(MCT) — Why it took six seasons to gain a major league starting job isn’t the biggest question concerning Tyler Flowers.
Instead, that comes now as the White Sox catcher will be under intense scrutiny for how he handles the pitching staff and how much he can produce offensively while taking over for fan favorite A.J. Pierzynski.
Flowers admits the attention to his anointment as the replacement for eight-year incumbent Pierzynski can be shunted aside only with solid performance.
Flowers has had a healthy rapport with reporters since he joined the Sox in a six-player trade with the Braves after the 2008 season. But the focus never really has been on him.
“That’s the only thing different,” he said. “I was able to handle it in the minors. Preparing yourself in the minors, you make it through the season. The only difference now is more people watching you on TV and asking you questions before and after (games).”
Flowers had a breakout minor league season in 2008 when he batted .288 with 17 home runs and 88 RBIs at Class A Myrtle Beach and then slugged 12 home runs for Mesa in the Arizona Fall League.
Now Flowers must produce in the big leagues to justify the thick layers of support Sox officials and teammates have provided. Only doing so will temper the disappointment Sox fans have expressed over the team’s decision not to re-sign Pierzynski, 36, whose do-whatever-it-takes style helped sell as many jerseys and T-shirts as those of any Sox player.
“If you’re a catcher, you can go 0-for-4 and still have an impact on a game,” pitching coach Don Cooper said. “Tyler has been preparing for (a starting job) his whole life. He knows our pitchers inside and out, and he made an effort to know about each hitter. Now he’s getting his crack.”
At SoxFest, prized left-hander Chris Sale wouldn’t let a reporter’s question goad him into answering whether he was looking forward to working with a catcher who wouldn’t shake off a pitcher’s pitch request.
“Tyler is a lot bigger than I am,” Sale said of the 6-foot-4, 245-pounder. “Look, obviously we’re going to be on the same page more often than not. We’re going to work together. This is not just me and him, it’s us.”
Pitchers had virtually the same ERA with Flowers behind the plate (4.04) as they did with Pierzynski (4.16), although Flowers threw out 30 percent of attempted base stealers to Pierzynski’s 20 percent.
“I was very fortunate to be able to at such an early stage of my career to link up with a backstop like (Pierzynski),” Sale said. “(But) everybody will agree that Tyler is no slouch behind the plate. He’s right there. He works hard, he studies video, he has 15 sheets of paper on the desk before he starts.”
For his part, Flowers expressed his admiration for Pierzynski’s work ethic.
“The guy prepares like nobody I’ve seen, and that’s why he has been able to do what he has done for 10 years,” Flowers said. “That’s the biggest thing I take away from him.”
But now it’s up to Flowers to produce like he did the last time he played full time. In the first half of 2011, he hit 15 homers in 65 games at Triple-A Charlotte. And he didn’t strike out as much as he did on a part-time basis in 2012.
“Last year it was like, ‘It would be nice to get a hit today so I don’t have to sit on 0-for-4 for 10 days,’ “ said Flowers, who batted .213 with seven homers but struck out 56 times in 136 at-bats. “It’s going to be nice to know I’m going to get four at-bats tomorrow.”
“It was a challenge (as a part-time player) and I enjoyed the challenge, but do I want to do it again? No. It’s up to me to earn that (starting) spot for the future.”