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Pain gone in back, Sox's Morel ready to fight for job

(MCT) — Brent Morel is relieved his body and the White Sox coaching staff will allow him to make the most of his opportunity this spring.

After being sidelined for most of last season because of a herniated disk in his back, Morel will be allowed to participate in the first workout Tuesday with the pitchers and catchers with the hope he can regain the stroke that earned him the starting third base job in each of the last two seasons.

"I can hit live as long as I need to," Morel said Sunday. "It won't be like last year when I couldn't swing in the batting cage and saved my swings for the game. Now I can go do my early work in the cage and hit with the rest of the guys."

Despite the signing of Jeff Keppinger to a three-year, $12 million contract with the anticipation he will start at third, manager Robin Ventura and hitting coach Jeff Manto have emphasized Morel will be given a long look.

"I thought he looked great," said Manto, who watched Morel hit in Chicago three weeks ago. "He had no reservations swinging the bat. It was the same bat speed that I saw when he was in the lower minor leagues.

"You can see there's something different in his eye, which was nice to see. He's coming in ready to compete for a job, that's for sure. He's not keeping it a secret either."

Morel hit a single in his final at-bat for the Sox on May 17, but it already was apparent the back pain restricted his movement at the plate and in the field.

Thanks to a lengthy rehabilitation, Morel has sensed a difference.

"There's no pain,'' said Morel, who initially felt the discomfort midway through spring training. "I can definitely feel the difference. When I rotate on my swing, I feel looser and can extend."

That could make a big difference. Morel hopes to show the eight home runs and 19 RBIs he produced in September 2011 is more of an indication of his potential than his .177 batting average and 39 strikeouts in 113 at-bats in 2012 before he was sidelined.

"I look at it like 2011 when (Mark) Teahen was here," Morel said. "I want a chance to compete for a job, and that's all you can ask for."

Late start: Left-hander Charlie Leesman, who led all Sox minor league pitchers with 12 victories last year, will be relegated to rehabilitating his left knee and won't be ready until midseason. Leesman is recovering from knee surgery after injuring it while covering first base in the International League playoffs in September.

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