SURPRISE, Ariz. — Jose Abreu looks around the White Sox clubhouse and likes what he sees: New players bonding and laughing with the old, while maintaining an edge.
It’s a mix of guys from Florida, Texas, New Jersey, the Midwest, Canada, Colombia, Cuba, Venezuela and elsewhere who are hitting it off and hitting it on the field, all of which is good for a team that never clicked offensively or really came together in a good-chemistry kind of way last year.
Abreu, the biggest everyday star of them all, likes the tone being set. He’ll tell you he’s tired of losing – the Sox are 149-175 in his two seasons since coming over from Cuba despite Abreu’s 66 homers, 208 RBI and a fourth-place finish in the American League MVP voting his rookie season.
“I know for some people, these games don’t mean anything,’’ he said of the Sox’ first 12 Cactus League games which saw them slug 22 homers and lead all of spring training baseball with a .523 slugging percentage. “And it’s true to some extent because the numbers here do not count for the season. But for us, especially for us who had a bad season last year (76-86), to have that kind of start to spring training is good because it gives us confidence.’’
The Sox have a recent history of lackluster performance in spring training – they were 12-17-3 last year and are 94-124-20 since moving to Glendale in 2009 — and it often set the wrong tone going into the regular season.
“You can’t just flip the switch [when the regular season begins],’’ hitting coach Todd Steverson said.
Abreu, who came to camp more than two weeks before he was required to, led the way in flipping the preparation switch. And the Sox, last in the American League in homers and runs scored last year, have come out swinging with a better complement of players around Abreu.
Abreu says it matters.
“That’s important because we’re building something good here and we want that chemistry, and the offense we’re seeing now, to translate into the season,’’ he said through translator Billy Russo. “I feel very good and confident about this team.’’
Abreu, a gung-ho worker, helped set the tone with his usual early arrival, but he’s being smarter about his routine this spring. He worked on his hitting with Steverson in the offseason for a few days in Miami, and then he backed off. Steverson sees Abreu backing off in spurts, pacing himself better in his third spring training.
“I’ve made some little changes,’’ Abreu said. “In my first spring training I was taking too may swings and that probably works against me in the end.’’
Abreu, 29, a 6-3, 255-pounder who has dealt with foot and ankle issues in the past, thanks strength and conditioning coach Allen Thomas for getting him on a program that suits his big frame.
“I feel good,’’ Abreu said. “A.T. knows me very well, what I like to do and how I like to work. He found a specific way and it’s a good.’’
For Abreu, the season could begin today and he’d be ready to hit.
“I’ve been ready since the first day of [Cactus League] games,’’ he said.
“You can count on him being prepared, being ready to play,’’ manager Robin Ventura said. “He brings a little something extra to the table because of his preparation, and he cares a lot about what’s going on in the clubhouse with the guys that he plays with. He shows up in shape, ready to go pretty much Day 1.
“If there’s anything it’s about him, he probably works too much, takes too many swings and does too much work this early.’’
It’s not easy keeping Abreu down. He said he loves to work.
“That’s how I am,’’ he said.
But he gets its it, and he’s figuring out the right mix.
“I know Robin has said he’s concerned about my routine, and that’s OK because he’s trying to take care of me. But I know my body. I know how much I can withstand and what I can do. And I feel good, and that’s the way I like to approach my work.’’