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Walker is missed, but 2nd-season White Sox hitting coach Jeff Manto is the man now

The Chicago White Sox Adam Dunn listens Jeff Manto's advice while taking batting practice cages during rainy day Camelback Ranch

The Chicago White Sox Adam Dunn listens to Jeff Manto's advice while taking batting practice in the cages during a rainy day at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, AZ on Wednesday, February 20, 2013. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 1, 2013 12:01PM



SURPRISE, Ariz. — When hitting coach Greg Walker parted ways with the Sox before last season, Paul Konerko was among the most affected.

“Walk will always be my guy,’’ Konerko said.

Even now, while Walker is with the Atlanta Braves, Konerko might have an urge to call his friend to talk hitting. But that would be a waste of time.

“We’ve worked enough together that I know what he would say so I don’t need to hear from him,’’ Konerko said Tuesday.

Enter Jeff Manto, who took Walker’s place.

“I can work with not only ‘Mick’ [Manto], but I sit there with Wardo
[Class AA hitting coach Gary Ward] at the batting cage and can take something out of it,’’ Konerko said. “It’s good to work with different people because in this game you need to be flexible.’’

Manto introduced Konerko to a new drill a couple days ago that clicked with the Sox’ No. 2 home-run hitter and RBI guy of all time.

“I thought I had done all the drills,’’ Konerko said. “So you’re always learning and going forward. You can get knowledge from anybody and if you’re smart, you will.’’

In the Sox’ 8-4 win against the Texas Rangers on Wednesday, Konerko homered to left field against Robbie Ross, a candidate for the Rangers’ fifth-starter spot.

Even for Konerko, who has played in hundreds of spring-training games, getting an early home run has value, manager Robin Ventura said.

“You can get to a point, I know in my last couple of years, if you don’t get one and didn’t have a good enough at-bat, it sits on you a little bit to get it going and get that good feeling or swing back,’’ Ventura said after the game.

And Konerko does have that sour taste from a disappointing second half after his strong first half in 2012.

“Whether he’s real happy about [the home run] or not, it’s good that he’s got that out of the way and you go from there,’’ Ventura said. “I don’t know if he’s ever satisfied in spring, but it’s a close second. It can kind of wear on you and you just sit there and think about it. Then you try to make up for it and that’s when you get into problems.’’

Maybe there is something to Manto’s drills, not only for Konerko but the younger Sox as well. Konerko, who turns 37 on March 5, said Manto has made an impression on the 20-something hitters as well. Konerko is sharp enough to know even he doesn’t know it all, and nobody seems to study and contemplate hitting as he does.

He may not have realized it when Walker left, but it might have been a good thing for Konerko as well.

“It’s a cliché that you’re always trying to learn something, but things can get stale sometimes with the same thoughts and approaches, so having somebody say something about exactly what you’ve always done but with a different vocabulary in a different way can kind of spark something,’’ Konerko said.

“That’s why Mick is good for me because when you’ve been doing things the same way for years that have obviously been proven successful, every now and again you need to shake it up. And if it’s put differently, it kind of gets you into the same spot but with a new way of thinking of how to get there. That’s good, so I’ve enjoyed that.

“With the other guys who are at that point in their career, he’s done awesome with them. Like [Dayan] Viciedo and Beck [Gordon Beckham]. Those guys will be saying that he’s their guy.’’

White Sox 8, Rangers 4

For the record: The Sox (3-0-2) are unbeaten through five games for the first time since they joined the Cactus League in 1998. Simon Castro, the prospect former GM Ken Williams acquired from the Padres in the Carlos Quentin trade after the 2011 season, started and pitched three scoreless innings. The 6-5 right-hander (7-5, 3.85 ERA between Class AA and AAA last season) allowed one hit, walked none and struck out three.

THE LINEUP: Alejandro De Aza CF, Gordon Beckham 2B, Jeff Keppinger DH, Paul Konerko 1B, Conor Gillaspie 3B, Tyler Flowers C, Jared Mitchell LF, Angel Sanchez SS, Keenyn Walker RF.

STILL HOT: Gillaspie, the former Giants first-round draft pick acquired by GM Rick Hahn last week to give the Sox some potential offense from the left side, lined a homer to right field in the sixth in his first at-bat since he doubled and singled and drove in four Tuesday. Gillaspie has six RBI in two days.

Captain crunch: Konerko hit his first home run of the spring, a two-run shot that caromed off the top of the left-field fence during the fifth inning.

Prospect watch: Walker, a first-round sandwich pick in 2011, flashed his speed on a triple to center field. Carlos Sanchez, a fluid fielder, has looked somewhat jittery in games. He bobbled a routine grounder, then rushed a sidearm throw past first baseman Konerko for an error.

On deck: At Milwaukee Brewers (2:05) in Maryvale, Ariz. Scott Snodgress, the top lefty prospect, starts against Wily Peralta.



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