Sox Drawer: Robin ready to rock

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Sox Drawer: Robin ready to rock

By now youve likely heard the criticisms of Robin Ventura managing the Chicago White Sox. Hes heard them too. Theyre tough to ignore.

One, hes never managed. Two, hes never even coached.

Well, thats not entirely true. Two years ago, Ventura actually was a coach -- at the White Sox Fantasy Baseball Camp in Glendale, Ariz.

People say that Ventura doesnt have a sharp tongue like Ozzie Guillen? Heres what Robin said when I asked him about his rag-tag team of seniors who paid thousands of dollars to play in the camp, but couldnt win a game.

We were terrible," he said. "We were not just no good. We were terrible.

So if Ventura couldnt inspire a collection of athletically challenged baseball players between the ages of 40 and 70, what makes him think he can suddenly lead a real major league team, and into the playoffs no less?

Well for one, the fantasy campers couldnt catch. They couldnt catch or even hit, so I was at a disadvantage from the start, Ventura said laughing. Now I feel like I have a foot in the right direction with the squad that we have here.

But lets not kid ourselves. That foot has an extremely large shoe to fill.

Hes taking over for Guillen, who might be long gone in Miami, but his voice is still echoing at U.S. Cellular Field. His words were so memorable, theyre permanently embedded in the rafters.

Guillen also won a World Series title for the White Sox, the only manager alive who can say that.

But while they are both vastly different on the surface, Ventura and Guillen are almost twins when it comes to their approaches to the game. Theyre cut from the same cloth, brought up in a White Sox organization that stressed the importance of playing the game one way -- the right way.

There are parts of baseball that Ozzie and I both had instilled in us early in our careers that are very similar in the way we do things here, Ventura said in an interview following his Tuesday press conference. We do appreciate guys who play hard and we expect that. Theres no other way around it.

Ventura might have the look of a laid-back surfer who would prefer to hang 10 than to play nine, but inside that belly of his is a competitive fire that burns, and has been known to boil. Just ask some of his former teammates, like Frank Thomas, who not only heard but felt the wrath of Ventura when he believed they werent giving 100 percent of themselves to the team.

I took it personally when guys didnt come out and do what they were supposed to or back a teammate or play hard as theyre supposed to, Ventura said. And thats something that our team is going to understand about me. Im going to come every day with the same attitude, the same personality. Whats expected is not going to be a shock.

Speaking to reporters last week, Williams said that he wants Ventura to have his own voice, and to challenge the Sox GM whenever he feels necessary.

One day into the job, does Ventura have the comfort level to stand up to his boss when conflict arrives?

Youre going to have disagreements, Ventura said. It may not be like the same as the ones he had before with Guillen. But I have beliefs just like anybody else. Our staff is going to have beliefs. And thats going to be something that if I dont agree with something hes doing, Im going to tell him that. It doesnt mean Im going to scream and yell, but hes going to understand that I dont agree with whats going on.

The Detroit Tigers beat the White Sox by 16 games to win the Central Division. But that gap is nothing compared to the difference in experience between the two skippers. Jim Leyland has managed 1,716 games in his career; Ventura 0.

So when the fans and media criticize Ventura as being a managing neophyte whos in over his head, he understands where theyre coming from.

I get it. I totally get it, Ventura said about his lack of coaching experience. But just because they say it, doesnt mean its true.

Just ask anyone who played for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2003 and 2004, Venturas last two seasons as a player in the big leagues. His teammates had a special nickname for him.

What was it?

It was ploach.

Which meant?

Player-coach, Ventura said modestly. I dont know if it was about my age. I was at the end of my career. I was the oldest guy on the team, but it stuck early in spring training and I had it for the whole year.

At the time, Ventura might not have seen himself as a manager, but everyone else did.

Of all the players I played with, he would be my No. 1 choice to manage a team, tweeted former Dodger teammate Shawn Green soon after Ventura was hired.

