CHICAGO | White Sox manager Robin Ventura said backup infielder Conor Gillaspie “wants to be a storm chaser.”
Responded Gillaspie: “My passion’s weather. That’s just kind of what I grew up around and been interested in.”
On Saturday, both the weather and Seattle Mariners ace “King Felix” Hernandez came right to Gillaspie. Part of Ventura’s “Sunday lineup” playing a day early, Gillaspie had to battle 30 miles per hour winds both blowing into his face, then swirling as he played third base, while trying to solve Hernandez.
Gillaspie conquered both the elements and Hernandez in the Sox’s 4-3 victory Saturday over the Mariners. His leadoff triple in the fifth and single in the seventh off Hernandez sprouted into the kind of manufactured runs for which Ventura has been campaigning for since last season.
Gillaspie’s all-around play in his first Sox start augmented fill-in starter Dylan Axelrod’s stout performance in holding down the Mariners and Alex Rios’ two-run sixth inning homer off Hernandez.
“Baseball’s kind of a crazy game,” said former Giants top prospect Gillaspie, acquired for his left-handed bat. “I was pretty nervous (Saturday) — I don’t know why. (Hernandez) threw a couple of balls over the plate. You can’t miss pitches against a guy like that because you’re probably going to get out if you (do).”
The Sox had a bit of a break against Hernandez. Both Gillaspie and Rios said the right hander, who threw a perfect game last year, wasn’t throwing as hard as normal. Rios estimated Hernandez was down 3-4 mph over his top 95 mph speed.
After a long night game and Sox loss Friday, Ventura batted Gillaspie sixth, right behind Keppinger, shifted from No. 2 and to first base in place of Paul Konerko. Backup catcher Hector Gimenez batted eighth. Gimenez sent Gillaspie home sliding between Mariners catcher Kelly Shoppach’s legs with a with a sacrifice fly in the fifth. Gillaspie also scored on Alejandro De Aza’s sacrifice fly to left in the seventh.
Gillaspie, the only new left-handed hitter the Sox acquired over the winter, has just the type of swing to challenge Hernandez.
“Tough kid, plays hard, has a compact swing,” Ventura said.
Slugger Adam Dunn, one of only two left-handed hitting regulars in the Sox lineup, concurs.
“He does what I want to do, actually, that I’ve been working hard (on) a lot,” he said. “He hits down on the ball and gets a lot of backspin. With Felix, you’ve got to make him get it up. When you do get a pitch to hit, you can’t try to do too much with it. He was a great example of it.”
Gillaspie warmed up for his hitting feats by bailing Axelrod out of a first-and-second, one-out jam in the fifth. He made a good play on Brendan Ryan’s grounder by the bag. He stepped on third and fired to first for the inning-ending double play.
“Defensively, it’s kind of always been my struggle,” Gillaspie said. “I’ve worked pretty hard to do a sufficient job there.”
Axelrod, who allowed just three hits and one unearned run in 5 2/3 innings, managed to keep his control despite the wind vigorously at his back.
“I had to step off a few times,” he said. “I didn’t want to lose my balance out there. I didn’t have my best stuff overall, and I had to battle through it.”