Kiddie corps sparks win streak

Tribune staff reporter

Jose Valentin looked around the field Monday and saw a bunch of 20-somethings surrounding him.

Who would have guessed back in the spring that the 32-year-old Valentin would be the "old man" in the middle on a rebuilding White Sox team?

"It is kind of weird," he said. "I never really think about my age. I wish I could play forever. But if I'm the oldest one on the field, it makes me try and be more of a leader. I have to show these young guys how to play the game."

Judging by the team's play of late, the young guys already know a little bit about how to play the game.

D'Angelo Jimenez continued to show his leadoff skills with a walk and two hits, including an RBI single. Jon Garland (10-10) had another sharp outing, striking out seven and allowing three runs in 6 1/3 innings to beat the Blue Jays for the second straight outing, this time 5-3. And Joe Crede had another defensive gem in the sixth, robbing Chris Woodward of a hit.

The Sox won their sixth straight, their longest winning streak since taking eight in a row June 12-19, 2000. They're 8-1 since Frank Thomas returned to the No. 3 hole in the lineup on Aug. 24.

"We've been long overdue for a streak," manager Jerry Manuel said. "We're probably the only team in the majors that hasn't had one. And the good thing is we're doing it with young players. Producing and performing the way they have speaks volumes about the future."

Rauch returns: Another top prospect, right-hander Jon Rauch, was recalled from Triple A along with Joe Borchard.

"He had a pretty good second half, and he has been driving the ball down in the strike zone," general manager Ken Williams said. "His velocity is back up to 93-94 [m.p.h.] and his power slider is back. We want to see for ourselves at the major-league level."

Rauch is likely to be one of a half-dozen candidates to join Mark Buehrle and Garland in the 2003 starting rotation, along with Dan Wright, Gary Glover, Rocky Biddle, Corwin Malone and perhaps Todd Ritchie.

With so many arbitration-eligible pitchers expected to be non-tendered this winter, the Sox also may pick up an inexpensive free agent for a look. Ritchie is likely to be non-tendered as well.

Teams can sign their own players back at a 20 percent pay cut after not offering them arbitration, so Ritchie would likely have to agree to a $700,000 pay cut to $2.8 million if he wants to return. Jim Parque, who earns $2 million would have to take a $400,000 pay cut to $1.6 million, though it appears unlikely the Sox will bring him back.

Second look: When Ray Durham was traded to the A's for Triple-A right-hander Jon Adkins, many wondered why the Sox didn't just keep Durham until the end of the season and receive a first-round draft pick next June as compensation. One of the reasons was the Sox wanted to open a roster spot for Willie Harris, and another was the uncertainty of the labor agreement.

As it turned out, owners and the players' union agreed in the new collective bargaining agreement to stop awarding teams draft picks for lost free agents. In other words, the Sox would have gotten nothing in exchange for Durham if they kept him until the end of the season. Adkins is 4-2 at Triple-A Charlotte with a 3.69 ERA.

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