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Alex Rios ‘in a better place’ after a lost 2011 season

After hitting .227 last seasfeeling lost plate Alex Rios is batting .288 feeling much better about himself. “Last year was

After hitting .227 last season and feeling lost at the plate, Alex Rios is batting .288 and feeling much better about himself. “Last year was my lowest point in the game,” he said. | Ted S. Warren~AP

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Updated: July 21, 2012 6:33AM

The details from last July are a bit diverse, depending on which player’s account you listen to.

The conclusion? That’s where all the stories line up.

“Alex was going to kill Kenny Williams that day,” one White Sox player recently insisted.

Who restrained who, what was said … it doesn’t matter anymore. At least not Alex Rios’ world.

It’s not about whether Rios forgives his general manager. It’s whether Rios still can perform for a man who questioned his ability. One look at the numbers this season, and it’s a big yes.

“We’ve never talked about what happened last year,” Rios said Tuesday when asked about a sit-down with Williams since the two got into it. “I’ve just moved forward. That’s a distraction I no longer want to have and bring to the field.”

That doesn’t mean it didn’t sting.

Rios was struggling, but no worse than Adam Dunn, and Williams kept pushing Alejandro De Aza down the throat of then-manager Ozzie Guillen.

It was just before the July 31 trade deadline when Williams declared, “Here’s what I told Ozzie: Do not worry about the size of the contracts. Just worry about putting the players out there on a given day that can help win.”

But Guillen believed in letting veterans turn it around on their own. So when he went back to Rios after a short benching, he told Williams to tell Rios himself that he wanted him benched. Rios got wind of it, saw Williams in the clubhouse one day and it was on.

“There is a certain extent where you have to realize that [Williams’] job is to make the team better,” Rios said, looking back on it. “But I also know that as a player, you have a respect for yourself and you want to do good. When someone sends the message you are not doing well, yeah, it gets to you. It wasn’t just a misunderstanding.”

Funny Rios should use that word, misunderstanding, because if being misunderstood was a stat, the 31-year-old outfielder just might lead the league in it.

At 6-5, 210 pounds, Rios is a long-strider when he runs. It’s smooth, it’s effortless. In the eyes of many fans — both in Chicago and from his days in Toronto — it’s laziness.

“I can’t help the way I am,’’ Rios said. “I have long strides. I’m tall. Look, there are times you don’t run hard. Not everyone is Scott Rolen, runs hard all the time. Every once in a while, you know the situation and you don’t go 100 percent. Every player is guilty of that. But I play this game hard, man.’’

He used to play it with anger, too. The idea that Rios is Javier Vazquez simply isn’t true. He does care. He does get embarrassed with failure. And he does hear fans’ boos.

“To tell you the truth, if someone tells you that the boos and criticism don’t bother you, even a little bit, they are lying,’’ Rios said. “When it’s every once in a while, OK. But when you feel like you’re getting it on a daily basis from the fans, it gets to you.’’

It got to Rios last year, when he hit .227 and felt lost at the plate.

That’s why Williams’ comments bothered him so much. Rios expected it from the fans, but from the man responsible for bringing him to the South Side, that was hard to accept.

“Last year was my lowest point in the game,’’ Rios said. “I’m in a good place now.’’

It looked like it again in his first at-bat Tuesday against the Cubs. He walked, stole second, advanced to third on an errant throw and scored on a double.

He ran hard the entire way. Then again, it was hard to tell — those long strides and all.

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