Ventura leads White Sox into post-Ozzie era
CHICAGO (AP) - Ozzie Guillen is tweeting from South Florida these days and Mark Buehrle is pitching for him on the remade Miami Marlins.
Guillen, the face and often the opinionated voice of the Chicago White Sox for eight seasons, and Buehrle, their most durable pitcher for a decade, are gone.
Hello, Robin Ventura who was the surprise choice to manage a team that underachieved last season (79-83) and has lost its ace (Buehrle), its closer (Sergio Santos) and a top run producer often slowed by injuries in Carlos Quentin.
And Detroit, the defending AL Central champion with MVP and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, got even better by adding Prince Fielder to a lineup already featuring Miguel Cabrera.
Ventura, with a low-key approach and sense of humor, is eager for the challenge in his first managing job. And that's what it could really be.
"We still have the same goals,'' he said. "We're here to win games and we've got to figure out a way to do that. We're not going to concede anything to anybody.''
Veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who has caught at least 1,000 innings for 10 straight seasons, played against Ventura when the former third baseman's career was winding down after he spent the majority of it with the White Sox.
"I tried to get him out a whole bunch when he was with the Yankees and the Dodgers,'' Pierzynski said.
"It just means you're getting kind of old when guys you played with and against are now your manager. You treat him with respect. You know what he's done in this game, why he's there and what he's all about. ... Robin's done nothing but the right thing throughout his whole career, so he's the right guy.''
Ventura, like everyone else, is waiting to see if three players who spent most of 2011 in slumps - designated hitter Adam Dunn, right fielder Alex Rios (.227) and second baseman Gordon Beckham (.230) - can emerge and be the hitters they have been in the past.
Especially Dunn, who batted .159 with just 11 homers and 42 RBIs while fanning a club-record 177 times in his first season of a four-year, $56 million deal. He missed by a handful of plate appearances of having the lowest batting average in modern major league history for a non-pitcher.
Dunn had been a prolific run producer throughout his career in the NL but a switch of leagues and roles, from fielder to DH, went as badly as it possibly could. Dunn called it one of the most difficult experiences of his life. Fans and critics called it a lot of other things.
General manager Ken Williams said he's expecting Dunn to come back and be the player the White Sox thought they were getting to provide a big left-handed bat in a lineup with slugger Paul Konerko.
"I've never lost confidence in him. Sure, when you're watching day after day a guy struggle like he did, it is what it is, the reality slaps you in the face,'' Williams said early this spring. "If anybody can push aside some of the things that have happened and really see the aberration for what it is, it's him because he has such a long history.''
Chicago is counting on center fielder Alejandro De Aza (.329 in 54 games last season) to be productive in the leadoff spot after the departure of free agent Juan Pierre. And another new fixture in the outfield will be Dayan Viciedo, whose promise allowed the White Sox to trade two-time All-Star Quentin.
Konerko, at age 36, will be entering his 14th season with the White Sox. A year ago he batted .300 with 31 homers and 105 RBIs. He turned some heads early this spring when he said the White Sox could have a successful season, even if they don't reach the playoffs.
Konerko, whom Williams considered as a player-manager, was saying that if the White Sox put a plan in place and watch younger players like Beckham and third baseman Brent Morel develop, that will help them in the future.
"My point is if we go out and compete this year and it doesn't happen you see some other teams in the league, they kind of pick up the next year with that momentum they built from the year before and that's why I say it could be successful,'' Konerko said.
"I'm not conceding anything. ... especially there's another wild card spot.''
Lefty Chris Sale, the team's top draft choice in 2010, went right to the majors after 11 minor league games. He will try to make the transition from reliever to starter.
He joins a rotation that includes Jake Peavy, whose time with the White Sox has been slowed by injuries and a rare operation to repair a detached muscle near his shoulder. John Danks, who got a five-year, $65 million deal in the offseason, will try to replace Buehrle as the staff ace but was just 8-12 last season after an 0-8 start in which he didn't win until June. Gavin Floyd, the subject of persistent trade rumors after a 12-13 season, and Phil Humber, who made the team in spring training a year ago, round out the rotation.
With Santos, the converted infielder, surprisingly traded to Toronto after a 30-save season in his first year as full-time closer, Matt Thornton is the probable replacement. Thornton won the job a year ago in the spring and then had four blown saves in April before Santos took over. Jesse Crain was 8-3 with a 2.62 ERA in 67 games and lefty Will Ohman also returns to the bullpen.
"Chris Sale is as good as anybody I want to say I've ever played with as far as his raw physical talent. Throwing him in the rotation how he holds up is going to huge,'' Peavy said.
"Me pulling the weight I need to pull, it's going to be fun, we have the pieces here to win, it's just us showing up and doing it.''
AP freelance writer Sarah Trotto contributed to this report.