By Adam Hoge-
U.S. CELLULAR FIELD (CBS) Guess who leads the American League in home runs?
OK, it’s only been two games, but first-year starting catcher Tyler Flowers has two home runs in two games as the White Sox are off to a 2-0 start.
No player on the White Sox roster entered this season with more doubters than Flowers, the 27-year-old catcher who sat behind A.J. Pierzynski on the depth chart for the last five seasons before finally getting his shot. Two home runs in two games hardly proves anything, but for a guy replacing one of the most popular catchers in team history, Flowers’ 3-for-6 start certainly beats the alternative.
“I think what he’s been going through as far as spring training and the expectations of where he’s at and following A.J., it’s nice for him to get off a good start, hit a couple (home runs) and get a base hit too,” manager Robin Ventura said following the White Sox’s 5-2 win over the Royals Wednesday.
After batting just .261 with one home run in spring training, the pressure to replace Pierzynski could have easily resulted in a slow start in a very important season for Flowers. Instead, he’s been able to give himself a confidence boost just two games into the season.
“I guess it’s good,” Flowers said. “I’d be just as happy with some line drives — hits or outs. I’m just looking for quality at-bats right now. The hits and all that stuff, the home runs, it will all take care of itself as long as you focus on every at-bat and make it a quality at-bat.”
As much as the fans will judge Flowers for what he does with his bat, they need to remember that the White Sox value the catcher just as much for what he does behind the plate. Not only is his arm much stronger than Pierzynski’s, but Flowers has always had a good reputation amongst the pitching staff for his ability to call a game.
“I think that you see already in two games how comfortable we are as a staff throwing to him,” starting pitcher Jake Peavy said after giving up just one earned run in six innings. “That’s huge. And we all know the potential is there offensively to do big things so we’re excited about what Tyler brings.”
It’s not hard to see why Flowers is so popular inside the clubhouse — something his predecessor always struggled with. Flowers is very modest, always eager to credit his teammates for success, but he’s also honest, pushing his pitchers for more.
His postgame analysis of Peavy’s start proved as much.
“He had pretty good stuff. Probably not his 100 percent best, but he had a couple pitches working,” Flowers said. “We didn’t really use his changeup as much as we planned to, but the cutter was very effective and he was locating his fastball so it’s kind of keep it there until we need it. And we didn’t really have too many situations where we needed (the change up).”
It should also be mentioned that Flowers’ start has come against a pretty important opponent. The White Sox went just 6-12 against the Royals last season, a reality they weren’t shy about talking about in the offseason.
“Against a team that has been our nemesis, if we came out and lost a few, it’s, ‘Here we go again’ and, ‘We can’t beat the Royals’,” Peavy said. “I think it was big for us to come out and win.”
Credit Flowers, both at the plate and behind the plate, for sparking the change on fortune against Kansas City.
Two games. Two home runs. Two gems caught behind the plate.
Not bad for the guy who couldn’t replace A.J. Pierzynski successfully.
Adam is the Sports Editor for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, Blackhawks, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.