Manto knows there's a lot of work to be done

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Manto knows there's a lot of work to be done

By Jim Owczarski
CSNChicago.com

Playing nine years of major league baseball for eight teams, along with a stint in Japan, followed by two years as a hitting coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates and four years in the Chicago White Sox organization, Jeff Manto has seen pretty much everything in the game.

Yet on Oct. 31, 2011, Manto was put in a position he never quite imagined. It wasnt being named the Chicago White Sox hitting coach thats old hat.

It was being named to an assistant coaching position in a city where fans not only know who you are, but want to hear from you. They cheer and jeer you, and sometimes you have to bear an undue brunt of frustration if things go poorly and receive perhaps too much credit when things go well.

Its something the 47-year-old has had to acclimate himself to rather quickly.

Ive seen that you pick up the papers and see quotes from the pitching coach and the hitting coach and the infield coach and I thought that was unusual, he said following a coaching seminar Saturday afternoon at SoxFest. I like to stay out of the way. Its (manager) Robin (Venturas) team. Id rather him give all the answers. But, I also know the dynamic of the city and they want to hear from me, Ill give them answers.

He smiled.

They might get a better answer from Robin.

Manto steps into the role vacated by Greg Walker, a coach beloved by his players but one the fans turned on quickly and often during his eight year tenure.

Though Manto paid Walker tribute for his hard work and the players shouldered all the blame for a season in which the team hit .252 with 154 home runs, the man affectionately known as Walk resigned on the last day of the season.

Enter Manto, who walks into a situation where multiple players are coming off disastrous offensive seasons. Brent Morel hit .245. Gordon Beckham hit .230. Alex Rios hit .227 and Adam Dunn hit .159.

The pressure is already on.

"Bottom line, if we hit, we're competing in the division, general manager Kenny Williams said. If we don't, we won't. Period."

Manto brings some experience with many of the current regulars after spending the past four seasons in the organization as its minor league hitting coordinator. He worked with Beckham, Morel, Alejandro De Aza, Dayan Viciedo and backup catcher Tyler Flowers. He also is familiar Brent Lillibridge from their time in the Pirates organization.

I do have a real sense of what they do and what theyre trying to do, Manto said. With Rios and Dunn, they might be different hitters but its just talking to them, seeing where they are. I want them to give me information. I dont want to give them the information because I want to see what they have to say.

You just trust the track record. Thats the simple thing. A lot of people are saying this is going to be a real tough job but I dont look at that way. My experience doesnt accept that. You understand a track record is a track record and these guys are great. The job I have (is) to get them back a spot theyre comfortable.

To his credit, Manto is embracing the role as much as he can. He opened a hitting seminar on Saturday alongside Lillibridge and Dunn by making a joke as to how important he is to everyone. But in the end, he hopes to spend more time away from the camera lights and tape recorders.

Hopefully people understand that its Robins team, its Robins hitters and Im just an extension of what hes trying to do, he said.

Preview: White Sox turn to Latos vs. Twins tonight on CSN

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Preview: White Sox turn to Latos vs. Twins tonight on CSN

The White Sox take on the Minnesota Twins tonight, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Mat Latos vs. Ricky Nolasco

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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Erik Johnson struggles in rotation audition as White Sox fall to Red Sox

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Erik Johnson struggles in rotation audition as White Sox fall to Red Sox

The situation regarding the fifth spot in the White Sox rotation is still fluid after Erik Johnson made his first start on Thursday night.

When he announced Tuesday that John Danks would be designated for assignment, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said little is certain about the final spot in the rotation after the club parted with its struggling veteran pitcher.

The team’s next move is to be determined as the White Sox optioned Johnson back to Triple-A Charlotte after a 7-3 loss to the Boston Red Sox in front of 20, 126 at U.S. Cellular Field. Johnson retired seven of his last eight he faced, but not before he allowed four earned runs with eight hits and three walks in five innings.

“I felt like I found my rhythm there,” Johnson said. “I definitely -- I know I have more to offer for this team and I know I expect more out of myself.”

Not much looked easy for Johnson, who officially was promoted from Triple-A Charlotte earlier in the day.

After he struck out leadoff man Mookie Betts in the first, Dustin Pedroia homered on the first pitch he saw from Johnson. It would be a sign of things to come for Johnson, the 2015 International League pitcher of the year.

Johnson put two more men on in the first, including a walk to Hanley Ramirez, one of 16 combined free passes by the clubs. He put at least one runner on in four of the five innings worked and stranded six men in his first three frames alone as Boston built an early 4-1 lead.

The Red Sox forced Johnson to throw 81 pitches through three innings.

He pitched well in the fourth and fifth innings, which allowed the White Sox to rally. But the 108 pitches needed to complete those innings knocked him out early.

“It was a tough one to navigate through,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “Erik finally got his footing and got through it. But you’re looking at a high pitch count, he’s up over 100. It can be better.”

Hahn and the White Sox quickly moved on from Danks because they don’t want to see their chances of contending this season done in by a weak link in the rotation. Hahn said Tuesday he has several other options at Triple-A if Johnson’s first audition lasted one start.

The White Sox could again turn to Miguel Gonzalez, whom they signed early last month and has already made one start. He allowed five runs in Toronto on April 25 in a contest the White Sox eventually rallied to win.

