ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The White Sox need to clean it up.
They’ve lost five in a row, including a weekend sweep in Detroit in which they were outscored 32-10 in sloppy fashion.
Manager Rick Renteria’s mantra since Day 1 of spring training, coinciding with the organization’s current rebuild, is to — win or lose — play clean baseball. That means hustle, throw to the right base, hit the cutoff man, execute. In other words, take care of things in their control, regardless of talent level. Establish a work environment and emphasis that should enhance the caliber of performance when young talents such as Yoan Moncada, Luis Robert, Michael Kopech arrive in the coming months, year or years.
It played well in April, when the Sox surprised some by going 13-10. But three games over .500 turned into 11-18 in May and an 0-3 start in June. Center fielder Leury Garcia threw to the wrong base a couple times in the last week; the Tigers stole third base at will all weekend; a pop-up fell between Sanchez, first baseman Jose Abreu and right fielder Avisail Garcia; and on Sunday, Sanchez got picked off first and misplayed a pair of ground balls. Also, a check-the-runner throw to first by pitcher Chris Beck — with Justin Upton only a couple of strides off the base — escaped Abreu’s backhand. It wasn’t a good throw, but it was catchable.
“I thought we were just a little tired, little lethargic,” Renteria said after Sunday’s game. “They were playing through it. Some of our actions were a little slow today. Nonetheless, that’s not an excuse.
“They’re not trying to make mistakes, they’re not trying to boot balls, they’re not trying to get picked off, they’re not trying to miss executing on bunts. But it’s something that we have to really learn from because clubs that want to have success have to play clean baseball. We’ve talked about it.”
Renteria has demonstrated an affection for the sacrifice and safety squeeze, and his repeated attempts to pull it off haven’t been executed well. On Sunday, rookie Adam Engel took a stab at it and failed twice.
“You have to get that pitch up where it’s a more hittable pitch,” Renteria said. “He wasn’t able to, or it just sped a little bit.
“It’s not a must-bunt. It’s get a good pitch to handle to lay it down. But those experiences will serve him better moving forward.”
When Sunday was over, the Sox were sitting at 24-31, including an 11-21 record since the 13-10 start. Only four teams, including one from the American League, the Oakland Athletics, had worse records.
“You’ve got to keep working, keep your head up and work hard every day,” said right fielder Avisail Garcia, the Sox’ top All-Star candidate with a .330/.370/.532 hitting line, eight homers and 38 RBI. “We have another game tomorrow.”
“We definitely don’t quit,” shortstop Tim Anderson said.
That’s the mindset in the clubhouse — keep grinding — and Renteria went out of his way Sunday to applaud the team for its effort. Meanwhile, there are those who view trying hard and losing as a good thing in rebuilds, citing higher draft position.
But Renteria is pushing to win with what he has. He continues to emphasize “playing the game right” above all else, which means keeping mistakes to a minimum.
“They stand out when you’re not winning ballgames,’’ Renteria said. “For me, we want to play clean baseball. Make sure we address those things as often and quickly as we can.”
NOTES: Carlos Rodon (bursitis, upper biceps) is scheduled to make his first minor-league rehab start Tuesday for Class A Winston-Salem.
• The Sox were off Monday. When their road trip ends after three games at Tampa Bay and three at Cleveland, they will have played 38 on the road and 23 at home.
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