What’s the vibe in ChiSox clubhouse?
White Sox general manager Ken Williams doesn’t want to compare his new manager, Robin Ventura, to his old one, Ozzie Guillen. No, Williams is moving forward, talking about the present, not the past.
A rival executive takes a less diplomatic view, saying that Guillen was an “inefficiency” who prevented the White Sox from reaching their full potential. Things certainly are quieter under Ventura, who has yet to say anything about Fidel Castro or even Starlin Castro. And the Sox are 5-3 after winning two of three from the mighty Tigers.
C’mon, Ken, it’s a different vibe, isn’t it?
“You know, it’s really difficult for me to (say) that and not have people make comparisons to what was last year and the year before,” Williams said. “I’m trying to be as cognizant of that and respectful as I can. I want to answer everyone’s questions. But at the same time, people want to make that correlation. The comparison is not fair.
“All I care about is the team doing what we have to do to win. We have to play better fundamentally across the board to have any hope of competing with the Tigers in our division. We have a talented team. Some people have missed that a little bit. Amidst all the stuff going on, we have some talented players.”
Talented players going about things properly.
The White Sox are scoring only four runs per game, ahead of only the Mariners, Twins and Athletics in the American League. They’re striking out at a higher rate than any team in the AL. But they’re fourth in the league with a 3.34 ERA, and overall, Williams likes what he sees.
“We’ve faced a good Texas team, a good Detroit team. They pitch, especially the Texas team,” Williams said. “I expected slow starts offensively, but as I told Robin, we could have lost all three games in Texas (instead of two) and I would have sent him the same message: I like the fight that I am seeing.
“Guys are grinding away at-bats. Even with the strikeouts, they’re working counts, fouling off tough pitches against tough pitchers, giving themselves up to move runners. Good old-fashioned baseball.
“There is little margin for error for us. We’re like those Minnesota Twins teams that beat our team when we were more talented. Every time I go to Minnesota and I look up at those division banners, I think we had a better team that year and that year and that year – talent-wise. But they won.
“How did they win? That’s something Robin and I talked about the very first day when we talked about him taking the job. They committed to it. They committed to being a good and fundamentally sound team.”
The White Sox finally are making the same commitment.
Draw your own conclusions.
FIRST MEA CULPA OF 2012?
Well, I still don’t like when teams hire managers who lack previous managing or coaching experience; the job, in my view, is too difficult for a novice.
Yet, even at this early stage, Ventura and the Cardinals’ Mike Matheny appear ready to prove me wrong, in part because I failed to appreciate unique qualities that both men share.
As one rival executive points out, both Ventura and Matheny were accomplished players who enjoyed long careers. Their respective experiences provide both with a certain calmness; managing will not define who they are.
Williams points out something else that I missed – both Ventura and Matheny played in the cities where they now manage. They understand the fan base, the expectations. In turn, people know who they are, what they’re about.
Matheny benefits from inheriting such a professional roster, Ventura from being the anti-Ozzie. I’m sure both will make rookie mistakes. But my initial analysis was incomplete, and quite possibly incorrect.
METS CREATING NEW PERSPECTIVE
The Mets’ party line all spring was that the team might be better than people think. Few bought the argument as the club stumbled to a 9-20 record in the Grapefruit League. But Mets officials believed that some of their veterans would bounce back and some of their youngsters would emerge as solid major leaguers.
Sure enough, that is exactly what happened as the Mets opened with a 6-3 record against three quality division opponents – the Braves, Nationals and Phillies.
The Mets’ 2.48 ERA is second in the NL only to the Nats’ 1.99 mark. Left-hander Johan Santana and third baseman David Wright are off to strong starts, as are two younger players, shortstop Ruben Tejada and center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis.
Once first baseman Ike Davis, right fielder Lucas Duda and left fielder Jason Bay start to hit more consistently – “if” is the more appropriate word for Bay – the offense could be formidable.
