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.

After missing nearly two months, Alex Avila happy to be back with White Sox

After missing nearly two months, Alex Avila happy to be back with White Sox

Alex Avila is ready to play baseball again after being out of action for almost two months with a right hamstring injury.

The White Sox catcher was activated from the disabled list on Friday and started behind the plate and bat eighth during Saturday's contest against the Seattle Mariners.

“I feel like it’s opening day for me right now,” Avila said.

The 29-year-old had been on the disabled list with a right hamstring injury since July 6. He thought his return was going to be a lot sooner, but a setback negated that during his first rehab assignment on July 20.

Avila said that he “probably tried to rush back a little too quick and wasn’t ready,” so this time around, he was being extra cautious.

“It definitely took longer than I expected it to,” Avila said of his recovery process. “But at the same time I couldn’t jeopardize coming back and reinjuring it again. At this point in the season I feel like I’m definitely ready to play and can get through the last few games.

“It’s been a rough few weeks, personally, but sometimes there’s things you can’t control and you gotta make sure you let mother nature take its course and play that out. It can be difficult when you’re on the DL because at times you feel a little disconnected. Stuff like that. But you have to really worry about yourself and getting healthy, then once you are you can get back to being a team player.”

Avila is .236/.362/.358 on the season with three homers and six RBI in 41 games played.

“It’s been awhile. I know it’s been tough on him to be able to do that,” manager Robin Ventura said. “He has worked hard to get back where he was. Even when he came back, to have an injury happen fairly quickly. He was swinging it great. That’s the part of baseball that’s tough. You get back, and something like that happens. You don’t really plan for it. It’s nice to have him back.”

To make room for Avila, the White Sox traded catcher Dioner Navarro to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for 25-year-old pitcher Colton Turner, who the White Sox are hoping can continue to build on his strong season.

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For now, Avila and Omar Narvaez will split the catching duties.

“He’s a very mild-mannered kid. He works hard,” Avila said of Narvaez. “He’s been asking all the right questions as far as how to call games and what to do in certain situations and we’ve talked a little bit. At the same time it’s about him gaining that experience and having those experiences on the field is one thing I’ve told catchers that I’ve come across.

“Coaches and veteran players can say all the right things you need to hear (and) can give you all the advice you want. But it comes down to getting that playing experience on the field with the pitcher, with guys on base, in the sixth inning with two outs and a guy on third. All those experiences mean so much more than any advice I can give him.

“One thing I can do and what coaches can help him do is have an idea going into it. But he’s got a good head on his shoulders and up to this point he’s shown that up here hasn’t overwhelmed him and he’s been playing well."

Narvaez is .325/.426/.375 in 14 games with the White Sox this season.

Miguel Gonzalez is also getting closer to a return.

“I know (Gonzalez and Carson Fulmer) will be in there at some point to get their starts,” Ventura said. “How we do it when they’re in there, we haven’t really nailed that down. It’s an open dialogue at this point of being able to figure out the right spot to get them back in there.”

Chris Sale strikes out 14 but White Sox fall to Mariners

Chris Sale strikes out 14 but White Sox fall to Mariners

Felix Hernandez has proven for years that he doesn’t need much help.

But the White Sox provided him with three free outs on the bases anyway on Friday night.

Those mistakes allowed Hernandez to hold the White Sox in check as they wasted a 14-strikeout performance from Chris Sale in a 3-1 loss to the Seattle Mariners in front of 25,651 at U.S. Cellular Field. Sale retired 16 in a row to end it, but it wasn’t enough as the White Sox dropped back to five games below .500.

“We didn’t run the bases very well tonight,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “That ends up costing you. You’re getting something going against them, and it just takes the wind out of your sails. Both guys pitched great.

“They just executed better than we did when they got the chance. Both guys were going strong. The way we ran the bases, we didn’t deserve to win that game.”

Sale (15-7) deserved much better than to lose for the fifth time in his last six decisions.

[MORE: White Sox trade catcher Dioner Navarro to Blue Jays]

Though he allowed a run in the second, third and fourth innings, Sale got on a roll late.

After Adam Lind’s two-out RBI double in the fourth, Sale found an extra gear and retired the last 16 Mariners to hit, including 10 strikeouts. He struck out the side in the sixth and seventh innings and afforded his teammates a chance to rally.

