Podsednik determined to be healthy

Podsednik determined to be healthy

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Those pundits who took Scott Podsednik to task at various times during his wildly inconsistent 2006 season could not have possibly inflicted close to the punishment the leadoff man heaped upon himself with every groundout, fly out or mistake made in the outfield.

But Podsednik arrived in White Sox camp Wednesday morning, one day prior to the team's official reporting date for position players, with a new plan of attack in place that has little to do with changes made in his batting stance or adjustments within his swing. Although he didn't go into great detail, Podsednik will try to leave the good or the bad that happens on the field during a given game at the ballpark in 2007.

"I don't want to get into what I need to be doing," said a gregarious Podsednik, standing in front of his locker surrounded by 10 media members, prior to the team's workout. "I've had some issues upstairs as far as being too critical at times.

"I'm trying to address those issues that will help me on the field. Let's see if I can make some adjustments."

This new psychological approach taken by Podsednik might not get a true test for another month or so, as he continues to recover from outpatient surgery on Jan. 23 in Dallas to repair a sports hernia. Podsednik was limited to seven official Cactus League games and 22 at-bats last year as he battled through left shoulder tendinitis and a sore left groin and as a result, probably rushed back to be with the White Sox a little too quickly.

After serving as the catalyst for the "Ozzie Ball" approach that became a key component for the 2005 World Series championship, Podsednik went hitless in his first 16 at-bats last season and started the year 1-for-26. Podsednik finished with almost twice as many RBIs as the previous season (45 to 25), but dropped off in other important categories such as average (.290 to .261) and stolen bases (59 to 40).

In order to help facilitate a smoother open in 2007, Podsednik and the team will err on the side of caution in regard to his return. The official word from the White Sox has Podsednik sidelined for six to eight weeks after the surgery, with Podsednik currently entering his fourth week. He started skills and baseball work under controlled settings, but hasn't been cleared for any explosive drills.

Although he wouldn't hazard an official guess, Podsednik has his timetable set at "something close to Opening Day, give or take a week."

"I'm feeling great," Podsednik said. "I think the condition I was in before surgery is really helping me right now. It's a matter of working with [athletic trainer] Herm [Schneider], A.T. [conditioning coach Allen Thomas] and getting myself back into shape.

"I don't think there's any need to try to come back four or five days earlier and jeopardize two or three weeks. We're going to be smart about it. I'm going to be aggressive, but there's a fine line between being aggressive and being smart.

"I'll try to walk that line," Podsednik added. "It's not that I'm in bad shape. But I'm about three to four weeks behind."

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Shortly after Podsednik walked into the clubhouse Wednesday and exchanged greetings and hugs with his teammates, Ozzie Guillen pulled him into the manager's office for a brief meeting. Guillen simply wanted to be on the same page in regard to a controlled recovery for a player who took eight years to reach the Majors and has been intensely driving himself to stay there ever since.

As Guillen has mentioned previously during the early stages of Spring Training, Podsednik can't be rushed, with his game depending so much on the health of his legs.

"The way this kid goes about his business, it could be dangerous," Guillen said. "All of a sudden he says, 'Yeah, I feel great,' because he sees all his teammates preparing themselves for the season. It's not easy to come here and deal with, 'I can't do anything on the field.'

"That's why I grabbed him into the office and made sure the trust is there. The last thing we want to do is re-hurt that part of the body and all of a sudden, we're backwards a couple of months."

Podsednik did not look to be a strong candidate for any sort of return to Chicago at the end of 2006, sharing his left field and leadoff slots with the right-handed-hitting Pablo Ozuna during the final few weeks of September. Podsednik went home to Texas for the offseason and "enjoyed married life" with his wife Lisa, but couldn't have been more pleased when the White Sox brought him back for one more season at $2.9 million.

Hitting coach Greg Walker was one of the people pushing for Podsednik's return, while also serving as one of Podsednik's staunchest supporters. As Walker pointed out, there weren't many other affordable leadoff men on the market who could have the same impact as a healthy Podsednik. There's also the intangible of Podsednik helping the White Sox end a title drought of almost nine decades.

Walker credits Podsednik, whom he classifies as one of the hardest working guys on the team, for realizing his 2006 problems didn't come from fixing a swing that Walker calls relatively low maintenance. But positive reinforcement only can take Podsednik so far, as was proven last season, "basic 101 Dr. Phil stuff," according to Walker.

Once the explosive leadoff man gets up to full speed, it will be up to Podsednik to mix in the new mental approach with the strong existing physical plan.

"There's no question I've learned a lot in my last four big-league seasons," Podsednik said. "I'm hoping to use all that into another successful year."

"In this game, it's not like some sports where you can go out and hit somebody harder," Walker added. "Playing the game mentally under control and with confidence, it's one of the toughest things to do. But ultimately, he's got to realize himself and I think he did realize it. He got off to a tough start [in 2006] and then he started fighting the game from the first week. He just needed to go out and let his natural ability take over and have fun and play the game instead of pressing."

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