Konerko seeks healthy swing

Before last season, his 15th in professional baseball, Chicago White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko hadn’t spent a day on the disabled list.

But that changed last year, when the 6-foot-2-inch, 215-pound slugger suffered an assortment of injuries, including a left oblique strain in June that landed him on the DL for the first time in his career.

"It was one of those years. I never really had one like it," said Konerko, who also suffered a right hand injury in May and a sprained right knee in September. "I had two or three things go wrong with my body, where it kept me back and knocked me out of (40) games, and that’s something I never really had.

"It was sporadic as well, so it made it tough to get going. It was kind of like starting and restarting throughout the year. It wasn’t fun."

After a stellar four-year stretch in which he averaged about 37 home runs, 105 RBIs and 150 games per season, Konerko finished last season with 22 homers and 62 RBIs in 122 games.

"He can’t be worse than last year. He went through a lot of tough times," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said Thursday after his team’s 4-3 win over the Chicago Cubs at Cashman Field. "His hand was all messed up, and he couldn’t swing the bat real well — that’s the biggest reason he didn’t have the year he always had. But I will bet this kid’s going to have a great year."

A three-time All-Star, White Sox team captain and the 2005 American League Championship Series Most Valuable Player, Konerko also is counting on a return to form this year.

"I feel good. All the injuries, the oblique and the knee, everything feels fine," he said. "I just expect to play. If I get out there for 150 games, I expect (my production) to kind of take care of itself."

Konerko, who turned 33 on Thursday, is off to a strong start this spring, batting .400 (6-for-15) with a double, two homers and five RBIs in six games.

He hit his second homer of spring training Wednesday in the White Sox’s 7-6 win over the Cubs at Cashman Field and went 1-for-3 on Thursday.

"He looks good," Guillen said. "Spring training means a lot to him. It’s funny, this guy takes every at-bat real seriously."

Although his oblique and knee injuries have healed, Konerko said he’ll continue to monitor his chronic right hand injury.

"The ligament in there is kind of stretched out. It’s something that’s always bothered me, but I’ve always been able to kind of control it and maintain it," he said. "It kind of got away from me last year, and before I knew it, it was in a place where I’m switching bats and I’m switching grips.

"That was the one (injury) I played with but probably should’ve sat out with. I played about 20, 25 games, then finally took a few games off to get it shot up and get it taken care of. … I played 20, 25 games, and it kind of buried me because I wasn’t able to do anything. It just put me in a huge hole, and it was tough to get out of it."

Konerko, who has two years left on his five-year, $60 million contract with the White Sox, said he won’t hesitate to take time off this season if his hand flares up again.

"If it starts going in the direction it did last year, I’ll take a step back immediately," he said. "If that means I miss a few games, then that’s fine. I don’t want to play 20, 25 games where I’m pretty much useless when I’m out there."

NOTES — The Cubs and White Sox attracted two sellout crowds to Cashman Field on Wednesday (11,459) and Thursday (11,174). … Actor Jim Belushi, a Cubs fan, sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" Thursday during the seventh-inning stretch.

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354.

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