“We’ve played 5 percent of the season,” general manager Sandy Alderson said. “But we’re hoping with what happened over the first 10 days or so, people will begin to see the potential of this team differently than they did in spring training.
“. . . It may be that the other distractions surrounding the Mets before spring training and going into spring training – the Madoff situation, the uncertainty of minority investors, the reduction of payroll – all of these things conspired, if you will, to color the general consensus of the team as opposed to a straight baseball evaluation.
“I don’t know. Our spring training record didn’t help. But we are and hopefully our fans are beginning to have a different take on this team than they did a month and six weeks ago.”
As usual, there has been no shortage of ninth-inning trauma to start the season. Consider the early issues of some big-name closers who joined new teams.
*Ryan Madson, Reds: Tommy John surgery, out for season.
*Andrew Bailey, Red Sox: Right-thumb surgery, out 3 to 4 months.
*Heath Bell, Marlins: 0-for-2 in save opportunities.
*Joe Nathan, Rangers: Two blown saves, each coming on the second day of back-to-back appearances. (Nathan succeeded in such a situation Sunday, pitching a 1-2-3 ninth for the save against the Twins.
“What a crapshoot,” one exec says. “And you wonder why teams want to put (Neftali) Feliz, (Chris) Sale, (Daniel) Bard, etc., in the rotation.”
THE AMAZING CHIPPER
Perception doesn’t always match reality in baseball, but the facts support that Braves third baseman Chipper Jones often comes off the disabled list with a bang.
Jones, 39, has hit remarkably well throughout his career in his first game after a DL stint, batting .404/.442/.745 in 52 plate appearances, according to STATS LLC – and producing five home runs and 12 RBIs in 12 games.
To think, those numbers do not include performances such as Sunday’s, when Jones hit a three-run homer after missing two games due to fluid around his surgically repaired left knee.
Call it a gift, a knack, an ability to rise to the occasion.
Jones still has it.
DARVISH: WORK IN PROGRESS
A scout who saw Rangers right-hander Yu Darvish against the Twins on Saturday was not especially impressed.
“He’s going to give up a ton of hits,” the scout said. “A lot of his fastballs are very straight. The guy is supposed to throw hard. But he basically pitched at 89 to 92, touching 93-94. That’s pretty good in Japan. It’s not very good here.
“He has a good cutter, a good curveball. But when he gets in trouble, he turns into a breaking-ball guy – nibble, nibble, he won’t let it go. He reminded me of Dice-K.”
Darvish’s results in his first two starts – 17 hits allowed in 11 1/3 innings, nine strikeouts, eight walks – support the scout’s contentions.
Darvish, however, noted after Saturday’s game that he is still adjusting to the majors, and the Rangers believe his stuff and performance will improve once he settles into a routine and develops a better feel for what he wants to achieve.
He certainly is capable of better – he struck out 11 in six innings March 30 in a Cactus League game against the Rockies.
“I think it’s safe to say that Mr. Darvish was as advertised,” Rockies manager Jim Tracy said that day. “Tremendous arm speed, a great mix or pitches, pitches to both side of the plate.”
THE ROCKIES: TEAM IN TRANSITION
The Rockies’ wobbly start is not exactly a surprise, given the inexperience of some of their starting pitchers. But this is a team that could improve in the second half and emerge as a force in 2013.
The expected return of lefty Jorge De La Rosa from Tommy John surgery could give the Rockies a post-All-Star rotation of righties Jeremy Guthrie, Jhoulys Chacin and Juan Nicasio and lefties De La Rosa and Drew Pomeranz (and yes, maybe lefty Jamie Moyer still could fit, too)
At that point, the Rockies also would have three other potential starters stashed at Triple-A – right-handers Tyler Chatwood and Alex White and lefty Christian Friedrich – as well as several other promising youngsters close to making an impact.
Catcher Wilin Rosario, outfielder/first baseman Tyler Colvin and lefty reliever Rex Brothers could assume more prominent roles as the season progresses, and Double A third baseman Nolan Arenado and shortstop/second baseman Josh Rutledge could push for major-league jobs.
