Notes: Vazquez's pitch trade-off
Ozuna gets his swagger back; Ozzie removes the blame
MINNEAPOLIS -- Javier Vazquez featured four solid pitches and the potential of a staff ace when the talented right-hander was acquired from Arizona via an offseason trade. And Vazquez still features that same sort of repertoire, with a fastball in the low- to mid-90s, a slider, a changeup and a curve.
But during these trying couple of months for Vazquez at the back end of the White Sox starting rotation, the veteran has found that some pitches are working better than others. He would like to throw a curve into the opposition's plans, but he doesn't have the same confidence in that maneuver as he did in 2005.
"I'm not using my curve as much as I would like to, just because I haven't had the feel for it as much as I usually do," said Vazquez prior to Saturday's second of three games against the Twins at the Metrodome. "On the other hand, I have the slider this year, which is a better pitch for me than ever before.
"I threw it a little bit last year, but it wasn't as consistent. I don't have the same curve ball, but I have a better slider."
That particular pitch trade-off has little or no correlation with Vazquez's struggles during the third time through the order, according to the White Sox hurler. Vazquez also was unable to pinpoint his struggles with the curve as the pitch that has cost him with the game on the line in situations such as Craig Monroe's game-winning grand slam for the Tigers on July 19, as an example.
In Vazquez's estimation, it's not the choice of pitches but the location of the offerings that is causing him the problems.
"Usually when I give up a home run, it's about bad location and putting the pitch where I don't want it," Vazquez said. "It's not the pitch.
"The good thing is, I still feel confident that I can throw my curve," Vazquez added.
Vazquez will need his full complement of pitches to be working for him in Sunday afternoon's series finale, with Minnesota ace Johan Santana on the mound.
"Javy has to step up a notch, because he's going to compete against the best," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "He can't expect we're going to score that many runs."
Finding his mark: Pablo Ozuna figures to be leading off and back in left field for the White Sox with Santana getting the call Sunday. Ozuna is one of the few White Sox hitters with some career success against the one-time Cy Young winner, knocking out seven hits in 24 at-bats when facing Santana, including three doubles.
There was a time this year when Ozuna was hitting everyone from Cy Young contenders to also-rans, pushing his average to .432. Ozuna has since watched that average plummet to .328 over his last 19 games, during a 5-for-43 stretch. But hitting coach Greg Walker believes Ozuna is rounding back into form after battling the after-effects of a strained left hamstring.
"What happened was Pablo was on an unbelievable streak, and he was playing unbelievable for us," said Walker of Ozuna, who had two hits, including his first leadoff home run, during the White Sox victory over the Royals on Thursday. "When he pulled a hammy, he wasn't hurt bad enough for the disabled list, but he did miss some time. He wasn't even allowed to pick up a bat for a while.
"When he came back, he wanted to pick up where he left off and he just got in some bad habits. He lost a little swagger and he's starting to get it back. He was on an unbelievable streak, and we don't have to get him there, but he's showing signs of getting back to what we need."
No excuses: Freddy Garcia pointed an indirect finger at a lack of offensive support following his Friday setback, mentioning that "if we don't really hit too much, where are we going to be?"
Guillen, who is the last one to make excuses when his team gets beat, didn't exactly back up Garcia's sentiment.
"I think that comment was unnecessary," Guillen said. "Players can say whatever they want to say, because it's their right, but we gave the lead to Freddy a couple of times and they tied the game a couple of times.
"Sometimes people should blame themselves when things happen. When we lose, we lose together. When we win, we win together. Comments like that, sometimes you say stuff, but when you have a 5.00 or 6.00 ERA, it's not easy, either."
The White Sox manager quickly added that Garcia is not the only starter with an inflated ERA, primarily because of the offensive potency among AL hitters. But Guillen also pointed out that the offense has carried the White Sox to their Wild Card lead in 2006.
"We are what we are because of our offense, no doubt about it," Guillen said. "We haven't pitched right yet. We've pitched good enough to win that many games."
Running at will: Nick Punto, Jason Tyner and Jason Bartlett all swiped bases against Garcia on Friday, giving baserunners 30 stolen bases in 31 attempts with Garcia on the mound. But Guillen pointed out Saturday how holding baserunners close is a malady suffered by more than just Garcia among his staff.
"We really stink at holding baserunners. Stink. The worst I've ever seen," Guillen said. "And I'm not going to blame it on my catchers. I think some people, they just go out and forget they have people on base.
"They don't give A.J. [Pierzynski] an opportunity. It's not just Minnesota. Everyone who has a uniform, they steal a base against the White Sox. The thing about it, I told them I'm not going to call a pitchout because I'm not a genius.
"That's not my run out there, that's your run," Guillen added. "Take care of that. We've got to be better than that. That's a free pass for people to score runs."
Down on the farm: Charlie Haeger improved to 12-6 by limiting Indianapolis to six hits and one earned run in his complete-game effort, leading Triple-A Charlotte to a 6-1 victory on Friday. Catcher Pascual Matos led the offense with four hits. ... Mark Quinn launched his 10th home run and drove in four, sparking Double-A Birmingham's 9-3 victory over Jacksonville.
Up next: The White Sox finish this three-game series at the Metrodome, their second-to-last trip to Minneapolis this season, with Vazquez (11-7, 5.13) on the mound. The right-hander is 1-3 with a 7.26 ERA lifetime against the Twins.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.