GLENDALE, Ariz. — Monday is the first full-squad day of spring training, and Tony La Russa, even at 76, was sensing the excitement of it the day before.
“I was talking to a good friend this morning, an ex-manager, and we all understand when you get to manage in the major leagues that it’s exciting. It’s unique,” La Russa said Sunday. “For any of the 30 of us, there is an excitement that you’re getting, the prep work, that you can get ready for the first exhibition game and beginning of the season.”
La Russa has reiterated that, despite his three World Series rings and status as the third-winningest manager ever, he’s “starting at zero.” He knows he has a lot to prove because of his age and having been out of the dugout the last nine seasons.
One national columnist said La Russa is under more pressure this season than any manager in the game. Perhaps.
“When you manage in this league, you face pressure,” La Russa said.
But having a team built to win with World Series aspirations makes it fun, he said.
“It’s more exciting when you have a chance to win,” La Russa said. “I mean, this is the most fun you can have. And our staff, we’re all having fun. We’re looking forward to it.”
La Russa said he doesn’t like to identify starting pitchers as back-end-of-the-rotation guys because that day’s starter is your No. 1, but he acknowledged Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel and Lance Lynn as “our big three.”
In camp, competition is healthy.
“[It’s] the best thing for a young pitcher or player — Andrew Vaughn’s name can come up,’’ La Russa said. ‘‘The worst thing you can do for that guy is tell him he’s on the club. Best thing you can do for a young player is tell him there’s a competition, there’s other guys with talent that want to be there for the pitching and hitting, and at the end, you tell him who wins it. That’s what you’re going to have to do at the end of the season; you’re going to have to compete. So you don’t want to shield them and give away anything that’s too valuable to earn.”
Vaughn appears to have the inside track as the Opening Day designated hitter despite not having played above Class A.
La Russa, Katz ‘on same page’
Pitching coach Ethan Katz, 37, said he has been “on the same page” with every conversation with La Russa “since Day 1.’’
“Whether it’s how you evaluate things, this player that we might be trying to acquire, we’re talking through it,” Katz said. “This is what I’m thinking; what are you thinking? There’s been no hiccup. And hearing how he works and the detail that he focuses on absolutely aligns with what I’m about. So it’s been great.”
Anderson ‘as advertised’
Shortstop Tim Anderson “is exactly what the coaches have said about him,” La Russa said. “This guy has developed from a real talent into a real player. He does it by work. Doesn’t half-step anything on the defensive side or the hitting side. So he’s as advertised.
“The thing I like the best is he’s hungry, for the team and for himself, to keep proving that winning is the priority.”
Sunday, fun day
On the last day of pitchers and catchers, some friendly competitions, which also included position players, lightened up the morning and provided a break from the routine.
“These guys have been working really hard,” La Russa said.