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New frame suits Pierzynski just fine

New frame suits Pierzynski just fine

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Ah, the perils of getting older.

You don't move as quickly as those wild years in your early 20s and you don't have as much energy. As for those extra pounds you've been meaning to lose... Well, they become much tougher to shed once 30 comes around.

A.J. Pierzynski understands this particular age factor. It's not as if the White Sox catcher would be considered over the hill. In fact, having just turned 31 on Dec. 30 of last year, Pierzynski hasn't really begun to climb said hill.

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But Pierzynski prides himself on arriving at Spring Training in the best shape possible, preparing for as many regular-season games behind the plate as manager Ozzie Guillen will allow him to handle. With that target in mind, Pierzynski came to Arizona with 15 fewer pounds on his frame and ready to do whatever he could to put last year's nightmare as a team in the background.

"I'm getting older and don't want to carry the extra weight," said Pierzynski of his slight conditioning change. "I worked out just as hard, did the same stuff I've always done.

"I just changed some eating habits, and it has been a huge help. I feel great."

It's a good thing Pierzynski entered camp in such phenomenal condition because his 130 games caught last year might be a starting point instead of a destination for 2008. Although the catching situation behind him has taken a step up in overall confidence during Spring Training, it still remains far from a sure bet at the big league level behind the two-time All-Star.

Toby Hall entered Monday's start against the Mariners in Peoria without a hit in 11 Cactus League at-bats. Spring Training statistics rarely, if ever, hold water, but they take on a little bit more significance when factoring in Hall's injury suffered last March. Recovering from that right-shoulder separation basically cost the veteran any sort of chance at reasonable productivity for 2007, and the ongoing strengthening process kept Hall out of Spring Training action until a "B" game on March 10.

While the six-year veteran, set to earn $1.75 million this season, doesn't appear to be finding his groove on the field, he paints a completely different picture as to how he feels. According to Hall, he's in better position than he was even pre-injury late last March.

"Absolutely. Everything is good," Hall said. "I'm getting good swings. I feel good throwing, and that's the thing. Every time I go in there, I feel good.

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"The key is to go out there and let them know I can catch nine innings or let them know I can catch every day in case something did happen," Hall added.

Hall's extended spring absence allowed the White Sox to get a look at young catchers such as left-handed-hitting Cole Armstrong, who impressed the team with his bat and his presence behind the plate. Paul Phillips, a non-roster invitee who has 151 career at-bats during parts of four seasons with the Royals, also has thrown his name into the mix.

Factor in Hall's knowledge of the White Sox pitching staff, his talent level when healthy and the money owed to him, and Phillips becomes more than a long shot to break camp with the White Sox. But he hasn't stayed around to the final cuts by accident.

"There's a reason he's still here because we don't completely know what we are going to get with Toby," said Guillen of Phillips, hitting .292 entering Monday's contest. "I'm not going to say he has a great shot, but he's doing everything to deserve to make the team. The way he play, he opens a lot of eyes here. We like the way he handles everything."

"My whole attitude coming in here was go out and play so these guys can see what I can do and then whatever happens, happens," Phillips added. "If I make this team, that's great. If not, then I hope to be here some time soon. Hopefully, I will make it a hard decision for them."

Sorting out the backup catching situation isn't quite as important as having Pierzynski ready to go for another big season behind the plate. The career .284 hitter watched his average drop to .263 in 2007, a dip suffered by many of the White Sox top hitters, but it was the overall struggles on the mound that Pierzynski took personally.

That setback is why one of the White Sox leaders and more forthright quotes on the team doesn't see his role having changed much since he first arrived in 2005. His goal is to handle the pitchers, first and foremost, and then get hits here and there.

"A catcher's No. 1 job has to be to handle the pitchers," Pierzynski said. "Two years prior, we were pretty good, and last year, we weren't very good.

"When those guys struggle, it makes my life miserable and becomes that much harder for me to come to work every day because you are always asking questions as to what you can do to help them. There are always things you can look at and say, 'If I would have done this or if I would have done that,' but you never know until the season starts.

"We've talked about some things and tried to make some adjustments with some guys, and so far this spring, they've looked good," Pierzynski added. "We feel like we have the right guys in place to be successful this year."

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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