With ‘extremely high’ expectations in 2023, White Sox quickly put to test

The Sox open a tough April with a four-game series against the champion Astros.

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White Sox general manager Rick Hahn talks about spring training and the expectations for 2023 at Minute Maid Park on Wednesday.

White Sox general manager Rick Hahn talks about spring training and the expectations for 2023 at Minute Maid Park on Wednesday.

Chicago White Sox

HOUSTON — Manager Pedro Grifol recently told reporters he was too immersed in spring training to even care about the White Sox’ April schedule.

“I can’t tell you who we play past Pittsburgh [next weekend],” Grifol said. “I can’t, I don’t even know. I know we got Houston, San Francisco [at home next week], Pittsburgh. Right? I don’t know who we got after that. I have no idea.”

Chances are, Grifol has looked it over by now. And it doesn’t look easy. And it starts with the World Series champion Astros, who clobbered the Sox in the postseason two years ago. It’s a four-game series, too, starting with the season opener Thursday (6:08 p.m., ESPN, 1000-AM) at loud and louder Minute Maid Park with a national TV audience watching.

And so the Sox, bent on washing away the distaste of a .500 season that no one wanted to watch in 2022, turn the page under the new management of Grifol, getting put to the test right away. It’s almost like taking a final exam the first week of class when everyone else is taking a quiz.

“Look, we have a tough April,” general manager Rick Hahn said Wednesday after the Sox participated in an optional workout at empty, quiet — for now — Minute Maid. “We have the defending champs now to start. This is obviously a very tough place to play for anyone. We have the National League champs [Phillies April 17-19] and we also go to Tampa and Toronto, which are tough places to play. Honestly, we all view that as a big positive because right off the bat we’re going to be challenged. We’re going to be tested.”

Small sample sizes and knee-jerk reactions being what they are, the difference between going 3-1 or 1-3 against the Astros will be huge. The Sox won’t say it, but they’d probably take 2-2 right now.

“The more important thing is how competitive we are here on a nightly basis,” Hahn said.

But feeling confident the process under Grifol worked in spring training, with focused and energetic players buying in and strategic decisions “where we need them to be,” allows Hahn to eagerly look forward to seeing what it looks like right away.

Hahn said the Sox’ expectations for 2023 are “extremely high.”

“We know what this team is capable of doing,” he said. “We know we have something to prove. Last year . . . maybe [there] was a thought that if you just throw the bats and balls out there, we’ll still win this division. Now there’s a bunch of guys in there with chips on their shoulders.”

That chairman Jerry Reinsdorf was on board with eating sunk cost by letting go of Leury Garcia and the $11 million owed him over the next two seasons was appreciated by Hahn, who said it underscored Reinsdorf’s desire to win.

Reinsdorf and the front office did not, however, have a desire to bring back Jose Abreu, who, at 36, signed with the Astros for three years and $58 million.

“It’s like seeing Jordan in a Wizards uniform,” Hahn said. “It still looks weird to me to this day.”

The page has been turned. The lineup had minor injury concerns late in camp with first baseman Andrew Vaughn, Abreu’s replacement, and third baseman Yoan Moncada having lower-back issues. But they are ready.

Dylan Cease, second in Cy Young voting, pitches against Houston’s Framber Valdez (fifth in voting), whose left-handedness probably delays the anticipated starting debut of rookie right fielder Oscar Colas for a day.

“We have to control what we can control,” Grifol said. “And that’s getting prepared to play [Thursday] night. You can’t win a championship in the spring, but you can certainly lose one. And I’ll say this now: You can’t win a championship in April, but you can certainly lose one.”

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