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A learning curve for Pujols
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04/20/2002 7:05 pm ET 
A learning curve for Pujols
Cornejo attempting to adjust to Majors
By Jason Beck / MLB.com

Nate Cornejo, right, exits the game after giving up Paul Konerko's grand slam. (Brian Kersey/AP)
CHICAGO -- Tigers manager Luis Pujols wasn't upset that Nate Cornejo lost Saturday. Pujols was upset that the 22-year-old prospect and hopeful future front-line starter lost on his third-best pitch.

Cornejo wasn't happy about it, either. He summed up the deciding delivery of Detroit's 12-5 loss to the White Sox in two words: "dumb pitch."

"With [the] bases loaded, [you need a] double-play ball. Change-up's not a ground-ball pitch," said Cornejo, who gave up a third-inning grand slam to Paul Konerko to end his outing. "That's just stupid."

The Tigers remember how dominant Cornejo looks when comfortable. Just five days earlier, he toyed with Triple-A hitters while waiting his turn in the Detroit rotation. He loaded the bases with no outs in the third inning last Monday, only to retire the side without a run.

Cornejo had the bases loaded again in the third inning Saturday at Comiskey Park. However, Konerko wasn't taking a change-up that wandered over the middle of the plate. He deposited it into the left-field stands for a grand slam, which gave the Sox a 6-2 lead.

"I just need to go out in a game like this [like I] did in Double-A and Triple-A," Cornejo said. "It's just sometimes when something goes wrong I start panicking."

Part of Pujols' role is to help develop young talent once they reach Detroit, including on-field instruction. He made a quick point to ask Cornejo and catcher Mitch Meluskey about their choice of pitch on Konerko's home run. They had addressed how to pitch Konerko in pregame meetings.

"I think if he had another pitch to Konerko, who knows [about the outcome]," Pujols said. "I just don't like seeing anyone lose a game on their third-best pitch."

Asked about who takes the responsibility for such a decision, Pujols said the catcher and the pitcher do. "They both were in the [pregame] meeting. It's not like it was just the catcher at the meeting. And if we're both at a bridge and you decide to jump, I don't have to jump with you."

Neither the Tigers nor a chilly Chicago afternoon cooled off the White Sox's bats Saturday. Frank Thomas and Magglio Ordonez hit back-to-back homers in the fourth off Matt Perisho to help put the game out of reach. Thomas, Ordonez and Konerko -- Chicago's 3-4-5 hitters -- went a combined 9-for-12 with six runs scored and nine RBIs.

Tigers coaches were unhappy with Cornejo, but they're far from alarmed. Pujols managed Cornejo at Double-A Erie, where he went 12-3. Steve McCatty was his pitching coach then and now.

"I can see a few things he did that were different," McCatty said. "There's a few things we can work on, but I don't see any reason to hit the panic button."

Indeed, Cornejo at times had the mid-90s velocity and the nasty sink on his pitches that helped him win 20 games last year. His pitch location haunted him, similar to the struggles he suffered in Spring Training. He recorded three walks without a strikeout.

"I saw a lot of pitches that were short," Pujols said. "I didn't see good extension. He had some pitches with a lot of bite."

The bases were loaded for Konerko without the benefit of a hit. Kenny Lofton and Thomas walked on 3-1 pitches. In between, Tony Graffanino reached base when Randall Simon couldn't handle a low throw from Craig Paquette on Graffanino's sacrifice bunt.

Cornejo gave up just four hits Saturday, but all of them were for extra bases. Jose Valentin took a fastball deep to right for a solo shot leading off the second inning. Graffanino and Ordonez doubled down the left-field line in the first for Chicago's opening runs.

Meluskey prevented another first-inning run when he recovered a wild pitch and dove over home plate to tag out Thomas.

"I didn't have command of my fastball," Cornejo said. "I think that's why I went to [the change-up]."

The Tigers want to develop young talent this year, and Cornejo is the best of that crop now in Detroit. Though the Tigers have an off day next Thursday, Cornejo will stay in the rotation and make his next scheduled appearance at home Friday against Minnesota.

Cornejo already can't wait.

"I know I have the stuff to be up here, and I know I'm good enough to be up here," he said. "It's just a matter of doing."

Notes: Robert Fick, who entered the game as the American League's leading hitter, went 2-for-4 with an RBI and run scored. He raised his average to .417 and stretched his hitting streak to eight games. ... Dmitri Young missed his second consecutive game with a groin strain that he doesn't know how he suffered. He remains day-to-day. Randall Simon started again at first base. ... No Tiger enjoyed Dog Day at Comiskey Park more than Matt Anderson, who petted dog after dog in the pregame parade and posed for pictures.

Jason Beck covers the Tigers for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.



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