PRO BASEBALL

Keppinger could be Sox's first choice to hit in No. 2 spot

2012-12-10T18:00:00Z 2012-12-10T22:35:05Z Keppinger could be Sox's first choice to hit in No. 2 spotGeorge Castle Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
December 10, 2012 6:00 pm  • 

Jeff Keppinger may not possess one-for-one the career persona of Kevin Youkilis, the man he’s replacing at third base for the White Sox.

But going into 2013, the well-traveled, much-desired Keppinger could have a better skill set to also succeed Youkilis as the Sox’s No. 2 hitter, if no other major changes are made to the everyday lineup.

After a hot start upon his arrival in Chicago last June, Youkilis cooled off, especially on the road. He was not the on-base-percentage guru of his long tenure in Boston.

In contrast, .288-lifetime hitter Keppinger batted a career-high .325 with Tampa Bay last season.

“I like the two-hole,” Keppinger said in a Monday conference call after his signing of a three-year, $12 million contract was made official.

“I hit a lot in the two-hole when I was in Houston and in San Francisco. Last year with the Rays, I bounced around. (Manager Joe) Maddon comes up with lineups all over the place."

Keppinger welcomes the added pressure.

“Hitting in the two hole, I like the challenges. You have to come up with different approaches," he said. "Sometimes you have to take pitches to allow the leadoff batter to steal. Other times, you give yourself up for the team, move guys over for the three-hole hitter.

"It’s tough sometimes to do all those little things. But I pride myself in trying to get them done.”

Sox general manager Rick Hahn can see a logical fit at No. 2 for the 32-year-old Keppinger.

“He puts the ball in play a lot and has the ability to do those little things to help you win,” said Hahn. “I’ll leave it to Robin (Ventura) to decide how he wants to do the lineup based on who ultimately we have come Opening Day.

"I do think Jeff has the potential to fill that spot.”

As many teams sought Keppinger as a starting infielder this off-season as those (six total) for whom he has played already.

The Cubs reportedly looked at him before re-signing third baseman Ian Stewart. The Yankees investigated Keppinger before making an offer to Youkilis to play as a fill-in for injured Alex Rodriguez.

Keppinger said liked the Sox's makeup and the city.

“I really liked Chicago," he said. "I thought it would be a good fit for me for the contract I got."

Hahn’s happy to have filled two holes already in Keppinger for third and re-signing Jake Peavy to fill out the starting rotation.

He can’t rest, though, with the Royals, a Sox nemesis, trading for James Shields and Wade Davis Sunday.

“You knew Kansas City was looking to add pitching to that young offensive core they have,” Hahn said. “It wasn’t a surprise to see them do it. They certainly did it in a big way that makes them stronger.

"It certainly should make the AL Central race more interesting as we go through next summer.”

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