GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Daryl Boston is so animated about the task manager Robin Ventura has asked him to perform, he has had to remind himself to calm down.
It seems there have been times when the first-year White Sox first-base coach gets so fired up about the aggressive base running approach he’s pushing at Ventura’s behest that his players have had to recommend he use his inside voice. The sentiment falls along these lines: ‘Dude, pitchers might intentionally throw at us if you continue to loudly encourage takeout slides at second base.’
Boston’s jubilation aside, White Sox players have offered little resistance to the team’s new blueprint on the base paths. The club doesn’t want, nor does it have the necessary parts, to become a 21st-century version of the Go Go Sox. Although there are limitations, Ventura and his staff want their capable base runners to push the pace in order to add another element to the offense.
“(Boston) has a voice that kind of stands out so you hear everything he says,” outfielder Dewayne Wise said. “Just the other day, it was funny, I was on first base and I guess a double play ball was hit and he’s going ‘Get him, get him.’ I told him, ‘Hey, DBo, you can’t be doing that during the season, you might get somebody hit.’ But it was all fun. It’s his first time being a big league coach and he’s very excited.”
The Sox train of thought is this: they need a way to jump-start the offense when it struggles.
They hope to avoid the 2-10 stretch they had in September, when a team that averaged 1.30 home runs per game hit nine in 12 games and scored 31 runs. The offense went through several other similar spells throughout the season and Ventura hopes those can be prevented by pushing the tempo on the bases.
“You can get stagnate if you sit there and not do anything,” Ventura said. “The other team needs to be aware we’re out there and we’ll take the base if we can get it.”
The White Sox did a fair job on the bases last season, but Boston thinks they can improve.
Though the team was 13th in the majors with 109 stolen bases, its 72 percent success rate was just below the league average, according to baseball-reference.com. The White Sox also had the fewest runners picked off (11) and made 54 outs on the bases -- one fewer than the league average.
But the club’s 127 bases advanced on fly balls, passed balls, wild pitches, balks and defensive indifference was nine shy of the Major League Baseball average and 54 behind the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who led the league.
The team’s extra bases percentage -- the number of times a runner advanced more than one base on a single and more than two bases on a double -- also fell short of the league average.
The staff believes if runners take an extra 90 feet, or wipe out a double play, it should lead to more at-bats for the middle of the order.
“If we can save an out by advancing or breaking up two or keeping the inning alive, you give (Paul) Konerko or (Adam) Dunn or (Alex) Rios another turn, that’s huge for us,” Boston said. “We have to try and get them as many turns as we can.”
The Sox have given their runners plenty of chances to practice. Since camp began, one group hits one day and the next they’re on the bases. They read balls off the bat, work to improve their secondary leads, watch balls in the dirt and study pitchers’ moves all in the hope they get comfortable before the season.
“When you work on it a lot it makes it that much easier in a game and guys are a lot more confident they can make it to the next base,” Wise said.
Although the roster isn’t blessed with burners, Wise and Boston see potential for strong base runners in Gordon Beckham, Jeff Keppinger, Alexi Ramirez, Alejandro De Aza and Alex Rios. Boston wants those players to always be on the alert and to look out for any opportunities to take an extra 90 feet.
“They’ve got enough speed to go first to third, to read the balls that barely kick away and balls in the dirt if they anticipate,” Boston said. “The main reason we don’t advance on balls in the dirt is we’re just not ready and when it happens it’s too late. You have to prepare before the pitch.”
Boston is excited because this style of base running wasn’t emphasized in his previous stints with the club. He’d love for his players to replicate the efforts of Rios, who broke up a double play in the team’s Sept. 17 win over the Detroit Tigers that allowed the White Sox to extend the inning and rally for a win.
Wise said Boston’s enthusiasm has carried over and players are on board with the idea just as long as it won’t result in fastballs thrown at their heads.
“(Wise) said I’m going to get in trouble,” Boston said with a smile. “That’s stuff I’m learning over at first base too, but that’s the mentality I’m trying to put in. We’ve got to keep it clean, but don’t let him turn. Let him know that we’re coming down there.”