Team captain Paul Konerko made the saying popular in the White Sox clubhouse back in 2008: “F feelings, it’s about winning.”
Not only has manager Ozzie Guillen made that his personal mantra, but wants his entire organization to eat and sleep it.
So if feelings were hurt when questions of conditioning were brought up with several pitchers over the last year, well, it’s on those individuals to make sure those questions can’t come up again.
“Lack of conditioning, lack of preparation makes cowards of us all,” pitching coach Don Cooper insisted on Thursday. “We’re going to make sure that conditioning and preparation is getting done.”
What Cooper did go out of his way to point out, however, was that the rule applies for his entire pitching staff – from the minor leaguers to the likes of veterans like Freddy Garcia. Jake Peavy and Mark Buehrle.
Conditioning concerns have been a sore subject since this past spring, when Buehrle felt that Cooper and Guillen were taking shots at him for showing up to camp with very few throws under his wing in the offseason.
Then Guillen called out Jenks near the end of the ’09 season, specifically that Jenks needed to be in better shape come 2010, leading to the closer expressing some displeasure with the club in an October interview with MLB.com.
One of the two seems to have gotten the message.
After a first half in which he went 9-3 with a 3.66 ERA, Buehrle threw his historic perfect game on July 23, before the floor then seemed to drop out. Going 2-7 with a 4.78 ERA in 13 starts after that perfecto was enough of a wake-up call where Buehrle is now getting proactive with his conditioning this offseason, specifically a shoulder strengthening program.
“Buehrle was physically in good shape last spring,” Cooper explained. “Where I was wrong with what I said [in camp] was that I needed to consider that every time he picked up a ball in the offseason [his shoulder] was barking. I could see why he didn’t want to throw with that discomfort. What he’s doing now is looking into a program near his home where he can strengthen his shoulder.
“No one said Buehrle was fat, slow and out of shape. We needed to make sure his shoulder was addressed. Things are in place to now do that. That will enable him, as well as how we handle him this season, to stay strong.”
Jenks, well, that might be a different story.
Cooper is yet to sit down and talk to the right-hander about offseason expectations, but will soon. Board chairman Jerry Reinsdorf let the players know his feelings on the topic, telling them in a team meeting late in the year that they had better show up in shape.
“The players have to take some pride,” Cooper said. “The best motivation for anyone ready to go in spring comes from inside.
“We’re asking Bobby to raise the bar. Bobby is a big dude that sometimes may look like he’s not in shape. He needs to raise the bar. I tell them all, ‘I need you in the best shape of your life come spring training, physically and mentally.’ We’re challenging these guys.
“If we’re not looking to improve, what are we doing? We’re standing still then. We’re raising the bar for everyone. We’re not trying to hurt people. The words are ‘Hey, we need you ready for the grind.’ If one guy is behind the curve … we need everybody. These words are not to bust chops or hurt you. We want this taken care of, no matter who it is.
“Success, everyone has to pay a certain price – some higher than others because they aren’t as physically gifted. I fill like the Sox pitching staff has represented itself well over the years, now we’re asking them to raise the bar. Plus, you know you’re prepared for the season because you pushed yourself to level that you never did before.”
Jenks had been the subject of trade rumors heading into the winter, especially because he stands to make $7-$8 million in arbitration. So he was already under a microscope.
General manager Ken Williams has all but put a moratorium on any Jenks trade talk. So how exactly will this end?
“When they all walk through those doors this spring,” Cooper added, “we want everything behind them, everything. We want one focus, and that’s winning the game that day.”