Calm and sense at camp

Hahn says Ven­tura’ s dis­po­si­tion pre­cludes lame-duck is­sues

Chicago Sun-Times - - SOX BEAT - DARYL VAN SCHOUWEN Fol­low me on Twit­ter @CST_­sox­van.

GLEN­DALE, Ariz. — Gen­eral man­ager Rick Hahn al­ready said last year that the ex­pec­ta­tions and scru­tiny sur­round­ing Robin Ven­tura would be turned up a notch. Af­ter all, Hahn bol­stered the White Sox’ ros­ter, rais­ing the stakes for his team, him­self and his man­ager.

Ven­tura sur­vived de­spite a 76-86 fin­ish, and he en­ters the last year of his con­tract as a lame duck af­ter Hahn made even more up­grades.

But as Sox camp hops and skips into its se­cond week with an up­beat tempo, Hahn in­sists Ven­tura’s sta­tus is not an ele­phant in the room.

“I don’t sense it at all,’’ Hahn said Fri­day. “Part of that is Robin’s makeup. Robin’s not do­ing this for eco­nomic rea­sons. He’s do­ing it be­cause he be­lieves in it, he wants to win for the or­ga­ni­za­tion and he en­joys it. While the con­tract sta­tus may be an ex­ter­nal fo­cus, in­ter­nally, it’s about try­ing to do what we can to win now.’’

Ven­tura also has played on oneyear deals, and given his cool and re­laxed dis­po­si­tion, “I don’t sense it hang­ing over any con­ver­sa­tions or the way he or the staff is ap­proach­ing the sea­son,’’ Hahn said.

Hahn is frus­trated by three los­ing sea­sons in a row, al­though “we try to take a longer-term view of this thing. We look at where we were at the end of the 2013 sea­son, los­ing 99 games with an older ros­ter locked in fi­nan­cially and a farm sys­tem that wasn’t highly re­garded, [com­pared to] now, 2½ years later when we feel we’re in po­si­tion to con­tend. The ex­pec­ta­tions have piv­oted.’’

So much em­pha­sis has been put on get­ting off to a good start. It not only sets the right tone and avoids play­ing catch-up base­ball, it would keep Ven­tura’s sta­tus from be­com­ing an un­wanted dis­trac­tion. The Sox did hire a new bench coach, Rick Renteria, with re­cent man­age­rial ex­pe­ri­ence with the Cubs.

“But if we get off to a good start, there will be a lot of op­ti­mism and peo­ple fired up to see where this team goes,’’ Hahn said. “Our fo­cus is to get off to a good start. If we fall short of that, then we have to as­sess how to get us back on track as quickly as pos­si­bly.’’

Ven­tura was more pop­u­lar as a player than he is as a man­ager, which gen­er­ally comes with the gig. Asked if Ven­tura is bet­ter to­day than he was his first sea­son, when the Sox led the Amer­i­can League Cen­tral for much of the 2012 sea­son only to fade, Hahn said, “a lot comes down to per­son­nel.’’

“Man­agers are as good as the per­son­nel they are given,’’ Hahn said. ‘‘It’s not fair to com­pare how he man­ages in 2016 to 2014, when we were a team in tran­si­tion. He has im­proved as a man­ager. We knew from Day 1 it would be a bit of a grow­ing ex­pe­ri­ence given his back­ground [no ex­pe­ri­ence]. He has ad­vanced and his coach­ing staff has, too.’’

Hahn likes what he has seen at Camp Ven­tura. Not only has the trainer’s room been quiet, Hahn senses a nice en­ergy in the club­house and coaches room. “Pos­i­tiv­ity and fo­cus,’’ he said. So in ad­di­tion to get­ting a boost of of­fense from Todd Fra­zier and Brett Lawrie, Ven­tura re­ceived some in­tan­gi­bles that should make his job eas­ier.

“First and fore­most, we needed to score more runs,’’ Hahn said. “Todd Fra­zier was at the top of our tar­get list be­cause of his makeup, what he brings on and off the field. Both [catchers] Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro are pros who ap­proach the game the right way, [vet­eran short­stop] Jimmy Rollins has a long track record of be­ing that type of guy, and Brett Lawrie, ev­ery­body sees his en­ergy from 10,000 feet away. That was a pos­i­tive shot in the arm for the club­house, as well.’’

One more shot, like maybe a left­handed bat for the out­field, would do won­ders for Ven­tura’s ros­ter. The pay­roll, a shade above $120 mil­lion, might have some wig­gle room. But not much.

“That can change with trad­edead­line ac­qui­si­tions or dur­ing spring train­ing,’’ Hahn said.

Ven­tura, to be sure, will ac­cept any help he can get.

| ROSS D. FRANKLIN/AP

Gen­eral man­ager Rick Hahn wants the White Sox to get off to a good start to pre­vent man­ager Robin Ven­tura’s sta­tus from be­com­ing an un­wanted dis­trac­tion.

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