As for the perception that Ventura had to be talked into the job? First, that didnt happen and second, who in their right mind would sign up to be the White Sox new manager with all the pressure of replacing Guillen, dealing with the media pressure and taking over a struggling team if they werent 100 percent certain that they wanted the job, and felt deep down that they could succeed?

It wasnt like, Hey lets just take a shot at it, because no organization is going to go into a season and waste one full year on a guy who says, Well, lets see how it goes, said Ventura. Thats not how Im going into this. Im going to work hard until I get to spring training having everything I need to have ready to go.

For the last 20 years, it seems like wherever Ventura goes hes reminded of the infamous night when he charged the mound against Nolan Ryan and received a round of noogies to the head from the Hall of Fame pitcher. Coincidentally, Ventura will make his managerial debut next season in Texas, where Ryan is now the teams president.

Its going to be great, Ventura said, rolling his eyes. I think there might have been 500,000 people in the stadium when that happened because everyone says they were at the game.

Among those in attendance was a teenage ballplayer dreaming of the big leagues.

Paul Konerko was actually at that game, Ventura said.

How about that little nugget?

Konerko was with a traveling baseball team that got to meet the White Sox third baseman before the game.

What did Ventura talk to them about?

Sportsmanship.

I guess you never know where life will take you. Ventura knows that ... from experience.

Chuck Garfien hosts White Sox Pregame and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet with former Sox slugger Bill Melton.

White Sox grieve Jose Fernandez's death along with rest of MLB

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White Sox grieve Jose Fernandez's death along with rest of MLB

CLEVELAND -- Whether they knew him or not, the overwhelming sentiment throughout the White Sox clubhouse on Sunday is that baseball was robbed of one of its most likeable players when Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez was tragically killed in a boating accident.

Known for his vivid celebrations on the field and his wide, endless smile, Fernandez made a strong impression, whether with his skillset or infinite love of the game. White Sox players had their eyes fixed on several televisions littered throughout the visiting clubhouse at Progressive Field on Sunday during a morning press conference confirming the death of Fernandez, 24, and two others.

White Sox reliever Dan Jennings played with Fernandez for two seasons. Though he enjoyed a 3-0 White Sox win over the Cleveland Indians on Sunday, Jennings said his happiness was muted as he mulled the death of Fernandez, who was killed when the boat he was on slammed into a jetty in Miami Beach, Fla.

“He seemed invincible is what it was,” Jennings said. “A lot of guys know what I mean when I say he was invincible on the mound. There were days he was unstoppable, and that’s how you viewed him is invincible. It’s too hard to really put into words what he meant to the game and what he meant to Miami.”

“I just hope to love the game as much as he does some day. It’s tough to do, but he did. He had fun, and he loved the game more than anything.”

Todd Frazier remembers how approachable he found Fernandez in their limited interactions. The two met in the outfield one day after they faced each other for the first time and joked around.

“I was like, ‘Dog, you don’t throw me any fastballs,’ ” Frazier said. “He was like, “Why would I throw you fastballs?’ And we just started laughing.

“That’s the kind of guy he was. You could come up and talk to him. He had an infectious smile and just had a love for the game that I hope every ballplayer could have. It’s a terrible, terrible day.”

White Sox manager Robin Ventura said Fernandez’s death reminded him of the March 22, 1993 accident that took the lives of Indians pitchers Steve Olin and Tim Crews. Only pitcher Bob Ojeda survived that crash and Ventura remembers the shockwaves it sent through clubhouses throughout baseball.

“I can still remember … just how sad that was,” Ventura said. “You don’t have to know them personally. But they’re within their group, and it breaks everybody up. It really does.”

White Sox pitcher Carlos Rodon didn’t have a chance to meet Fernandez, a pitcher he admired for his competitive style and bulldog mentality. But another reason Rodon looked up to Fernandez is for the way he seemed to play the game with such joy. Marlins manager Don Mattingly said during a press conference Sunday that Fernandez enjoyed the game like a Little Leaguer does.

