GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Ask Brent Morel about how his back felt the day after getting into live game action on Saturday, and he'll present the same answer featured since the start of Spring Training.
"It doesn't even cross my mind when I'm playing now," said the supremely confident Morel, who tested the back again Sunday by coming off the bench and pinch-hitting for designated hitter Jeff Keppinger in the eighth. "It crosses my mind in the morning, because it's my routine to get loose and stuff. But when I'm out there, I don't even think about it."
When asked how this thought process changed for Morel from last year, when the 25-year-old was limited to 34 games by the injury, he smiled and admitted it was a major change.
"That's the only thing I was thinking about," Morel said. "Right now, no limitations at all. I've been feeling good defensively and the swing feels good. It's a matter of time, progressing innings."
Morel told MLB.com at the end of November that his back felt as good as it had in a year, and he has backed up that claim during the first couple of weeks of Spring Training. Yet, a healthy and productive Morel still could begin the season at Triple-A Charlotte.
With the Friday addition of Conor Gillaspie, who started at third Sunday and made a nice play on a sharp grounder hit by Alex Castellanos with runners on second and third and one out in the fourth, and Keppinger penciled in as the starter at the hot corner, there appears to be a three-way battle between Morel, Gillaspie and outfielder Jordan Danks for the final roster spot. Morel is fighting somewhat of an uphill battle, with Gillaspie out of options and providing a much-needed left-handed bat.
It's also unlikely Morel could supplant Rule 5 Draft acquisition Angel Sanchez, who serves as the team's backup shortstop. But Morel fought hard to return from the back problem, so he isn't going to let a roster conundrum bother him.
"They are doing their job to get the best available guys out there to make the 25-man roster as good as it can be," Morel said. "It's good for all of us, a little competition. It drives you that much harder, and they are going to take the best guy, whoever it is. It's going to be a fair competition that we are all prepared for."
Keppinger continues building up arm strength
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Jeff Keppinger began the on-field portion of his White Sox career with a single to center against Zack Greinke during Sunday's Cactus League contest with the Dodgers. Keppinger hit second, a spot in the lineup he figures to see frequently during the season, but started at designated hitter.
Keppinger continues building up arm strength, "being able to throw the ball across the infield," as he said Sunday, after his arm strength was diminished because he couldn't push off the back leg and throw due to recovery from a broken right fibula suffered during the offseason.
"I'm sure I'll be out there in a few days," Keppinger said of playing third. "I wasn't able to push off pretty much until I got down here, so I've had two weeks to start throwing. I'm on a throwing program, so as soon as I get it up strong enough, then they're going to throw me out there.
"Since we're down here early, there was really no rush to try to get it in super fast. I've been doing a lot of strengthening to it and it's holding up fine. I haven't had any swelling. All activities have been full-go to do. I haven't had any setbacks."
Getting out of the box is fine for Keppinger. The bigger test, even more so than on defense, is "secondary leads when you have to push back and get back to the bag, when you're going one direction," Keppinger explained.
Thornton feels 'great' after bullpen session
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Matt Thornton threw a 35-pitch bullpen session Sunday morning at Camelback Ranch and reported absolutely no discomfort.
"Not at all. Felt great," said Thornton, who mixed in all of his pitches. "Aside from being numb from the cold and wind, it's fine."
Thornton felt soreness in his triceps, near the back of his left elbow, which caused him to miss a live batting-practice session on Tuesday. The veteran left-hander played down the soreness, even joking that it must be a slow news run in White Sox camp to place so much focus on what he didn't even consider a minor setback.
Next up for Thornton is live BP on Wednesday, followed by a couple days off, then a bullpen session and his first Cactus League appearance on March 5 against Team USA. Thornton predicted he would stay on schedule, even when the soreness first arose.
"Plucked a live BP out of there in the middle somewhere, but right on schedule," Thornton said. "I got my work in until I felt like I was starting to fatigue, and [then] shut it down."
Walker developing feel for running game
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Through two Cactus League games, Keenyn Walker hasn't been able to truly show off his speed. But it's the most important skill among the repertoire of the White Sox's eighth-ranked prospect.
"I'm more of a hit-it-on-the-ground-and-run guy, and get a bunch of stolen bases," Walker said.
Walker topped the White Sox organization with 56 stolen bases last season between stops at Class A Kannapolis and Class A Winston-Salem, but he was caught 15 times. The 22-year-old quickly learned there's more than just blinding speed to become a successful basestealer at the professional level.
"When I was in high school, I just stole bases because I was fast," Walker said. "In college, I learned a little bit here and there, but nothing like I've learned here.
"It's really not about speed. It's about anticipation. It's about knowing situations and knowing when to go."
Devon White imparted important information upon Walker last season. Walker will be working with Doug Sisson, the organization's Minor League outfield/baserunning coordinator, this season.
"Like I said before, I'm more of a speed guy: get on base and let [Jared] Mitchell or Trayce [Thompson] drive me in," Walker said. "Stolen bases are a big part of that. I don't have as much power as both of them. I got to get to second some way, so I just use my legs."
Third to first
- Alexei Ramirez was glad to see his close friend and mentor, Jose Contreras, sign a Minor League deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Contreras is recovering from Tommy John surgery on June 20, a second operation on the elbow in 10 months. But Ramirez mentioned that Contreras has been off the mound three times already and told the White Sox shortstop that he was throwing 91 or 92 mph.
"I can't be happier for him that the Pirates gave him the chance," said Ramirez through translator and White Sox director of public relations Lou Hernandez. "I talked to him and he's been feeling good."
- Dewayne Wise celebrated his 35th birthday with a third-inning triple Sunday.
- The oldest White Sox player in camp is Paul Konerko, at 36, and the youngest is infielder Carlos Sanchez, at 20.