“Thank God we did it early because as everybody saw, when he gets on a roll it’s like lights out,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “He’s obviously one of the best pitchers in the league for a reason. We had no chance, really, after the fourth and fifth inning. He got into a groove and got all his pitches working.”

Two of Seattle’s three runs off Sale came on opposite-field drives as Lind doubled to left in the fourth and Franklin Gutierrez homered to right in the second inning. Sale walked none and only allowed five hits and three runs in nine innings. He threw strikes on 88 of 120 pitches.

It was the 13th complete game of Sale’s career and his fifth this season.

“I wanted to find a groove and I felt like after the fourth inning I got into a pretty good groove, that cruising speed I was talking about,” Sale said. “I just tried to lengthen it as much as I could, just fill up as many innings as I could. Just give us a chance to win, keep us in the game.”

While Sale kept his team in the game, they repeatedly took themselves out of it.

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The White Sox had plenty of chances against Hernandez, none better than the bottom of the eighth inning. Trailing by two runs, Avisail Garcia and Tyler Saladino singled on both sides of a J.B. Shuck fielder’s choice. Adam Eaton’s one-out walk knocked Hernandez out of the game after 104 pitches.

But closer Edwin Diaz got Tim Anderson to hit into a fielder’s choice as third baseman Shawn O’Malley made a perfect throw home on the slow roller for a force out. Jose Abreu then fouled out to leave the bases loaded. Diaz retired the side in order in the ninth for his 11th save.

Todd Frazier homered in the seventh inning of Hernandez for the team’s only run, but they should have had more. The White Sox had the leadoff man reach base in five of eight innings started by Hernandez, who allowed a run and eight hits in 7 1/3 innings. Hernandez erased two of those five as he picked off Frazier and Shuck in the second and third innings. He also got out of a first-and-third jam in the fifth inning when Shuck lined into a double play and Omar Narvaez was caught leaning.

“That’s the frustrating part,” Ventura said. “You know you’re not really going to have too many opportunities (against Hernandez). You might be able to hit and run or all of a sudden you’re first and third. But if you just take it out of your own hands, that’s where you scratch your head.”

White Sox hope second-rounder Alec Hansen's 'fun ride' continues at Kannapolis

White Sox hope second-rounder Alec Hansen's 'fun ride' continues at Kannapolis

The way he dominated the Pioneer League had to boost to Alec Hansen’s confidence. It also prompted his promotion.

When the White Sox sent their second-round pick to Great Falls last month it was in the hope he could rebound from a rough junior season at Oklahoma that caused his draft stock to fall. Once thought to be the potential first overall pick of the 2016 draft, Hansen was selected 49th after he posted a 5.40 ERA and walked 39 batters in 51.2 innings. But Hansen — who made his first start at Single-A Kannapolis on Friday — looked every bit the first-rounder at Great Falls with a 1.23 ERA and 59 strikeouts in 36.2 innings.

“We wanted to put him in a position where there was a little less pressure to start off the season,” White Sox player development director Nick Capra said. “There's always pressure, but it's a little less magnified in the Pioneer League. We wanted to get him on the right road. We did a couple things with him mechanically and he took off with it.”

“We kind of held him hostage in Great Falls a little bit too long. He’s been really good. He’s double-digit strikeouts every night. He’s not walking people.”

Hansen is expected to make two starts at Kannapolis before the team’s season ends. He earned a no decision after he allowed three earned runs and five hits with two walks and six strikeouts in five innings against the Columbia Fireflies on Friday.

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Capra described the mechanical changes the White Sox made with Hansen as minor. Essentially, they want Hansen to take advantage of his 6-foot-8 frame and stay taller and release the ball more quickly. They believe it will help him better command his pitches.

Through 11 minor-league starts, Hansen has walked 18 batters in 49 innings (he also pitched seven innings in Arizona). That’s compared with the 96 batters he walked in 145 innings in college.

“Our player development guys deserve so much credit for the way they've handled it,” amateur scouting director Nick Hostetler said. “There was a little bit of concern about the confidence part of it, just him taking the ball every fifth day and knowing that we believe in him. Our pitching guys and PD guys deserve a huge amount of credit for just the time they put into it. They really, really know how to make these guys excel and succeed. Been a pretty fun ride to watch and I hope it continues.”