The right-hander, who won 30 games for the Baltimore Orioles from 2012-14, last pitched on Wednesday night for Charlotte. He allowed two runs and eight hits in 5 2/3 innings with seven strikeouts and has a 2.65 ERA in 17 innings for the Knights. Gonzalez has 18 strikeouts and only four walks.

The club could also call upon Jacob Turner, who has a 3.04 ERA in five starts at Charlotte. But Turner has struggled in his past two outings, allowing seven earned runs and 12 hits in 9 2/3 innings.

If the White Sox -- whose fifth starters are 0-5 with a 7.44 ERA in 32 2/3 innings -- aren’t satisfied with their internal options, Hahn said they’d consider external ones, too.

The White Sox offense had plenty of chances against Henry Owens and an entourage of Boston relievers to earn the win.

But the big hit avoided them every time.

Jose Abreu grounded into a double play in the first with runners on the corners and no outs, a play which tied the game as Adam Eaton scored from third. Abreu also struck out with two on in the third and and Melky Cabrera and Brett Lawrie couldn’t come through later in the inning with the bases loaded.

Avisail Garcia’s solo shot in the fourth got the White Sox within 4-2. But Abreu flew out to left with the bases loaded to end the threat.

Hector Sanchez drew a bases-loaded walk in the fifth to make it a one-run game. But Lawrie was thrown out at home on Austin Jackson’s one-out fly to shallow right -- a call Robin Ventura contested because he believed Ryan Hanigan improperly blocked home plate. Replay officials disagreed with Ventura and the White Sox trailed by a run.

Red Sox relievers retired 12 of the last 14 men they faced and Boston scored three times off the White Sox bullpen to pull away.

“Obviously, I beat the throw,” Lawrie said. “Yeah, he blocked me.

“I thought I was in there because I got through him. Yep, just one of those things again.

“(They made) pitches when they needed to. But that’s how baseball goes sometimes. So gotta suck it up and move on to tomorrow.”

White Sox say farewell to David Ortiz: 'There will never be another one like him'

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White Sox say farewell to David Ortiz: 'There will never be another one like him'

He has been described as a pain in the ass, one of a kind, a great hitter and RBI man and a dynamic player, one they’d love to never face again.

Yet you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the White Sox clubhouse who thinks baseball will be better off without David Ortiz, who is playing in his final regular season at U.S. Cellular Field on Thursday night.

Ortiz, who homered for the Boston Red Sox and drove in three runs in a Wednesday night victory, announced before the season that 2016 would be his final one. Prior to Thursday’s contest, the White Sox presented Ortiz with cigars and a humidor as a retirement gift.

“I personally believe there will never be another one like him,” White Sox catcher Dioner Navarro said. “He was literally out of baseball and then he figured stuff out, he did it and he’s been nothing but wonderful to the game.”

Ortiz has been one of the sport’s most popular figures for nearly a decade — unless you’re an opposing pitcher. Carlos Rodon learned on Wednesday night what Ortiz, 40, can do to mistake fastballs, a lesson previously learned by 508 pitching victims.

Somehow, White Sox closer David Robertson has never surrendered a homer to Ortiz despite facing him 15 times in his career. Robertson has got the best of a majority of their meetings, holding Ortiz to a .214/.267/.286 slash line with only three hits in 14 at-bats. But it doesn’t make it easier when they do battle, Robertson said.

“He’s been a pain in the ass,” Robertson said. “He’s been that powerful left-handed bat that you just don’t want to see late in the game. He’s been an exceptional hitter who’s smart in the box. He’s just a deadly threat every time he comes to the plate.

“I just feel like it’s a dog fight every time I face him. He knows everything I’ve got and I know where he can hit it. I hope I come out on top.”

White Sox reliever Zach Duke has only faced Ortiz three times. But he knows the book on Ortiz and has even more respect after “Big Papi” dribbled a run-scoring single through a vacated hole in the White Sox shift on Wednesday night for an insurance run. Duke could see that Ortiz wanted to hit the ball to the left side earlier in the at-bat. So the left-hander tried to get a fastball inside on Ortiz’s quick hands and the slugger still managed to get inside of the pitch enough to bounce it into left field.

“He’s going to take what you give him in those situations because he wants the RBI,” Duke said. “He’s got that kind of ability to exploit whatever defenses give him. I could tell he was trying to do it on the breaking ball before it, he was even trying to shoot that the other way. I’m like ‘All right, I need to give him the heater’ and he got inside of that still. Tip my hat.”

But the bat is only part of Ortiz’s lure.

He’s not just a great player, one who has helped the Red Sox win three World Series titles. Players think Ortiz is a fantastic spokesperson and ambassador for baseball because he clearly enjoys the game and it shows.

White Sox manager Robin Ventura agreed with that assessment, noting baseball is better off in part because of Ortiz.

“He’s been a dynamic player, another case for a (designated hitter) who’s going to make it into the Hall of Fame because he’s had such an impact on every game he’s been in, in the lineup, where he’s at, playoff games, clutch moments,” Ventura said. “All those things and the Boston Strong thing. He can speak, too. He’s had a lot of important moments in Boston. It transcends a lot of things in our game.

“He means a lot of things to a lot of people.”