CHICAGO (AP) – The tense days of late September when they were fighting to keep what they’d held all season – first place – seemed far away Sunday when the Chicago White Sox stepped into the cool air and warm sun for a workout.

Manager Ozzie Guillen announced his rotation for the ALCS that will begin Tuesday. And then reflecting the loose atmosphere he has nurtured all season, he picked up a bat and stepped into the box during a simulated game with young right-hander Brandon McCarthy on the mound. That he went 0-for-2 didn’t matter.

After sweeping the defending World Series champion Red Sox in the division series and taking a day off, the White Sox were hoping to stay sharp, not knowing or caring too much if their next opponent is the Yankees or the Angels.

“The day off, we needed it mentally and physically. We have played with so much intensity the last three weeks,” Guillen said. His team nearly squandered a 15-game lead before hanging on to win the AL Central wire-to-wire.

If there is a Game 5 in Anaheim on Monday, the Angels-Yankees winner would at least be air weary from flying from coast-to-coast and then back to the middle of the country.

“I don’t worry about stuff I can’t control. Whoever is coming is coming,” Guillen said. “We’ll do our part. Whatever happens on either side.”

Jose Contreras will start Game 1 Tuesday just as he pitched the opener against the Red Sox. And Mark Buehrle will again pitch Game 2 at U.S. Cellular Field.

But when the series shifts to either New York or Anaheim for the middle three games, Guillen will use 18-game winner Jon Garland in Game 3 with Freddy Garcia in Game 4. The White Sox were 3-3 against New York and 4-6 against the Angels.

Garland didn’t start against Boston, so he will be pitching on nearly two weeks rest. That’s why he and the talented rookie McCarthy – who was again left off the roster – were throwing to batters Sunday in simulated games along with relievers Damaso Marte and Luis Vizcaino.

“Jose, we don’t want him to have too many days off,” Guillen said. “If we start Garland the first game, we hurt three guys. I know it’s not fair for Gar to have that much time off. … It’s not my fault we won in three games. It’s a good thing we did. This kid pitched his heart out for us. Sometimes you have to make a decision you don’t want to.”

Garland didn’t seem too upset about another wait, but as a sinker ball pitcher, he acknowledged that some of his best stuff often comes with he’s a weary, rather than fresh.

“Usually my best pitchers are when I’m tired on a regular five days. That’s when it’s good,” he said. “We’ll see how it goes.”

Guillen also said Sunday he had a conversation with the erratic left-hander Marte, who struggled in Game 3, loading the bases with a single and two walks.

“We need this kid. I think he’s the only player on my roster I worry about,” Guillen said.

Orlando Hernandez, who pitched out of a no-outs bases loaded jam that Marte created in Game 3, kept his spot in the bullpen for the second round -to no one’s surprise.

“What he did was phenomenal. We all knew at the moment how big it was,” pitching coach Don Cooper said Sunday. “I think it’s getting bigger every day.”

The 22-year-old McCarthy, bumped off the playoff staff by the veteran Hernandez whom he’d replaced in the rotation late in the season, said he’s thrilled for the guy who beat him out.

“I was really happy for him, watching him go out there and be the El Duque you remember watching growing up,” McCarthy said. “He’s such a competitor.”

AP-ES-10-09-05 1542EDT

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