Konerko back in action for final 10 games
Retiring first baseman ready to test fractured left hand
ST. PETERSBURG -- "This," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said Friday, "is the start of it." The beginning of the end, that is. With just 10 games, and one last series in Chicago, left in his 18-year career, Paul Konerko is back on the field.
Konerko hasn't played since Sept. 2 because of a fractured left hand, but No. 14 was penciled into the White Sox lineup, batting sixth and playing first base, for Friday's night's series opener against the Rays at Tropicana Field.
"I can still feel it in there a little bit, but I think it's more than ready to go give it a try," Konerko said. "Going back to 12, 13 days ago, I feel like I've come a long way -- because I was really nervous. Not that I wouldn't get back out there, but that it would just be, like, for show the last weekend.
"I'm happy. I mean, obviously I didn't want it to happen at all, but considering where I was two weeks ago, I'm happy I'm back right now. I thought it was gonna get tight towards the end, the way it felt. Best-case scenario would have been nothing, this would be the next-best. Plus, it was just a weight off my mind."
Konerko, 38, has been with Chicago for the last 16 years, the second-longest current tenure with a Major League team after Derek Jeter's run with the Yankees.
After dealing with the hand injury since the beginning of the month, Konerko told his manager that he was healthy before the series opener in St. Pete. He could have pinch-hit in Kansas City earlier in the week, saying he had his spikes on in the dugout on Wednesday, but Ventura wanted to give the veteran a few more days to heal.
Konerko said his hand feels strong enough that he doesn't foresee any setbacks, and that if he can get through Friday night's game, it should let him know he's good to go. He added that he hopes to get in as many games as he can on the current road trip, and play through any lingering pain in his hand, before he is honored in Chicago during the last series of the year.
"There's nothing really to save it for," Konerko said. "I'd like to get some at-bats and play a little bit on this trip, so I have a little bit of feel for next weekend. I don't think it'd be right for me to wait, wait, wait and jump in then."
Ventura said that Konerko, who went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in the 4-3 White Sox victory, wouldn't play every game, but would play "quite a few." And when the White Sox return home, Ventura said, "Obviously, the last weekend will be focused on him."
That last weekend in front of the hometown fans, friends and family is why Konerko's relieved his hand's gotten better faster than he thought. Well, maybe it wouldn't have mattered either way.
"I would've gone out there, in some capacity," Konerko said. "I don't care if it would've been taking three of the ugliest swings you've ever seen and strike out -- I wasn't gonna end it on the bench."