CHICAGO (AP) Paul Konerko will likely be watching from the bench for the start of what figures to be his 16th and final opening day with the Chicago White Sox
And the 38-year-old first baseman is comfortable with that decision, which ends a streak of 15 consecutive opening-day starts.
Konerko’s new role is as a right-handed-hitting platoon player at designated hitter. With Minnesota starting right-hander Ricky Nolasco, left-handed-hitting Adam Dunn will start.
”I just think it’s the way it should be,” Konerko said Sunday as both teams conducted voluntary workouts. ”It’s just not part of the blueprint of what we’re going to do here. … It’s pretty simple. There’s a plan and roles of when guys play and when they don’t.”
A six-time All-Star, Konerko agreed in December to a $2.5 million, one-year contract. White Sox manager Robin Ventura said Konerko made the choice to stay with the platoon.
”In talking to Paulie, it’s not an easy decision,” Ventura said, ”but when you go over how you’re going to do this and make this work, he made it clear this is kind of what he signed up to do.”
Left-hander Chris Sale starts for the White Sox. He was surprised by Konerko’s decision but said he respected it.
”I think he should be out there,” Sale said. ”What he’s done for this city, what he’s done for this team, who he’s been throughout his career, I think he’s earned that. But what he says, goes.”
Starting his second White Sox opener, Sale faces Nolasco in only the third time opening-day meeting between the teams and the first since 1993.
After a lengthy and severe Chicago winter, Monday’s forecast calls for partly sunny skies and a 65-degree temperature.
The White Sox are coming off a 63-99 season, their poorest record since 1970. Their projected lineup features five players making their opening-day debuts, including Cuban slugger Jose Abreu, who signed a $68 million, six-year contract.
”I don’t really know where I’m going to be hitting, but it doesn’t matter,” Abreu said through a translator. ”To be honest with you, that’s irrelevant. I’m ready to hit wherever they put me. I’m here to help the team.”
Minnesota (66-96) committed $73 million to sign Nolasco (13-11 for Miami and the Los Angeles Dodgers) and Phil Hughes in an effort to rebuild its pitching.
”It’s important to get off to a good start,” Nolasco said. ”I know they’ve been struggling the last couple years, but we’ve been working hard as a staff trying to go out there do quick, efficient innings, get us back in the dugout and try to swing the bats.”
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said Nolasco is ready for the season.
”Ricky’s game on,” he said. ”I’m not worried about him one bit. He’ll go until he tells us he’s tired. He’s very sure of what he needs to do to win.”
Despite snow piles and a frozen field earlier this month, Roger Bossard’s groundskeepers got the playing surface ready at U.S. Cellular Field.
”I’m impressed,” Ventura said. ”We thought there’d be an iceberg out in left field with all the reports we got. … But we knew Roger would pull it off this off.”