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Vazquez looking to put slump to rest

Vazquez looking to put slump to rest

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ST. PETERSBURG -- If momentum is only as good as the next day's starting pitcher, as the adage goes, then Javier Vazquez has a tough act to follow. But he also has an extra day of rest as he tries to do it.

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For all the clutch hits the White Sox produced in their historic run of three wins over three different teams in three days to get to the American League Division Series -- from Jim Thome's home run Tuesday to Monday's grand slam from Alexei Ramirez -- they were big runs in part because Chicago's starting pitching made them low-scoring games. John Danks tossed eight scoreless innings against the Twins to allow Thome's homer to stand as the game's only run. Gavin Floyd scuttled enough Tigers scoring threats for Ramirez to essentially put the game away.

Against that backdrop steps Vazquez, who was last seen answering questions about starting on short rest after the Indians roughed him up for a six-run fifth inning on Saturday in what stands as the last White Sox loss.

So much has happened since then that it's almost a distant memory. One key point for Vazquez, however, is that it really is distant. Wednesday was his fourth day of rest since that outing, putting him on a normal amount of rest for Game 1 vs. the Rays on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. CT.

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, who made the final decisions on starting Vazquez on short rest in two of his past three starts, is counting on that extra day to help make it a turn for the better.

"Javy is on complete rest," Guillen said Wednesday. "I think that's what's going to be the key for us. Hopefully Javy will come out tomorrow and pitch well."

Vazquez believes he can, of course. But he doesn't believe the extra day of rest is the main reason the behind it.

"It's not a big deal," Vazquez said. "I started twice on three days' rest, you know, [but] I feel strong. I felt strong. You know, I just haven't made my pitch or executed at the right time. But I felt strong at three days' and on regular rest."

He could have a point. In Vazquez's defense, it wasn't just the starts on short rest in which he struggled. He lasted just 4 1/3 innings against Cleveland on three days' rest last time out, yielding six earned runs over 3 2/3 innings to the Yankees under similar conditions on Sept. 18.

In between those losses, though, was a loss to the Twins on his regular turn, with five Minnesota runs on seven hits over four frames. He has not won since his 7 2/3 scoreless innings against the Tigers on Sept. 14, and he hasn't lasted through the fifth inning since then.


"The only thing I ask Javy is be aggressive and give it the best stuff you have."
-- White Sox manager
Ozzie Guillen on
Javier Vazquez

Statistically, the common denominator was the pitch counts that have put his outings to rest. Whether the short rest led to them is up for debate. The Indians made Vazquez throw 30 pitches in his fifth and final inning on Saturday. Thirteen went for strikes, and only one led to an out. By comparison, he needed just 34 pitches to get through his first three innings that day.

The Twins forced 36 fourth-inning pitches out of Vazquez in their win over him. The Yankees drew 29 pitches from him, 15 of which went for balls en route to three walks that loaded the bases for the middle of New York's order to pounce.

He gave up four home runs in those three outings after going homerless in his previous seven outings. But he also induced far fewer swings-and-misses than usual -- just five out of his 78 pitches against the Twins.

In other words, pitching strong -- and from a position of strength -- could be as big for him as feeling strong. That seemed to be one of Guillen's points about his Game 1 starter.

"There's a reason Javy's going to be my first guy," Guillen said Wednesday. "I have a lot of confidence in him, our coaching staff, too, [and] our general manager. I think right now he's just got to go and be him, be aggressive.

"The only thing I ask Javy is be aggressive and give it the best stuff you have. I don't care how many innings you're going to get. It's not about Javy. It's about every pitcher in baseball. Every pitcher in baseball, if you're not that aggressive in the strike zone, you're not going to have a good game."

Vazquez has done that well against the Rays, especially this season. One of his four 10-strikeout games came here over seven innings at Tropicana Field in a 2-0 loss May 31. The Rays have hit just .208 in 20 1/3 innings against Vazquez this season. Even when they made contact, they hit a relatively low .259 on pitches put in play.

For all the hubbub about the White Sox playing on the Rays' fast home turf, Vazquez can be the neutralizer.

"I don't try to pitch any different in a dome or artificial turf or regular grass," Vazquez said. "If you make your pitches, you're going to win anywhere, so it doesn't matter. I just have to make my pitches, and that's it. That's the most important thing."

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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