Veterans for Ventura: Additions a boost for lame-duck manager
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OAKLAND, Calif. — General manager Rick Hahn’s No. 1 offseason priority was to upgrade the worst offense in the American League.
Trades for infielders Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie and a handful of other moves later, that goal was checked off.
Manager Robin Ventura’s top spring-training priority was to bear down on defensive, baserunning and fundamental deficiencies without changing his style or demeanor and becoming a killjoy.
If the mood in the clubhouse and results on the field last month are an indicator — the White Sox’ spring execution probably deserved a B grade, and they posted their best spring record since 2003 — that goal also was checked off.
The Sox mashed spring-training home runs like never before, leading all of baseball with 51, and, among those on the 25-man Opening Day roster, five errors were committed over 31 games. They didn’t play flawless baseball, but overall it was clean. When it wasn’t, Ventura’s coaching staff went back to the field to get it right.
Or in some cases — with veterans Jimmy Rollins, Austin Jackson, Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro added to the roster along with Frazier and Lawrie — some “get it right” issues were handled promptly by the players.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with what’s going on,’’ third-base coach Joe McEwing said Saturday before the Sox left San Diego, after winning their last two preseason games, for Oakland to open the season. “Energy-wise and chemistry-wise in that clubhouse and on the field. It’s kind of like a ballet, everything working together. Everything is in sync.’’
McEwing said the best thing about this group is if a mistake is made, it gets fixed without delay.
“What’s great about these guys,’’ he said, ‘‘is if [it goes wrong on the field], they come in like, ‘We’ll straighten it out.’ They’re getting after it for 27 outs; it’s refreshing. We have such a great thing going on.’’
That’s what bringing in heady players such as Frazier, Avila and Rollins, to name three, can do.
“We made a lot of great [personnel] moves,’’ McEwing said. “The good thing is, there are individuals in there [nodding to the clubhouse] that will make everyone else accountable. It’s nice to see.’’
This is a good environment for Ventura, who’s running the show as a lame-duck manager in the last year of his contract and under the most scrutiny he has faced. Coming off three consecutive losing seasons, he knows he has to win now.
He hasn’t dodged any questions about being in the final year of his deal.
“It’s not like it’s a secret,’’ Ventura said. “Guys know it in [the clubhouse], but I don’t find myself trying to do things because it’s in my last year. That’s part of the job. Having been in the last year of a contract as a player, it helps doing this.’’
When he was hired before the 2012 season with no experience, he was viewed as a reluctant devotee to chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. What has developed since is a desire to continue managing and to make it work.
Ventura’s status “is what it is, but I enjoy doing this, and I’m not going to change that kind of enjoyment level, stop keeping it fun, just because it’s the last year of a contract. It’s unfair to do that to the team, to the players.’’
Veterans, to a man, while stopping short of rallying the troops for a “win it for Robin” campaign, respect him for how he treats them as a former player himself and, as Avila said, how he supplies the necessary preparation and environment “to win games.”
They know he’s under pressure.
“When you’re a manager that is expected to lead a team to a winning season and the playoffs, there is a lot of pressure,’’ said Avila, who added that Ventura “did a great job” navigating the clubhouse through the extraordinary Adam LaRoche retirement saga.
That was some kind of pressure, but it has been dealt with and checked off.
Now it’s on to the last item — to win games, starting Monday night.