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SOX NOTES: Stewart thrilled to be back

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GLENDALE, Ariz. – When the Pittsburgh Pirates broke the news to pitcher Zach Stewart in January that he would be placed on waivers, the 26-year-old right-hander immediately started thinking where he might land.

Stewart hoped he would be picked up by an organization that holds its spring training in Arizona so he could commute from his home. But he didn’t expect to get another chance with the White Sox, who claimed him off waivers Jan. 24 after trading him last season.

“I was kind of surprised to be picked back up here,” Stewart said. “[Assistant general manager] Buddy Bell ended up calling me and telling me that they picked me back up and I was really excited and happy to hear the news.”

Rejoining the Sox has brought Stewart’s year full circle. His journey included a June trade to Boston as part of the Kevin Youkilis deal and another trade, this time during the offseason, that sent him to Pittsburgh. Happy to be back in a familiar environment, Stewart is stretching out his arm in preparation of starting – likely at Triple-A Charlotte with the potential to be an emergency starter for the Sox.

“That’s pretty much how I treat every spring,” Stewart said. “Most organizations I’ve been with have always told me to be ready for anything. It’s easier to prepare as a starter and then back track if you need to as a reliever than try to build your endurance up. It’s a lot harder to do that.”

Stewart is a nonroster invitee and will have his work cut out to make the team, especially given his shaky moments last season. He went 1-2 with a 6.00 ERA in 18 games (one start) with the Sox.

“Last year was good because I kind of ran the full gauntlet as far as being a long guy, then I got a couple short outings, and then when I got over to Boston I was pretty much a starter the whole time,” Stewart said. “It showed be what I can handle, which is nice.”

Rotation aims for greatness: Sox starters combined for a 4.15 ERA last season, placing them seventh out of 14 AL teams.

But pitcher Jake Peavy believes the rotation will be even better in 2013, though the Sox were impressive in holding opponents to a .254 batting average – the third lowest in the AL. Peavy said a combination of a healthy John Danks and experienced youngsters, such as Jose Quintana and Chris Sale, can take the Sox to another level.

“I think if we all try to improve in little ways,” Peavy said. “I think the biggest thing is getting John Danks back. We lost our Opening Day starter last year. A lot of people don’t realize that Johnny pitched Opening Day for us last year in Texas. You take any team’s Opening Day starter away, that’s going to be a daunting hit.”

Early arrivals: Sox position players are anxious to get to work.

All but three players have reported ahead of today’s mandatory date, with only shortstop Alexei Ramirez, outfielder Alejandro De Aza and infielder Tyler Saladino having yet to arrive.

“I don’t really remember this many guys showing up [early], it’s nice,” manager Robin Ventura said. “They’re excited to be here and just get going. [Saturday] is one of those days where we had the hitters hitting off the pitchers for the first time so it’s nice and exciting. [Sunday] will be great just to get everyone in and on a regular schedule.”

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