White Sox right fielder Alex Rios has bounced back after horrid 2011
BY DARYL VAN SCHOUWEN firstname.lastname@example.org August 2, 2012 9:36PM
White Sox right fielder Alex Rios is hitting .315 with 16 home runs and 63 RBI. Last season, he batted only .227 with 13 homers and 44 RBI. | Tony Gutierrez~AP
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The pitchers: Zack Greinke (0-1, 2.57 ERA) vs. Philip Humber (5-5, 5.90).
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Updated: September 4, 2012 6:24AM
The significance of his two singles Wednesday in Minnesota was not lost on White Sox right fielder Alex Rios.
The first one matched his total of last season, the second one passed it.
On the first day of August.
It’s the kind of stat fact that puts Rios in the thick of Comeback Player of the Year discussions, in the same breath as teammate Adam Dunn, who this week hit his 11th home run against a left-handed pitcher.
Dunn hit 11 all of last year.
Rios and Dunn have a lot in common: big-money contracts and career-low experiences on the South Side last season. And now, bounce-back years that make their contracts look pretty good. Remember all the talk last year about the Sox being stuck with those deals? Dunn is in the second year of four years worth $56 million. Rios signed a six-year, $64 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays that pays him $12.5 million this season and $13 million in each of the next two (with a club option for 2015), and nobody even brings it up it anymore.
“That’s how baseball is,’’ Rios said. “It’s what have you done for me lately. And it’s understandable. Everybody wants their players to have good years and to live up to it.’’
When Rios batted .227 with 13 homers and 44 RBI last year — and it took a good September to do that — general manager Ken Williams looked like a sucker for picking him up on waivers. Now he doesn’t look so dumb.
“Sometimes you don’t have a good year,’’ Rios said. “You try to have a good year every year, but it doesn’t always work out the way you want it. It just doesn’t click. It doesn’t mean you’re not trying. It’s part of the game, and we have to just deal with it.’’
For Rios, dealing with “it” involved hearing boos and worrying about his father in Puerto Rico who he knew was worried about his son. Rios said the contract never added to his stress of fighting through a year in which he struggled at the plate and at times in center field.
“No, when I signed my contract, that was it,’’ Rios said. “When you sign a long-term contract, you don’t focus on [the money]. You focus on winning because it’s all about winning.
“You already have what you wanted. I was more worried about not contributing to the team and helping the team. You just focus on winning. When it doesn’t happen, that’s when you get worried.’’
Dunn and Rios are on the best team they’ve played on, so the carrot of the postseason invigorates them.
“It makes it exciting and more interesting to come to the field and battle for something like we’re doing now, to win the division,’’ Rios said. “That’s the ultimate goal for every single player. You don’t just want to play for the regular season; you want to play for something.’’
Rios is batting .361 with eight homers, 14 doubles, 27 RBI and 28 runs in his last 32 games. He was a Player of the Month candidate in July and probably deserved more All-Star Game consideration than he received. His defense in the outfield is measurably better than it was in 2011.
The All-Star overlook never bothered him.
“It’s something nice to have, a good experience for yourself, but I’d rather focus on my team,’’ he said. “I’ve been to two All-Star Games already. I needed those four days to rest my body.’’
Rios heads into the Sox’ nine-game homestand that opens against the Angels on Friday night in as good a hitting groove as he can remember.
“I’ve been feeling good,’’ he said. “You have to manage your ups and downs. I’ve been a little more consistent this year.’’