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Sox’ ugly cellar dive underscores A.J. Pierzynski’s absence

Texas Rangers' A.J. Pierzynski is hit by pitch from Chicago White Sox reliever AddisReed ninth inning baseball game ArlingtTexas Wednesday

Texas Rangers' A.J. Pierzynski is hit by a pitch from Chicago White Sox reliever Addison Reed in the ninth inning of a baseball game in Arlington, Texas, Wednesday, May 1, 2013. The White Sox won 5-2. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

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Updated: August 7, 2013 6:19AM



ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Josh Phegley’s arrival from Class AAA says two things — that the Tyler Flowers project, while too soon to call a bust only three months in, is crawling along with mixed results, and that Phegley’s homers, doubles and RBI looked too good to be wasted in Charlotte.

It also allows the memory of A.J. Pierzynski in a White Sox uniform to fade one bit more. Love him or hate him, it’s hard not to think about the former catcher/agitator and what his presence might have meant to a team that buried itself a little deeper in the American League Central with an 8-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night. Phegley accounted for two of the Sox’ runs with his first major-league hit, a single, and a sacrifice fly.

For everyone in the organization who hated to see Pierzynski walk in free agency, there was another who knew it was time for him to go. Pierzynski is 36, and it made more sense to give Flowers a chance to catch — or Phegley now — than it did to give Pierzynski another year.

Pierzynski agitated opponents, teammates and coaches, and after eight colorful years with the Sox, it was a good time to cut ties.

That same edge that annoyed also had value. It kept players on their toes, and while that’s not something that can be measured, baseball people swear it’s meaningful. Without Pierzynski, the Sox have made mental mistakes by the boatload.

Is there a correlation?

‘‘You miss the irritant,’’ a Sox source said this week. ‘‘The guy was a constant burr in your saddle, so you couldn’t help but be somewhat edgy all day long knowing you’re going to run into the guy. Or you’re trying to avoid running into the guy. I don’t see any edginess there at all. They’re all, ‘Whatever.’ ’’

Teams that don’t hit will look like that.

‘‘Something is missing, I guess,’’ said a major-league scout who has been following the Sox. ‘‘They seem so low-key.’’

Is that missing something Pierzynski?

‘‘I would say they miss his bat more than anything else, more than his mouth,’’ the scout said.

Chris Sale, the Sox’ top All-Star candidate who will pitch against the Rays on Saturday, held Pierzynski in high regard for his leadership and signal calling. But he doesn’t believe there’s a connection between the Sox’ horrible first half and Pierzynski’s absence.

‘‘Anytime you lose somebody who has done what he’s done for this organization, it’s going to hurt,’’ Sale said. ‘‘But I wouldn’t say that has any direct link to anything going on with us this year.’’

As for leading, ‘‘We’ve got guys in here who do that now,’’ Sale said. ‘‘We still have veteran leadership, we have guys who come in every day who say, ‘Hey, we need to turn this around. We need to get our stuff together.’ So I wouldn’t say losing A.J. would be the biggest factor.’’

Phegley, 25, was a Class AAA leader, but he seems cut from the cloth of most young players. Ruffling feathers isn’t his style. Not yet, at least.

‘‘He takes the lead,’’ said veteran David Purcey, who pitched to Phegley at Charlotte. ‘‘He’s an on-field-general type. Great guy with everyone in the clubhouse, and he keeps it real light-hearted. It’s a good combination.’’



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