Rodon recently spoke about rediscovering his own joy of baseball. Naturally, Rodon’s thoughts drifted toward Fernandez when he took the mound on Sunday.

“You could tell,” Rodon said. “We had a beautiful day to come out and play and sad to say that one person is never going to get to play again. He’ll be very missed. You can’t take these days for granted. Just hope you guys go home today and tell the people you love, you love them. Losing a person like that is hard.”

Carlos Rodon strikes out 11 as White Sox top Indians

Carlos Rodon strikes out 11 as White Sox top Indians

CLEVELAND -- Carlos Rodon and his filthy repertoire made sure Cleveland’s celebration would have to wait for another day.

Rodon had his best outing of the season on Sunday afternoon and the White Sox prevented the Cleveland Indians from clinching an American League Central title with a 3-0 win in front of 24,118 at Progressive Field. Rodon matched a career-high with 11 strikeouts and allowed just two hits and three walks over eight scoreless innings. David Robertson struck out the side in the ninth to convert his 36th save. The two White Sox pitchers combined for 14 strikeouts in the two-hitter, including eight of the last nine.

“That’s the best I’ve seen (Rodon),” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “Strike one was the biggest thing and it was with authority, it was placed well. After that it just seems like he got better as the game moved along. A couple of guys get on and he turned it up in key situations. In the middle of the game, late in the game. He had it all.”

Working with a strong fastball and a wipeout slider, Rodon had no-hit stuff from the outset as he breezed through the early innings. The left-hander retired the side in order in the first on 10 pitches and only slowed down once.

He worked around a leadoff walk in the second inning and didn’t put another man on base until he walked Jose Ramirez with one out in the fourth inning. But Rodon rebounded from that with a strikeout of Mike Napoli and a Carlos Santana pop out.

Brandon Guyer ended Rodon’s no-hit bid with a leadoff single to center in the fifth inning and Coco Crisp followed with a walk. Both runners moved into scoring position on a sac bunt, but Rodon toughened up and escaped the jam with his 1-0 lead intact. Michael Martinez’s fly out to shallow right wasn’t deep enough to score Guyer from third and Rodon blew a 95-mph fastball past Rajai Davis to strand the pair in scoring position.

“When he did get in a jam he settled down,” third baseman Todd Frazier said. “You didn’t see him get antsy or excited. You see it in pitchers’ faces. Sometimes guys got antics out there with the pouty face. He didn’t have any of that, he just bulldogged his way through and I couldn’t be happier for him. Hopefully there’s more of that to come for him next year.”

Rodon was superb the rest of the way as he retired the side in order in the sixth and eighth innings, including striking out all three men in the latter. Rodon struck out five of seven batters between the seventh and eighth innings to establish a new season-high and tie his career mark with 11.

Rodon improved to 6-2 with a 3.12 ERA in 10 starts since Aug. 6.

“I was able to drive the ball today and when I’m going good that’s the way it is, driving the ball through the zone and attacking hitters,” Rodon said. “It needs to stay like that.”

The White Sox offense provided just enough support for Rodon against Josh Tomlin and Co.

Frazier’s leadoff single in the fifth inning and stolen base set up the team’s first run as Carlos Sanchez singled to left with two outs to give the White Sox a 1-0 lead.

The White Sox later capitalized on a Michael Martinez error as they loaded the bases with one out. Pinch runner J.B. Shuck tagged on Sanchez’s fly ball to shallow center and scored even though the throw beat him as catcher Chris Gimenez couldn’t hang onto the ball.

Frazier drew a one-out walk in the ninth, stole second base and advanced to third on an error. Omar Narvaez then provided insurance with a two-out RBI single to put the White Sox up by three runs.

That was plenty for Rodon and Robertson to work with.

“There’s a lot on the line for these guys playing on the other side being able to clinch something and he just had his mind set on it,” Ventura said. “Today he was going out with a purpose. He was locating, he had great command on his changeup. It’s a lineup that has been able to rough us up before and he responded.”