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White Sox’ Juan Pierre struggling, but he has Ozzie Guillen’s support

White Sox left fielder Juan Pierre has been slumping plate hasn’t been much factor basepaths. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

White Sox left fielder Juan Pierre has been slumping at the plate and hasn’t been much of a factor on the basepaths. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

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Updated: September 24, 2011 12:24AM

PHOENIX — The more Juan Pierre struggles and the more Dayan Viciedo tears it up in Class AAA, the more White Sox fans wonder if there’s a way to get the powerful Cuban in the lineup.

Pierre, who was 1-for-4 after hitting a harmless two-out single in the eighth inning of the Sox’ 4-1 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday night, saw his on-base percentage drop to .318. After stealing a major-league-high 68 bases last season, he remained stuck on 10 in 19 attempts. His last steal was June 1.

Viciedo is batting .324 with 11 home runs, 21 doubles and 47 RBI for the Charlotte Knights.

General manager Ken Williams has said it would be “interesting” to have Viciedo in the lineup and that the right fielder is ready for big-league duty. Williams knows manager Ozzie Guillen wants speed at the top of his lineup, and Pierre provides that. Williams said he has to respect Guillen’s wants, but there have been rumblings lately that Williams’ patience is wearing thin.

‘‘If people don’t like Juan, well, that’s too bad,’’ Guillen said Friday. “As long as he’s here, I have to play him. He’s my leadoff guy, and he can make a lot of things happen. We know he’s struggling right now.’’

Pierre is 6-for-34 in his last eight games. With left-hander Zach Duke starting for Arizona tonight, he won’t be Guillen’s leadoff man as Brent Lillibridge takes his place in left and at the top of the order. Brent Morel will move up to second in the order with Alexei Ramirez dropping from second to fifth, Guillen said after the game.

Pierre said the slump weighs heaviest when the team doesn’t score, which happened in a 1-0 loss at Minnesota on Thursday. He has been in scoring position once during the Sox’ three-game losing streak in which they’ve scored twice.

‘’That’s when I take it personal,’’ Pierre said. “I look to be the spark plug, the guy to jump-start the offense. I haven’t done it with any consistency. It’s safe to say I haven’t done it at all this year.’’

The Sox’ latest offensive dud came at the hands of right-hander Daniel Hudson (8-5), who pitched his first career complete game and allowed three hits to outduel Sox right-hander Edwin Jackson (4-6) in a matchup of pitchers traded for each other last season.

Paul Konerko led off the seventh inning with his 17th homer for the Sox’ run. The other hits were Pierre’s and an infield single by Ramirez.

“He was throwing 3-2 changeups,’’ Guillen said. “That’s confidence and maturity.’’

“Obviously, it’s a little bit special,’’ Hudson said. “But I didn’t have a different mentality going out there than I have the whole year. It’s just another game for me. Going against the team that drafted me and gave me my first chance in the big leagues was a lot of fun. To be able to do what I did was cool.”

Jackson allowed two runs and three hits in the first inning, then settled into a groove before giving up an RBI double to Hudson on what Guillen called “a stupid pitch” in the seventh.

Some envision right fielder Carlos Quentin shifting over to left and Viciedo coming up to play right and inject some thunder into a sputtering lineup. The problem is, what to do with Pierre? He’s in the last year of a contract that pays him $8.5 million this season. And he has the support of Guillen, who has strongly defended his leadoff abilities and work ethic through thick and thin.

“Well, Viciedo is not here yet,’’ Guillen said when the subject came up. “I have to think about him if they bring him up. Then I’ll figure out what we’re going to do. In the meanwhile, we have to send someone down. OK, who’s going to be the guy?’’

Then again, the Sox can’t afford to continue losing meekly at this clip as July approaches. The frustration, evident when A.J. Pierzynski slammed his helmet after hitting into a game-ending double play, is building.

“What we need to do is nip this at three games instead of letting it go on as we have in the past,’’ Konerko said.

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