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Middle-of-the-order hitters gearing up

Middle-of-the-order hitters gearing up

TUCSON, Ariz. -- The middle of the White Sox order is working its way toward being regular-season ready, but don't look at Jim Thome's .194 average or A.J. Pierzynski's two RBIs as examples to support this theory.

Instead, simply listen to the proven potent hitters, who know how to prepare themselves for the action that counts the most.

"You come down here and get at-bats," Thome said. "As you progress and go through Spring Training, you see these at-bats get better and better."

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"Just come down and get your work in, gradually working your way into it, and hope you don't peak too early," White Sox right fielder Jermaine Dye added. "You want to go into the last two weeks seeing the ball good and swinging good, and hopefully, it carries over into the season."

Dye, Pierzynski and Paul Konerko did not make the trip to Maryvale on Monday to play the Brewers. Neither did Thome, but the prolific slugger was in action during a Triple-A Minor League contest against Arizona.

Thome led off every inning, trying to get those extra at-bats during these final two weeks of Spring Training. The White Sox designated hitter already showed signs of getting in the desired offensive groove with a two-run, game-winning home run off of the Cubs' Neal Cotts on Saturday.

But when the White Sox make a three-day journey to the Phoenix valley area starting Thursday against the Dodgers, Thome will stay back in Tucson and continue following his Minor League plan.

This approach paid huge dividends in 2006, when Thome hit eight home runs over his final seven exhibition games. Thome launched 10 long balls apiece in April and May to begin his career with the White Sox.

"Normally, I've started a little earlier," Thome said. "This might be a little later in the spring, but yeah, this is a routine that we've been doing the last couple of years. It works out good that I can stay here and get my work in.

"It's about just getting at-bats. I try not to analyze it too much, but just go out and have fun. At the end of the day, you go home feeling like you really accomplished something."

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How does Thome know when he's starting to connect in the right way? The most recent member of Major League Baseball's 500-home run club explained it's when he starts walking more or at least taking pitches and extending at-bats.

For Dye, it's a basic case of hitting the baseball hard, squaring up pitches, followed by a similar comment to Thome's, in looking for a good approach at the plate. Getting two or three at-bats against a pitcher of Dan Haren's capabilities, as Dye did on Sunday, certainly helps the late spring preparatory process.

"Yeah, it lets you know the season is getting closer," Dye said. "When you have success off good pitchers, it gives you more confidence.

"Staying healthy really is the main thing. You want to keep your mind confident and focused on baseball, instead of some nagging injury that's hurting you."

Dye went on to add that he's not quite there yet, even after going deep against Haren. The same holds true for Thome and probably Pierzynski, despite his three hits Sunday, or Konerko, hitting .366 this spring.

Starting off slowly in Arizona, though, certainly is no cause for alarm where hitters of this pedigree are concerned.

"Worried? By no means," Thome said. "I just try to have good at-bats, and don't get all wrapped up with 'I'm not getting hits or not doing this.' You don't want to drop off. You just want to start peaking at the right time."

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

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