GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Paul Konerko went hitless in three at-bats during the Reds' 7-3 victory over the White Sox on Sunday at Camelback Ranch.
Konerko entered the game with eight hits in his last nine at-bats, so going without a hit ranks as a big story amid Cactus League action. These Spring Training statistics mean very little in terms of regular-season success, but hitting coach Jeff Manto believes the White Sox captain is ahead of schedule in terms of his preparation.
"His hands are freer earlier than they have been in the past, he says," Manto said of Konerko's swing. "He's having a lot of good at-bats. He's the lowest maintenance guy we have. You look at him and know what you are going to get. He has moved his progress along quickly."
Manto certainly isn't about to guess about Konerko's future past his 17th season in the Majors and 15th as part of the White Sox. As Konerko stated early in camp, that decision will be made by him and his family at the end of this current campaign.
With Konerko's hard work and vast knowledge of his swing, let alone the game itself, production over the next few years should not be a question for the first baseman if he decides to continue.
"As long as I'm sure he feels he can contribute, he's going to play," said Manto. "He knows what he's doing. He can wake up out of bed and hit a line drive.
"He'll make that decision when that time comes. That production is never going to go down. He can play the small game, big game, any game you want him to play."
His 422 career homers would label Konerko as a power hitter. But Konerko really is more of a skilled hitter with power.
"A lot of these guys hit the home runs without the average. Paul is an exception," Manto said. "He does a lot of great things, not good things."
Crain takes another step toward return
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Jesse Crain threw off the mound for the second time in four days in testing his strained right adductor muscle and called Sunday's session "a step up from the last one."
"I was able to let it go a little more," Crain said. "I could feel it at the end. I started getting a little tired. So I didn't want to push it any further. Hopefully that's part of the process and tomorrow we'll see how it feels."
Because of this injury, Crain had to pull out of participating in the World Baseball Classic with Team Canada. He also has made just one Cactus League appearance.
Most of the problem for Crain has come not from throwing the ball but raising the bar to game level. Hitting that mark during his session covering around 30 pitches Sunday means he could return to a game this week.
"Yeah, I'm hoping. Wednesday I'll probably throw either on the Minor [League] side or another side [session] and then go from there," Crain said. "Definitely it's a step forward."
Keppinger sidelined by irritation in shoulder
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The White Sox scratched Jeff Keppinger from Sunday's starting lineup during split-squad action in Peoria due to slight right shoulder irritation. Keppinger, whose offseason throwing program was delayed when he broke his right fibula in a fall at home, has been bothered by the sore shoulder through the early stages of Spring Training.
But three weeks still remain before the start of the regular season, so manager Robin Ventura isn't worried about this minor setback.
"Just feeling sore. It's just one of those, monitoring it," Ventura said. "He could have played but we're going to keep him out and see how it looks tomorrow.
Keppinger could serve as designated hitter Monday against the Rockies but won't play in the field or throw until Wednesday. His absence gives more playing time to Conor Gillaspie, who had two hits in Sunday's loss to the Reds in Glendale, and Brent Morel, who homered among his two hits in Peoria.
"That's something that's good when that stuff happens," Venutra said. "We put somebody else in there and move them around and we get to see these younger kids. You get some information for later on down the road.
"We're not concerned about [Keppinger's] playing time down here. Today you just get that chance because of the split squad, you can get everyone in there and play."
Sale bursting with pride for alma mater
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It has been an especially good week for White Sox hurler Chris Sale.
First, he agreed to a five-year, $32.5 million extension with the team as announced Thursday and then Saturday, his alma mater from Florida Gulf Coast University won the Atlantic Sun men's postseason tournament and earned its first-ever NCAA tournament bid. It was just the Eagles' second year of eligibility in their sixth year as a Division I athletic program.
"That's sick. That's so awesome," said Sale, with a giddy smile. "You think about where that school was when I first started going there and years before that. Then all the way to where it is now. It's unbelievable. They are doing some big things down there."
Sale pitched at FGCU from 2008-10, posting an 11-0 record with a 2.01 ERA in 2010, along with 146 strikeouts and 14 walks in 103 innings. While he was proud of the hoops team's accomplishments, he also beamed over their three-game baseball sweep of 13th-ranked Florida at Gainesville in late February.
"They went to The Swamp and swept them," said Sale, who hopes to throw between four and five innings Monday against the Rockies. "It was unreal, just going and looking at that and seeing how the guys are doing. It's awesome."
Third to first
• The White Sox had players come in later both Friday and Sunday to give them a little break in this extended Spring Training.
"You have to have some days to relax it a little bit and let them come in later," Ventura said. "You give them that and we have an off-day coming up [Tuesday] and one more after that [March 18]. We're trying to keep the reins a little loose right now and towards the end it'll all ratchet up for everybody."
• Brian Omogrosso has thrown 7 2/3 scoreless innings in his six Cactus League outings.
• White Sox pitchers combined to strike out 21 over their two games Sunday. Fourteen of those came against the Reds in Glendale.