Ventura plays it cool in Year 1

October 03, 2012|By Matt Lindner | For RedEye

The experts had Robin Ventura's first season on the South Side ending much like Dale Sveum's did on the North Side—disastrously.

With a roster loaded with unproven young players and aging veterans, 2012 was supposed to be a rebuilding year for a team that has seemingly been rebuilding for much of the past decade.

Things didn't turn out that way, however, thanks in large part to the White Sox manager, a laid-back guy who doesn't seem to care about what others think about his club.

"For me, it's the first year of doing something so you're doing it the best you can without trying to rationalize it as a rebuilding, all the words that we've used this year," Ventura said. "I'm just trying to do my job and not really look at it as a rebuilding or anything like that."

His first year, despite ending in disappointment in the season's final weeks, exceeded outsiders' wildest expectations. A team that Sports Illustrated predicted would win just 67 games wound up winning No. 68 on Aug. 22 and kept on going, leading the AL Central until a mid-September swoon sunk their hopes.

When asked about the 2-10 stretch that wound up dooming his squad, Ventura said things just didn't go the way they should have.

"The big hit hasn't really been there," he said. "When you don't get them, you don't seem to win as much. If you do score, you kind of let them back in the game. There's a lot of things that go into a stretch like this, it's not just one thing."

To hear Ventura tell it, there's reason to believe next year will be even better, particularly when he looks at his young pitching staff.

"I'm sure you'd lose people [in the coming offseason], but you look at what this season brought with a pitcher like [Jose] Quintana that comes out of nowhere," he said. "You have a lot of young guys in the bullpen with [closer Addison] Reed, [Nate] Jones, [Hector] Santiago, stuff that you not necessarily were counting on in Spring Training as being here the whole year."

The team remained in contention thanks in large part to clutch performances from those young guys. Reed stabilized the back end of the bullpen, converting 29 of 33 save opportunities. And after spending last season in the bullpen, Chris Sale established himself as the Sox's ace.

"He's proven he's a major league starter, he's one of the better starters in the league and he'll be around here for a long time," Ventura said.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise for Ventura, however, was the emergence of Quintana, a Spring Training afterthought turned integral part of the pitching staff.

"Jose Quintana is a surprise because he didn't make our team out of Spring Training," Ventura said. "He got called up for a spot start and ended up staying here the rest of the year."

Like many leaders, Ventura found that the most difficult part of his first year at the helm was that he couldn't seem to turn off his brain.

"The hard part is you're always thinking," he said. "If one guy's doing well, somebody else might not be doing well so you're always thinking that way, you're thinking about 25 guys instead of just what you have to do. The easy part is that you enjoy coming here. It's easy to get up and get ready to come to the ballpark."

And despite the fact that fans notoriously didn't support this team as much as some thought they should, with the team drawing less than 2 million to U. S. Cellular Field despite being in contention through the final homestand, Ventura said he's thankful for the ones who did show up to support his squad.

"We're happy they came out," he said. "When they come out, they're very supportive and loud and we appreciate that."

Matt Lindner is a RedEye special contributor.

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