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Sox manager Rick Renteria — on the defensive — could use pick-me-up himself

OAKLAND, Calif. — As the White Sox stumbled and staggered through a partially frozen, entirely winless road trip through Minneapolis and Oakland that left them at 4-11 — their worst record through 15 games in 21 seasons — manager Rick Renteria preached a consistent message to his coaches:

‘‘Hey, let’s keep picking these guys up.’’

Positive reinforcement only can help a team whose starting pitching has been a woolly adventure, whose bullpen has few definitive answers and whose lineup has failed to come through at the plate in one clutch situation after another.

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White Sox manager Rick Renteria is trying to hold his 4-11 team together. (AP)

In many respects, these are the Sox we expected. They are, after all, young and rebuilding.

And this is the job Renteria signed up for — to steer the ship through unfriendly waters until a beacon of light guides it toward a future of real promise.

Renteria leans on a similar metaphor.

‘‘There are times when maybe we can grow frustrated as a team, the players, whatever the situations might be, but we have to remain positive,’’ he said. ‘‘Whether you’re a veteran or a rookie, you go through these moments. Try not to let the frustration get to you. Know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but you have to know how to get to the end of the tunnel. And that’s usually through routine and work.’’

But holding steady despite a run of negative results — none worse than the last game in Oakland, when the Sox blew a 9-4 lead and lost 12-11 in 14 innings — is a challenge for all involved. That includes the 56-year-old, ever-smiling manager, who has, intentionally or not, gone on the defensive.

Rarely one to talk about himself, Renteria has kept his public focus on his players, accentuating the positive wherever possible. Yet he repeatedly has attempted to head off criticism of his team at the pass — three times in Oakland alone, unprompted by any whiff of an
attack from the media.

‘‘I’ll defend every single one of my guys in that [locker] room,’’ he said after the first of three losses to the A’s, an 8-1 game in which the Sox committed four errors. ‘‘But today wasn’t a pretty game.’’

Twenty-four hours later, after a 10-2 loss, Renteria doubled down.

‘‘I’ll take every single one of those guys in that room right now every single day, win, lose or draw,’’ he said. ‘‘We’ll fix what needs to be fixed.’’

And then came Wednesday, a game the Sox were in prime position to win after a grand slam by Yoan Moncada gave them an early 6-1 lead. After nearly six hours of baseball, Renteria was agitated and then some.

‘‘You can bleep it,’’ he said, leaning forward in his chair in the visiting manager’s office for emphasis, ‘‘but my [expletive] guys showed a lot of balls today in this loss.’’

And now the whole gang is back home for three games, starting Friday, against the defending world champion Astros. After that is a three-game set against the Mariners. Combined, the teams are 22-15.

Who says there’s no pressure on the Sox in a season in which they widely were picked to finish last in the American League Central? And who says there’s no pressure on Renteria?

There’s bad, then there’s awkwardly bad — and we don’t know yet which these Sox are going to be.

There’s also a chance they’ll be surprisingly good or at least pleasantly OK. As Renteria says, it’s still early. But the tension is mounting.