Paul Konerko likely won't start

ByDoug Padilla ESPN logo
Sunday, March 30, 2014

CHICAGO -- As of now, the White Sox's plan is to have captain Paul Konerko on the bench for the final Opening Day of his productive career.

White Sox manager Robin Ventura announced Sunday that despite wavering on the topic in recent days, Konerko will not start against the Minnesota Twins, breaking his streak of 16 consecutive Opening Day starts, the last 15 with the White Sox.

"In talking to Paulie, it's not an easy decision but when you go over how you're going to do this and how you're going to make it work, he made it clear this is kind of what he signed up to do," Ventura said. "It's more of respect to him that you're not just going to put him out there just to put him out there.

"And he respects the game, he respects his teammates and the conversation him and I had he wanted this to happen this way because if he wasn't going to start 10 games in against the same guy then he didn't want to do it on Opening Day. I think that's just the kind of teammate he is and the respect he has for his teammates and our organization to do it the right way."

Ventura did not divulge the rest of his lineup, but it seems clear that rookie Jose Abreu will start at first base, while the left-handed hitting Adam Dunn will be the designated hitter against Twins right-hander Ricky Nolasco. Dunn is a .240 career hitter against Nolasco (6-for-25) with a home run and five RBIs, while Konerko is 2-for-6 against him with one RBI.

Konerko is second in White Sox history in home runs (427), RBIs (1,361), total bases (3,944) and games played (2,187) so honoring him on his final Opening Day didn't seem to be something out of the question. But Konerko isn't comfortable with added recognition.

"It's just simple to me," said Konerko, who announced this winter that 2014 would be his final season. "There is a plan of roles and when guys play and when they don't play. You just follow it. Although it's Opening Day, if I'm not going to start the 20th game against Ricky Nolasco, or whoever is on the mound, then it doesn't matter that it's the first game. I'm always aware of Opening Day, I think everybody is. I can remember them all, all that kind of stuff. But I've also been lucky to start 16 of them, 15 here and one somewhere else. So I've had my day in the sun with Opening Days."

Not everybody on the White Sox thinks Konerko's role should be so black and white. Starting pitcher Chris Sale would like to see Konerko in the lineup somewhere.

"He's probably the only person in Chicago, in the country, in the world, that thinks he shouldn't be out there," Sale said. "I don't want to step on anyone's toes but I think he should be out there. I think with what he's done for this city, what he's done for this team, who he's been throughout his entire career, I think he's kind of earned that. But what he says goes. If he doesn't want to be out there, it's his prerogative, it's his decision. It's tough."

Dunn, the main benefactor in Konerko's decision, wasn't going to complain about getting the start. He thrives on Opening Day, with eight career home runs and 20 RBIs during the season's first game.

But Dunn also remarked that Konerko's decision is further proof of his teammate's class.

"Going in, I think everybody knew what the plan was. Although he deserves to be out there Opening Day, we all came in knowing what our roles would be this year," Dunn said. "If we're going to deviate from the plan from Day 1, that wouldn't be much of a plan. I think he understands it, I understand it and hopefully it works out."

Establishing roles early is one thing, but if most of the team would like to see Konerko play, there is some value in that as well. Roles can always be established in Game 2 of a long 162-game season.

So while Ventura's early plan is to use Konerko as his secret weapon off the bench in the late innings, he could always change his mind and start the team captain in the 3:10 p.m. CST contest. Konerko could take the designated hitter spot, or he could start at first base with Abreu moving to DH.

"You could, you could [change the lineup]," Ventura said. "But when you hear it from him and the way it's delivered from him, this is the right decision. He understands that. It doesn't mean he can't come and win the game later in the game."