CHICAGO -- The offensive numbers for White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski have been Most Valuable Player-caliber through the first 11 games of the 2012 season. His .829 slugging percentage leads the American League, and he's tied with the Yankees' Nick Swisher for the RBI lead at 13. Entering Thursday's contest against the Orioles, Pierzynski was 7-for-11 with two homers and five RBIs in his last three games.
As good as he has been with the bat, though, Pierzynski's value probably is even higher behind the plate. And that strength comes from his handling of a pitching staff featuring three rookies and one young reliever converting to a starter.
"He has been awesome," said Chris Sale, the southpaw making his first foray into the rotation. "He keeps me on my toes on the mound. He keeps me loose, too.
"During my Detroit start [on Sunday], he said, 'You don't have your best stuff but dig deep and find something right here.' In Cleveland, he came out to the mound and said a little something funny. Just keeping me upbeat, not as tense."
Pierzynski doesn't believe his work is any different handling a young staff as opposed to catching a group filled with veterans as he has during his eight-year White Sox tenure. He simply understands that these pitchers have not been in a lot of specific game situations previously so they can't be expected to handle what's transpiring without a little help.
It has been an enjoyable challenge and process for Pierzynski.
"You know, it has been fun actually," Pierzynski said. "It has been fun to see the excitement on their faces and it has been fun to work with them and see them grow.
"I know it's early, but even to go from Spring Training and to where we are at now, to make adjustments with them on the fly, it's always fun and always a challenge. But it's one we knew what we were getting into when we came into this season. We tried to go about it the right way. We've handled it pretty well."
Strikeouts not a concern for Manto
CHICAGO -- White Sox hitters exited Thursday afternoon's 5-3 loss to the Orioles tied for first with Baltimore in the American League with 111 strikeouts. That ranking came courtesy of Thursday's season-high 16-strikeout performance.
Those swings and misses don't seem to bother hitting coach Jeff Manto because of the exact manner in which they have gone down in specific at-bats.
"They are striking out aggressively," Manto said. "They are getting to two strikes in the proper way. It's not sloppy at all.
"It's actually not alarming at all. We are not swinging at bad pitches, and we are taking deep counts. That's what happens."
Adam Dunn leads the AL with 21 strikeouts, but strikeouts always have been part of the slugger's game. Even with that caveat, Dunn still feels as if he has been swinging at pitches outside of his zone of late and is also focused on his body's position as the ball crosses the plate.
In some cases, strikeouts are less damaging to an inning than a double play. But Manto believes the strikeout always has carried a stigma in baseball.
"You strike out too much, and it's like a traditional knock," said Manto, who has Dunn, Brent Morel (18) and Gordon Beckham (12) already in double-digits for strikeouts. "I don't know why. It seems like if you make contact, there's a little bit of success rate. If you strike out, you really got beat."I don't buy into that much. It's just there's a way to strike out: really, a good strikeout and bad strikeout. It's not like we are striking out against mediocre pitching. We got some good pitching that has been throwing against us. I'm sure it will continue a little bit."
Morel has support among coaches
CHICAGO -- White Sox manager Robin Ventura endured an 0-for-41 drought during the 1990 season, his first full campaign in the Majors. Hitting coach Jeff Manto remembers a 4-for-42 stretch when he was a player.
So, third baseman Brent Morel has some first-hand slump experience supporting him in his 4-for-39 start with 18 strikeouts to the 2012 season.
"For me, it got to a point where I didn't care," said Ventura of handling his slump. "You don't care about what happens on the other side, just what you're doing at that moment. Once I stopped caring about the results and more the process, what's important, why you're at the plate, the better it got."
"What happens is that at some point, you gotta step back," Manto said. "That was a big thing for me. I accepted it and stepped back and then I started over again. Until that point, it was like all right, now I see the big picture."
This prolonged slump for Morel, who had the day off Thursday, has clearly gotten into the head of the second-year player a bit. Manto isn't worried about the numbers, at least until 250 or 300 at-bats, as long as Morel has a strong plan for each at-bat.
"He's swinging at good pitches, he gets to two strikes and he's battling," said Manto of Morel. "As long as he doesn't give in on himself, which he's not, it's going to play. I don't think there's one thing that's alarming or standing out right now. Just continuing to concentrate and believe in himself."
Despite stellar defense, Alexei bugged by error
CHICAGO -- Alexei Ramirez made three plays at shortstop during Wednesday's 8-1 victory over the Orioles worthy of Gold Glove consideration. He also committed an eighth-inning error on a routine Nolan Reimold grounder that stuck with him as much as the spectacular efforts.
"It really bugs me because that's like an easy play," said Ramirez through translator and White Sox director of cultural development Jackson Miranda. "Those are always the ones where you have the error because it's so easy and so routine that that's when something like that would happen.
"That's not lack of concentration. It's something that is such an easy play that I just relaxed a little bit, and by relaxing a little bit, that's what ends up happening."
Ramirez was asked Thursday whether he would rather win his first Gold Glove or second Silver Slugger based on the 2012 season. He smiled and said that he would love to win both.
"I feel I'm going to have a good year," Ramirez said.
All-Star ballot unveiled; online voting Friday
CHICAGO -- The start of All-Star balloting for the 83rd All-Star Game was marked by a press conference Thursday morning in Kansas City. The Midsummer Classic will be held on Tuesday, July 10 at Kauffman Stadium.
There were no White Sox surprises on the ballot with Brent Morel, Alexei Ramirez, Gordon Beckham and Paul Konerko representing from third to first, A.J. Pierzynski at catcher and Adam Dunn at designated hitter. Dayan Viciedo, Alejandro De Aza and Alex Rios were the White Sox outfielders on the ballot.
The online ballot launches on Friday.
Fans can cast their votes for starters up to 25 times at MLB.com and all 30 club sites -- online or via your mobile device -- using the 2012 All-Star Game MLB.com Ballot until Thursday, June 28, at 10:59 p.m. CT.Fans can also once again participate in the State Farm Home Run Derby Fan Poll. Fans will have the opportunity to select three players in each league who they would most like to see participate in the State Farm Home Run Derby. The 2012 State Farm Home Run Derby -- part of Gatorade All-Star Workout Day -- will be broadcast live on ESPN, ESPN HD, ESPN Deportes and ESPN Radio in the United States beginning at 7 p.m. CT on Monday, July 9.
Third to first
Robin Ventura said Thursday that his team won't take batting practice before every game, as it has scheduled so far this year. But he wanted bench players such as Brent Lillibridge, Eduardo Escobar and Tyler Flowers to go through normal BP before getting the Thursday start. The White Sox went 7-for-36 (.222) with runners in scoring position over the last six games. Alex Rios and Alexei Ramirez extended their respective hitting streaks to seven games during Thursday's 5-3 loss to the Orioles. White Sox catchers have thrown out six of seven would-be basestealers. Tyler Flowers is 4-for-4 this season.