Not everything will go according to plan; not every young player will follow an upward path. Still, the Rockies could win 80 games and consider their season a success if enough of their youngsters show progress.
VICTOR: ADDING TO THE MAYHEM IN MOTOWN?
It’s a little early for the Tigers to count on Victor Martinez, but his potential return in late August could leave manager Jim Leyland with a fascinating lineup decision.
Bat the switch-hitter Martinez fifth, behind the right-handed Miguel Cabrera and left-handed Prince Fielder? Or put him between the two to make it even more difficult for opposing managers to match up their relievers, knowing Martinez’s career splits are fairly even?
The only negative to Martinez’s return is that the Tigers would become even slower and less athletic. Andy Dirks, their most frequent DH thus far, is an average runner, which on the Tigers makes him look like Jose Reyes.
MORE REDS ABOUT TO GET PAID
Rival executives still can’t figure out how the Reds will manage their future payrolls.
The team not only committed a combined $297.5 million to first baseman Joey Votto and second baseman Brandon Phillips, but traded three prospects and righty Edinson Volquez for right-hander Mat Latos, who is eligible for arbitration for the first time next off-season.
Center fielder Drew Stubbs, right-hander Mike Leake, outfielder Chris Heisey and right-handed reliever Logan Ondrusek also will be first-time eligibles in 2012-13, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts.
AROUND THE HORN
* I wrote extensively about the Angels’ last-minute push to sign free-agent left-hander C.J. Wilson on Saturday, but the team also made all the right moves early.
The Angels were the first team to call Wilson on the first day of free agency. They also impressed him by taking him to the exclusive Soho House restaurant in West Hollywood. Wilson does not eat dairy or chicken, and he said the Angels were attuned to his dietary preferences.
“They were really on it,” he said.
* The Dodgers are 9-1 in part because they’re 6-1 against the hapless Padres. But in a way, the Dodgers’ play is merely an extension of how they finished last season, when they went 45-28 after July 6.
“We’ve limited our mistakes,” general manager Ned Colletti said. “It might be the best I’ve seen us, especially defensively, in a long time.”
* The White Sox bullpen looks like a force even following the trade of closer Sergio Santos to the Blue Jays for a highly regarded prospect, right-hander Nestor Molina.
The bullpen, third in the AL in ERA, includes three rookies – left-hander Hector Santiago and righties Addison Reed and Nate Jones – and another relatively inexperienced pitcher, righty Zach Stewart.
“For 12 years, we’ve put together a solid pitching staff in a small ballpark,” GM Ken Williams said. “We’ve got a little bit of history. We kind of know what we’re doing. But unless people prove it, nobody gives you the benefit of the doubt. Now we’re at least showing enough early on to get the benefit of the doubt.”
* Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who managed Miguel Cabrera with the Marlins in 2006, is among those who are confident that the Tigers’ slugger will succeed at third base.
“If he can figure it out, he’s going to figure it out,” Girardi said. “He’s one of the smarter players I’ve been around.”
* The Rangers won’t exactly lack for options if Joe Nathan falters in the closer’s role.
Right-handers Mike Adams and Alexi Ogando have combined to allow two runs in 12 1/3 innings, striking out 10, walking none.
Adams has thrown 74 of his 98 pitches for strikes (76 percent), Ogando 63 of 88 (72 percent).
The Texas relievers have combined for 24 strikeouts and just one walk.
* A scout had an interesting take on Orioles catcher Matt Wieters, who is starting to look like a perennial All-Star:
“He must be a guy people like,” the scout said. “Throw it down the middle to him with two strikes, and if he takes it, the umpires call it a ball. They give him pitches at the plate. And he gets pitches for his pitchers.”
* And finally, Phillies lefty Cole Hamels has allowed 14 hits, including two homers, in 12 1/3 innings, but here’s the statistic that stands out most as he heads toward free agency: 19 strikeouts, one walk.