Carlos Quentin may secure No. 3 spot
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Unable to find a steady No. 3 hitter this season, Chicago White Sox outfielder Carlos Quentin is the latest to get a chance there, and he could be poised to get a long look in the spot.
Quentin slugged three home runs Tuesday night in a victory over the Texas Rangers while batting third, and he now has 12 on the season with 31 RBI. He has already been named American League player of the week this year after his productive opening weekend of the season at Cleveland.
Manager Ozzie Guillen said Wednesday that he still isn't going to give up on using slugger Adam Dunn in the No. 3 hole. But Dunn went into Wednesday's afternoon game against the Rangers with an American League-leading 60 strikeouts.
Ideally, Guillen would like a left-hander batting in front of cleanup hitter Paul Konerko.
"With Dunn hitting in the middle of those two guys [Alexei Ramirez and Konerko], it's easier for baseball strategy, late in the game with lefty-righty coming out of the pen make it tougher for the opposite manager," Guillen said. "But in the meanwhile, you hit, I don't care if you're righty [or] lefty."
As long as you produce, is Guillen's point. Quentin went 1-for-3 with a walk in Wednesday's 2-1 loss.
Essentially, then, the three hole belongs to Quentin as long as he keeps up run production, something that hasn't been a given over his career. Quentin has been known to swing wildly from hot to cold streaks, sometimes having to ride out the bad spells a little longer than is comfortable.
The first two months of this season, though, have shown that while he hasn't been able to completely eliminate his up-and-down tendencies, he has been able to shorten the slides.
"Obviously [Tuesday] night he was awesome and he's had days like that this year where he's been unbelievable," hitting coach Greg Walker said. "To me, the only issue so far this year is Carlos being late with the foot down, and we kind of corrected that a week, 10 days ago. Other than having a sore knee one day, he's really been good ever since."
Essentially, Walker has worked with Quentin to refine the timing of his swing. If Quentin can stride and get his foot down before the ball arrives, he is in a better position to cover the strike zone. His most impressive home run Tuesday came when he reached out across the plate and slugged a 400-foot-plus shot just inside the foul pole in right field.
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"Going the other way is always a good sign for any hitter, especially being able to hit the ball in the gap and drive the ball," Quentin said. "My push is to always stay up the middle and to the right side and to accomplish that, that's something good."
Quentin's production will forever be compared to his standout 2008 season, when he clubbed 36 home runs with 100 RBI despite missing the last month with an injury. This season already has shown reminders of that breakout year, especially if the slumps are kept in check.
"When Carlos gets hot, he can carry a club in a hurry," Guillen said. "But we have to be aware, when he gets cold, he's going to need a day off to keep him healthy and have to be aware of a few situations."
Walker has always said that when Quentin is mechanically sound with a good approach at the plate, he will take his guy over others in either league.
"I don't think anybody can be better when he's hot; it doesn't matter who," Walker said. "We went into Detroit this year and [Justin] Verlander was throwing 100 mph and he took him deep twice on fastballs. He's an unbelievable talent and he's fighting the fight this year. He has been more consistent and I like where he is right now because I think he is mechanically correct right now and he feels real good obviously."
That doesn't bode well for anybody who has visions of eventually grabbing that No. 3 spot away from Quentin.
"I don't want to put heat on any player, but if [Alex] Rios and Dunn don't produce or don't hit the way we think they can hit, it's going to be hard," Guillen said, not only of moving up in the lineup, but also for the White Sox to win consistently. "It's going to be hard for the rest of the players. When those guys swing the bat well, or [Konerko] and Carlos, all those guys swing the bat the way we think they should be, I think this club will be very dangerous."
A career .260 hitter out of the No. 3 spot, Quentin actually has the most home runs (43) and RBIs (112) there than at any other spot in the lineup. This season he is batting .294 there in 51 of his 170 at-bats before play Wednesday. He had also hit half of his 12 home runs there and had 11 of his 31 RBIs.
"Obviously that's where you put one of your best hitters, and some people think your best hitter," Walker said of the No. 3 spot. "He's handled it before. I think he relishes the challenge and when he's going well he can definitely handle it."
Doug Padilla covers the White Sox for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.