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White Sox starting to smart from all the steals

Sox starter GavFloyd leaves game against OaklAthletics Saturday fifth inning after allowing five earned runs.  |  George Nikitin~AP

Sox starter Gavin Floyd leaves the game against the Oakland Athletics on Saturday in the fifth inning after allowing five earned runs. | George Nikitin~AP

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Updated: June 16, 2011 12:42AM

OAKLAND, Calif. — Catcher A.J. Pierzynski joked that tagging Coco Crisp on an attempted steal of home Friday was the only way to improve his percentage for nailing base stealers. Manager Ozzie Guillen also cracked wise about it, but the White Sox know opponents’ 35-for-40 success rate of stealing against them is no laughing matter.

‘‘We have to get better,’’ Guillen said Saturday. ‘‘How? I always say when you have a guy who can throw [really well] behind the plate, [no worries]. But I think everything comes with the pitchers. The pitcher has to take care of the guy on first base to give the catcher a better chance.’’

Pierzynski has an average throwing arm at best, so improvements in every aspect of defending the steal are key, starting with holding runners and getting shortstop Alexei Ramirez to catch the ball at the bag and not in front.

‘‘Everything. Just name it,’’ Guillen said. ‘‘Good jump, bad throws, don’t pay attention to the runners. There’s a lot of things that go into it. We have to get better.’’

Starters Edwin Jackson and Gavin Floyd have allowed eight stolen bases each, fifth-worst in the majors. Reliever Matt Thornton has been stolen on five times.

Ramon Castro was behind the plate Saturday, giving Pierzynski a rest after a night game. The Athletics jumped to an early lead and didn’t attempt a steal.

Crain’s ‘filthy’ pitch

Right-hander Jesse Crain tinkered with a split-fingered grip on his changeup last year in Minnesota, refined it in spring training and has mastered it this season.

The pitch looks like a fastball, then sinks late.

‘‘It’s been good, something else to keeps hitters off balance,’’ said Crain, who also throws a good curve and plus-fastball. ‘‘It’s slower [around 83 mph], it kind of fades into a righty and fades away from a lefty. Got some jams from righties and swings and misses and rollovers from lefties.’’

‘‘It’s filthy,’’ Sox right-hander Sergio Santos said.

Lefties are 2-for-24 against Crain, who is still angry about an official scorer’s after-the-fact change last week that added four runs to his ERA (3.06). Crain has made five straight scoreless appearances.

The Coop effect

Phil Humber’s quality start (six innings, three runs or fewer) in the Sox’ 4-3 win Friday was the 736th for the Sox since 2003, which leads the majors. That year was pitching coach Don Cooper’s first full season on the job.

Humber credited Cooper with helping him add a slider to his repertoire during spring training.

‘‘[Before] I was fastball, curve, change,’’ Humber said. ‘‘The slider takes a lot of pressure off my other breaking ball because it gives hitters something else to think about.’’

Humber has been using his slider early in counts and throwing the curve as his put-away pitch.

Teahen update

Third baseman Mark Teahen (right oblique strain) will be unavailable a third straight day and re-evaluated in Chicago on Monday. A stint on the DL isn’t out of the question. Possible call-ups: Dayan Viciedo and Dallas McPherson.

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