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Despite falling just short in AL Central, White Sox erased doubts from last winter

(MCT) — CHICAGO — The White Sox are happy there are fewer uncertainties entering SoxFest next weekend at the Palmer House Hilton than there were a year ago.

Fans are more acclimated to manager Robin Ventura and his coaching staff, veteran pitcher Jake Peavy re-signed shortly after the 2012 season, young left-hander Chris Sale proved he could be a marquee starter and newly signed Jeff Keppinger gives the White Sox a pesky hitter they have lacked with the ability to work deep counts.

“There’s some wind in our sail,” said Brooks Boyer, the Sox’s vice president of sales and marketing, adding that several high-profile members of the Sox’s title-winning teams in 1983 and 2005 will be present.

But there will be some curiosity involving the new man in charge — Rick Hahn — who takes over for often-candid Ken Williams as general manager.

While Williams wasn’t afraid to bark back at a fan, this marks the first time the usually mild-mannered Hahn will face a large group of paying Sox loyalists who want to know why the Sox haven’t yet acquired a left-handed hitter to balance the lineup and compensate for the free agent loss of A.J. Pierzynski, as well as the pursuit of a late-inning reliever.

Health issues, such as John Danks’ left shoulder, Paul Konerko’s left wrist and Keppinger’s right leg, should be resolved during spring training. But adding a left-handed bat would take much of the pressure off a currently right-hand tilted lineup scheduled to face the likes of the Tigers’ Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez, the Royals’ James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie and Wade Davis and the Indians’ Justin Masterson in the American League Central.

Speaking of which, Hahn likely will be asked again at one of the fans’ question-and-answer sessions what can be done to close the gap between the Sox and the defending division champion Tigers, who won 12 of 18 from the Sox en route to winning the Central by three games.

Acquiring a left-handed run-producer would help, especially since Pierzynski accounted for 77 of the 277 RBIs left-handed hitters produced for the club — an increase of 95 over the 2011 season when the Sox won only 79 games and were 55-61 in games against right-handed starters.

There will be some memories of the glory years at SoxFest. Former manager Tony La Russa, Harold Baines, Ron Kittle, Greg Luzinski and Tom Paciorek will represent the 1983 “Winning Ugly” team that won the AL West. Joe Crede, Jermaine Dye and Aaron Rowand — instrumental members of the 2005 World Series title team — also will attend, along with future Hall of Fame slugger Frank Thomas and 1993 AL Cy Young Award winner Jack McDowell.

But the attention will be on Hahn.

“Our fans want to hear from him,” Boyer said.

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