Adam Dunn was the DH. Konerko even talked to Ventura about it beforehand, saying, “Don’t go getting all soft on me and sticking me in the lineup just because.” Or something like that.

Konerko got his second start in the White Sox’ 3-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox and lefty Jon Lester on Thursday night at U.S. Cellular Field. He would have been the DH with Dunn sitting, but Ventura said it was time for Abreu, the Cuban rookie who has been in a 1-for-20 slump, to get a rest. Abreu grounded out as a pinch hitter to end a game that featured Sox ace Chris Sale and Lester dueling in a double no-hitter through five innings.

Konerko was 0-for-4 with a strikeout and is 1-for-13 (.077) in his new role. He was asked before the game how the new job is going.

“I’ll probably have a better true answer later in the year or when it’s all over because constantly, you’re changing as you go, you’re ­learning as you go,’’ he said. “But in the games I don’t get into, you’re dialed in.’’

Konerko and Dunn discussed Konerko’s role and how things would be last winter. For Dunn, it will mean fewer at-bats, but so far, it’s gone well for him. His single against Lester put him on base for the 13th time in as many games. He has homered three times and owns a .439 on-base percentage to go with a .262 batting average.

Not that he enjoys playing less. Who does?

“I hate days off because you never know what might happen that day,’’ he said. “You might hit four homers or have a game-winning RBI. Against a lefty, anybody. I’ve actually had a hit off a lefty before. I actually hit a homer or two [119 in his career to be exact], too. But it’s just one of those deals.’’

To know Dunn is to know those aren’t sour grapes. He’s good with the plan, and he can see part-time work working for Konerko, who batted .313 against lefties last ­season.

“To me, he has the perfect ­demeanor to do it,’’ Dunn said. “Me, if I had to play once in a while and pinch-hit, I’d be useless. I couldn’t do it.’’

Konerko won’t fail for inattention.

“Every guy that gets up in the bullpen, every pitch that’s thrown, every score, you’re really paying ­attention,’’ he said. “So my switch is never really off.’’

Alexei Ramirez singled in the ninth to extend his hitting streak to 16, breaking Frank Thomas’ club ­record for a streak to start the ­season.

Email: dvanschouwen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @CST_soxvan



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