Notes: Thome shows familiar power

Notes: Thome shows familiar power

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Jim Thome produced a very economical showing of power during the White Sox 9-7 victory over the Royals on Sunday at Tucson Electric Park.

Kansas City starter Kyle Snyder threw one pitch to Thome in the first inning, and he proceeded to launch a mammoth two-run shot to right. In the third, it took Thome one pitch once again to reach the stands in right-center field.

They were home runs Nos. 1 and 2 in Cactus League action, causing manager Ozzie Guillen to sarcastically comment, "It's about time. We've been waiting a month-and-a-half to see that."

Thome stayed back in Tucson during the past three days, while the White Sox played in Surprise, Peoria and Scottsdale, getting six or seven at-bats per afternoon during Minor League games. It was an effort to further refine his swing for the upcoming 2006 season, an effort that appeared to pay major dividends.

But even with Sunday's outburst, Thome doesn't feel he's quite where he needs to be for the season opener next Sunday in Chicago.

"We're getting there. I don't want to say I'm there," Thome said. "We're getting close.

"At the beginning of spring, the concern for me was letting my swing fly and getting through the zone. And it took me a while to get into the rhythm. I'd say moreso from the elbow from the surgery.

"Then you get a few hits here and there. But it took me a good two to three weeks," Thome added. "But going down and getting those at-bats really did it. Maybe we have to do it next year, but it really helped. And I took it seriously."

Thome missed all but 59 games in 2005 because of a right elbow problem that required surgery and a lower back issue. Thome also missed a couple of games during Spring Training with tightness in his left hamstring. Despite entering Sunday's action with a .310 average in 29 at-bats, it took Thome's return to the Minors to get him on the right track offensively.

Along with the home runs, Thome also had a seven-pitch at-bat against Elmer Dessens in the fifth, with Tadahito Iguchi on first base. On a 3-2 offering, and with Iguchi breaking, Thome ripped a single up the middle.

So, which effort had more significance for Thome, who also has one of the game's sharper batting eyes? It was the two home runs, of course.

"Homers are better, but the base hit to center was a good at-bat because I worked the count," Thome said. "I've always tried, hoping it would happen those last seven to 10 days, to start squaring balls. Staying back here and getting those at-bats, every inning, finding my rhythm and getting in the flow helped."

"The only thing I worry about with Thome is his health," Guillen added. "If Thome's healthy, we know what he can do on the field and off the field."

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More from the back fields: Jon Garland took a similar preparatory route as Thome, working 5 2/3 innings during a Triple-A contest against Arizona at the Kino Sports Complex on Sunday. Garland allowed four runs on 10 hits, striking out three and walking one, while pitching within a tightly-called strike zone.

Garland also worked his pitch count up to 99, but that total was not what satisfied the right-hander the most.

"Above that, I'm just happy about the way I felt," Garland said. "Lately, I've been having a hard time getting loose and I didn't have any trouble. I got loose, got out there every inning and everything felt great."

It can almost be a tougher challenge for an established Major Leaguer such as Garland to pitch in the Minor League games, with the younger players trying to make a name for themselves. With that idea in mind, Garland isn't very focused on the final results from these particular contests.

"As long as I can get those pitches in and stay healthy coming out of Spring Training, I'll be ready to go," Garland said.

Moving forward: One minor change in Matt Thornton's delivery, made by pitching coach Don Cooper, already has made a noticeable difference. Thornton threw two scoreless innings on Sunday, walking just one, riding out his stride as far as he could with each pitch.

"The change is helping my control unbelievably -- in the bullpen and now in the games," Thornton said. "It's a start. If I can throw the ball like I did today, I think it will be a big step forward for me."

The left-hander always possessed a gifted arm, with a fastball in the mid 90s, but also has battled control issues. Thornton mentioned that Cooper noticed the flaw two years ago, while watching game film on him, at a time when the White Sox were interested in acquiring the one-time first-round draft pick from Seattle.

"I kidded him by saying, 'You could have sent me a little note or something,'" said Thornton with a laugh. "It may have been a little different for me."

Spot starter: Don't look for Hideo Nomo to break camp with the White Sox. The 12-year-veteran from Japan, holding 123 victories, allowed three runs on seven hits over three innings on Sunday in his third spring start -- including two home runs. With Nomo throwing between 84-88 mph, he needs exceptional command on almost every pitch. That command was lacking against the Royals.

"All of my pitches were going right in the middle. Other than that, I felt OK," said Nomo, through a translator. "Right now, I still believe I'm at a good place."

Nomo, 37, could open the season with Triple-A Charlotte. With only two relief appearances in 320 games, though, Nomo probably wouldn't be any sort of bullpen option at the Major League level.

"He never did it and I don't know if he can do it," said Guillen, of Nomo as a reliever. "What I see is if Nomo throws strikes, he still can get people out."

Third to first: Right-handed pitcher Sean Tracey was optioned to Triple-A Charlotte following Sunday's victory, while left-handed pitcher Armando Almanza, infielders Andy Gonzalez and Robert Valido, catcher Gustavo Molina and outfielder Ryan Sweeney were reassigned to Minor League camp. The White Sox have 28 players remaining in camp. ... Jose Contreras reported absolutely no pain in his right elbow following Saturday's start. He's on schedule to pitch the Cactus League finale on Thursday afternoon. ... The back of the pressbox was filled with media members and White Sox brass watching the final few minutes of the George Mason-Connecticut NCAA men's regional final. The happiest person with George Mason's stunning upset and first Final Four berth was catcher Chris Widger, who played baseball at the school.

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.