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Paul Konerko’s bench focus: Staying dialed in on game

Updated: June 23, 2014 10:02PM

BALTIMORE — Baseball is the toughest team sport to play, Paul Konerko says. And it’s more than the endurance race that begins in mid-February with spring training and can last into October. It’s the mental side of daily three-hour games with precious few days off in between.

“Tell the average person, ‘You don’t have to play, but I just want you to watch every pitch in this game,’ ’’ Konerko said Monday.
“ ‘Watch and be thinking on every pitch and be dialed in. You don’t have to [play], just watch.’ They might not make it to 50 pitches.’’

Even as a part-time player, a new role for Konerko in his 15th and final season with the White Sox, there are no nights off. Konerko watches games as he never has before, mapping out ­scenarios beginning around the fifth inning that tell him when he might pinch-hit late in the game.

“I’ve learned more about the managerial X’s and O’s — things I never had to worry about or pay attention to before,’’ Konerko said. “You have to just disconnect until that moment right when you connect. There’s an art to it.’’

Konerko had two pinch singles in the ninth inning in the series against the Twins last weekend, hiking his average to .250 (4-for-16) as a pinch hitter. He was 9-for-17 (.529) with two homers in his last nine games overall before Monday.

“Your compete level has to be really far up there, even more so than when you’re playing every day,’’ Konerko said. “There can be days when you’re 2-for-4 and you’re not really even there, kind of just going through the motions a little or [on automatic pilot].’’

With left-hander Wei-Yin Chen pitching for the Orioles, Konerko was in the starting lineup Monday. Even at 38, and as the Chicago athlete with the longest active tenure with his team now that Patrick Mannelly has retired from the Bears after 16 years, Konerko has no trouble getting amped up.

“We’re on a losing streak. It’s all about doing something good,’’ said Konerko, who went 0-for-4. “When you do get to play and start, you want to have a big day. But I’ve had a couple of those when I said, ‘I want to have a huge day,’ and it backfires, just totally backfires. This isn’t football. So it’s that ­balance.’’

Konerko hasn’t forgotten how difficult being an every-day player was.

“They’re both challenging, but I don’t think there is anything as challenging as playing 150 to 160 games and being out there physically and mentally,’’ he said. “I still think it’s the toughest thing to do in team sports.’’

This and that

Andre Rienzo, who has lost his last five starts, still was listed as the starter Thursday in Toronto, but Scott Carroll’s chances of returning to the rotation are decent.

“We’re still going over that,’’ manager Robin Ventura said. “It would probably be Carroll if we did it where we sit right now.”

Carroll is 1-0 with a 1.83 ERA in six appearances and 19 2/3 ­innings since he was demoted from the rotation.

Mark Buehrle will pitch against the Sox’ Jose Quintana in the final game of the 11-game road trip Sunday in Toronto.


Twitter: @CST_soxvan

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