Jeff Samardzija warned everyone in spring training last year: Losses in April count as much as losses in September, and too many early setbacks can ultimately bury you.
Samardzija, starting on Opening Day because Chris Sale wasn’t ready due to a freak off-field foot injury during spring training, was shelled by the Kansas City Royals in a 10-1 loss.
Samardzija, Melky Cabrera, Adam Eaton, Alexei Ramirez and Adam LaRoche were all among the slow-starting Sox, who were 0-4 and 8-14 and never really recovered on the way to a disappointing 76-86 season.
No wonder getting off to a fast start, beginning with the first day of spring training Feb. 19, is a point of emphasis for 2016. It was a recurring theme on the first day of SoxFest Friday at the Chicago Hilton.
Manager Robin Ventura knows, with one year left on his contract, that it’s important for him personally as well, although he dismissed his future as a reason why it matters.
“Regardless of what people think of the outside pressures, you want to win just because you want your team to get off to a good start, you want to make a good run at it,’’ Ventura said. “I have one year on [my] contract, that’s not a secret. But regardless of that I would want to win just as many games early on; whether it was 10 years, it doesn’t matter. The competitive part for everybody is we all want to get off to a good start.’’
Ventura suggested he’ll play his starting lineups together more often, especially toward the latter half of the Cactus League schedule in March, and give his starters more at-bats than he has in the past.
“There are little ways to tweak it,’’ Ventura said.
It’s worth a try, and Chris Sale suggest a good start would energize crowds at U.S. Cellular Field, which, he believes, would energize the team.
“I do think it’s important. I don’t think it’s everything but I would say that if you’re starting off on the right foot, you get a good taste in your mouth, fans are getting excited,’’ Sale said. “I think that’s huge, too. When there are people at the stadium, and it’s loud and rocking and there’s an atmosphere, there’s no doubt in my mind or anybody else’s mind that the players feel that. That’s an energy you can’t replicate otherwise. Hopefully we do that and we can get that support.’’
General manager Rick Hahn wants to see the tone set on the first day of camp.
“I don’t look at it from an attendance standpoint, I look at it from a standings and momentum standpoint,’’ Hahn said. “It’s extremely important that Robin and I, Kenny [Williams], Jerry [Reinsdorf], all of us talk about this, in terms of from the first day of spring training setting the tone about the importance of accomplishing what we want and what our goals are on and off the field, which will then translate into a better [performance] at the start of the year.’’
The Sox started 14-17 in 2014 under Ventura, en route to a 73-89 finish. When they finished 63-99 in 2013, they started 12-17. Those starts were likely just a small sample size of their overall product, but if nothing else, the Sox have a heightened sense of urgency about being more prepared from the get-go.
“So it’s something that we’ve targeted, but it’s important for every club to get off to a good start,’’ Hahn said. “I don’t view it as any more important than in years past, but it’s a priority, no doubt.’’
NOTE: Hahn said reports or suggestions he couldn’t offer more than three years on a contract for free-agent outfielder Yoenis Cespedes were not accurate.
Cespedes signed with the New York Mets on a three-year, $75-million contract last week.
“Let me make something real clear: there is absolutely no hard line, dogma limit on contract terms with free agents,” Hahn said. “The reason we didn’t sign any of the players that thus far have signed elsewhere, at the end of the day was not about any contract term limitations. We had numerous conversations with various parameters, various structures, right up until the day or day before these players wound up choosing their ultimate destination.”