GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) The stark reminder of how far the Chicago White Sox fell last season was on a wall behind Chris Sale as he fielded questions in a hallway at the team’s spring training complex.
There was a large photo from the team’s championship rally in 2005. Last season, they looked as though they were light years from a title.
Pitchers and catchers reported and conducted their first workouts on Saturday, hoping to put aside last year’s 99-loss nightmare and make a jump in the AL Central after going from second to the bottom of the division.
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”I thought we were going to be much better last year, too,” Sale said. ”But numbers on paper don’t mean anything. You’ve got to put it on the field. Unfortunately we weren’t able to do that. But in 2014 our sights are back on that, and we’ve got to keep rolling with it. Hopefully things bounce our way this year.”
Between their poor hitting and poor fielding, little went right for the White Sox. The 99 losses were their most since the 1970 team dropped 106.
As bad as things were, Chicago believes it is poised for a relatively quick rebound thanks to a rotation led by Sale and a series of moves that began last summer.
The White Sox acquired Avisail Garcia from Detroit in the deal that sent Jake Peavy to Boston and continued to retool in the offseason. Cuban slugger Jose Abreu is in the fold after signing a six-year, $68-million deal, and his development will be one of the biggest stories this season.
There is also Paul Konerko taking a victory lap, serving as sort of a player-coach after agreeing to return on a one-year deal rather than retire or play elsewhere.
The closer spot is open after Addison Reed got traded to Arizona for third-base prospect Matt Davidson. Nate Jones is the early front-runner, although general manager Rick Hahn said he has a mild to moderate strain in one of his glute muscles and will be sidelined a few days.
There are also competitions at catcher between Tyler Flowers and Josh Phegley, and at third with Davidson in a crowd that includes Jeff Keppinger and Conor Gillaspie.
”It makes camp more interesting and gives you guys a little bit more to write,” Hahn said. ”It makes the games a little bit more meaningful than in a normal spring when things are already set. It prepares guys for whether they make the club at the start or get called up midway through the year, they are used to playing under a little bit more pressure with a little bit more at stake.
”As a result, for the long term, everyone will be better served from that.”
How it all comes together remains to be seen, particularly in the wake of one of the most dreadful seasons in club history. The White Sox are counting on Garcia to build on the promise he has shown, and for Abreu to inject some pop into a lineup that struggled in a big way a year ago.
They also need to hang onto the ball after experiencing a deep drop on defense, going from first to 29th in the majors in fielding percentage.
John Danks’ performance is also something else to watch.
A 15-game winner in 2010, Danks got a late start coming off shoulder surgery and never really regained his full arm strength. The result was a 4.75 ERA in 22 starts.
”It’s a fresh start,” he said.
For him and the team.
”Here’s the thing,” Hahn said. ”It’s already a different approach and an attitude, not just here today, which was a short day but a good day. But over the last several weeks running up to camp, talking to players about the opportunities that lie ahead and talking to staff about opportunity, we have to build something as a group that’s ideally leading to an extended run of success at the big league level.”
NOTES: Hahn said Jones’ problem cropped up about seven to 10 days earlier. … Hahn also said reliever Ronald Belisario was having visa issues getting out of Venezuela. The White Sox expect to have a better idea by Wednesday or Thursday about when he will arrive.