It was said during spring training that Robin Ventura would bring a different personality to the White Sox manager's seat, but the philosophy might not differ all that much.
Sure enough, the early comparisons to Ozzie Guillen are holding up. For instance, Ventura hasn't pissed off an entire community by praising a dictator, but his game strategy does look familiar in a few different facets.
The running game
Much to our chagrin, Ventura isn't discouraged by Alejandro De Aza's misadventures on the basepaths during the spring and first two games.
"I want him to be aggressive," Ventura said Saturday night before De Aza stole second in the first inning against the Rangers. "I want him to feel there are no reins on him. I want him to be able to feel confident about trying to get a big jump. He's going to get thrown out. We'll have guys who probably will get thrown out, but it won't stop us from running."
So, the next best hope is that De Aza develops a well-honed sense of guilt whenever he costs the Sox a baserunner in front of their best hitters. Or maybe he'll become more selective with catchers. As we saw, running on Mike Napoli is preferable to running on Yorvit Torrealba.
Ventura has preserved one of Guillen's most valuable traits -- an ability to be cool with closer uncertainty. Guillen never demanded a proven veteran in that role, and even when he had one guy in the spot, he'd sometimes switch it up if the occasion called for it (matchups, momentum, fatigue, etc.).
The White Sox closer was officially revealed on Saturday when Hector Santiago picked up his first career save. Santiago wasn't Ventura's first choice at the start of spring, but it seemed to make sense as Opening Day approached:
"We got toward the end (of spring training), and you start looking at what he has and what he brings," said Ventura, who received a beer shower after winning his first game as manager. "Instead of making him be the long guy, we started looking at him more at the end of the game. You don’t have to move anybody around and still keep Jesse and Matt in the seventh and eighth, which are very important innings."
That makes sense, especially with two other lefties in the bullpen. Although, given all the drama over the mystery closer, it would be hilarious if Santiago's next appearance took place in the sixth inning just for the hell of it. That might throw some people off for a good month.
A.J. Pierzynski took a seat in the second game of the season, which is new ground for him. It doesn't come as a total surprise, since it seems like Tyler Flowers is almost a personal catcher for Jake Peavy, but it's rare to see Pierzynski miss a game when there isn't a "day game after a night game" situation involved, regardless of who's on the mound.
Brent Lillibridge's start in left was a bigger surprise, since he provided no handedness advantage over Dayan Viciedo against lefty Derek Holland. Aside from the defensive upgrade (and Lillibridge had a couple of drives come his way), Lillibridge saw action because Ventura is trying to get everybody a start on this six-game road trip.
"I want to get guys in there as soon as we can. I'm sure in Cleveland that [Eduardo] Escobar and [Kosuke] Fukudome will get a start," said Ventura, whose team opens a three-game series against the Indians on Monday.
"Just to kind of get the season going. I don't want guys sitting on the bench for six or seven days and then going home but not having played yet. We have confidence to put them in and to fill in when they need to fill in."
We'll find out more about Ventura's bench play over the next few weekends, when he shows us whether he has his own version of the Sunday Lineup.
However, Ventura hasn't duplicated the Guillen formula all over. It's promising that the White Sox haven't dropped one sacrifice bunt over the first couple of games (and there were cookie-cutter opportunities for Lillibridge and Brent Morel in the No. 2 spot).
And if you count Joe McEwing as an extension of Ventura, there's another difference. While Jeff Cox was conservative with his reads, McEwing is 2-for-2 in aggressive decisions in just two games. He's waved home Alex Rios and Adam Dunn on two first-to-home gambits, and they both scored standing up as the throw came in. Larry will have more on Super Joe's super calls later today.