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Long leash keeps coming back to bite White Sox

Robin Ventura's explanation for Sunday's loss sounds familiar, but not any more successful

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

As is the case when I spend most of a White Sox game recap hammering a decision, I try to take a second look at it, accounting for emotional distance and input from the parties involved.

It helps no matter the outcome. When Robin Ventura tried six bunts in one game early in his career, circling back didn't exonerate him, but the discussion added to our understanding about bunting, and Ventura went on to show it was just a bad game.

Sometimes, he can take all the heat off. Last year, Ventura made a weird call by pinch-hitting Leury Garcia for Moises Sierra when the situation called for contact, but he pointed out the potential to make Mike Scioscia overreact to the speed element, which is what happened before Garcia hit a walk-off single.

Yet also in that same game against the Angels on July 2, Ventura didn't have an adequate explanation for a sequence that sounds familiar:

Heroics from Garcia and Welke were necessary because of the first inexplicable decision Ventura made -- to send out John Danks on 107 pitches for the eighth inning against the heart of the Angels' order.

This was a horrible idea at the time, and not just scouting off the pitch count. Danks began to float changeups the inning before, getting away with one to C.J. Cron for a strikeout, but serving up a solo shot to David Freese that cut the White Sox' lead to 2-1. Yet for some reason, Ventura sent out a flagging Danks to face Mike Trout and Co. for a fourth time, just like he did with Chris Sale and Scott Carroll in previous games this season, and to disastrous results.

Ventura's subsequent explanation...

"He had been through that part of the lineup, throwing pretty good stuff to that part of the lineup. Even with Hamilton early on, he had him swinging and missing. You take the known entity there of him facing him and seeing how it's going tonight. It didn't happen tonight."

"You take what you've seen tonight and put it out there. He felt strong, talking to him in between the seventh and eighth, he felt great. [...] Veteran guy, he's pretty up front when he's feeling good and when he's not. Tonight, that pitch got him."

... sounded an awful lot like the reasoning behind letting Jeff Samardzija stay in at least three batters too long against the Tigers on Sunday:

"You are looking at where (Samardzija's) pitch count was and then they didn't really get much going off of him," Ventura said of leaving Samardzija in for the eighth. "I think at that point they had two hits. He was very strong as he was going through that. They can strike, and they can strike quick." [...]

"You are going hitter by hitter," Ventura said. "Just felt there was a better matchup there with Jeff going in there, especially after the at-bat before with Miggy, I felt like he still had something in the tank. This one didn't work out."

Isolating this game, it's easier to empathize with Ventura, as Doug Padilla did with his recap. Back on June 19, Ventura pulled Chris Sale after eight dominating innings, only to see David Robertson give up two runs in the ninth. Now Ventura does the opposite, and he's damned either way!

OK, well, let's flesh that out a little more. With the Sale game, I saw nothing wrong with the Robertson decision, given Sale's pitch count and the big picture. However, I could've seen the reasoning behind letting Sale attempt an easy, breezy finish, and switching to the bullpen at the first sign of stress. Whatever the case, he picked a sensible course. The players failed him.

But here, we had Ventura running a lesser pitcher through several stop signs instead of using a bullpen that was idle on Saturday and had another off day today. Pulling Samardzija after the Jose Iglesias walk or the Anthony Gose single would've been the other side of the same coin (sudden trouble after cruising), but it turned into its own currency with each successive/successful batter, and one with an awful exchange rate.

We entered the season understanding that Ventura preferred leaning on his starters, but an atrocious bullpen might have contributed to that tendency. I think we can eliminate that conditional clause now. Ventura's natural instinct has him charging right into the teeth of TTOP right as other teams are discovering the benefits of avoiding it, and ... oh boy:

It's not like I expect or want Ventura to manage Sale or Samardzija the way Kevin Cash handles Nathan Karns or Ned Yost Jeremy Guthrie, but the lack of adaptability and moderation is concerning. Pitchers keep overstaying their welcome. Alexei Ramirez starts 70 of 72 games, even though he's quite possibly the American League's worst regular right now. Ventura did finally try Jose Abreu in the second spot on Sunday, which would have been the lead story if it weren't for that first defining characteristic.

And that's what I've been getting at when I talk about the Sox struggling to change the way people talk about them (see the #FireRobin arguments under the Danks post from last July). It's not just the 32-42 record, either. Between the way they lose games and the way Kenny Williams still takes the lead in explaining/chastising/defending them, it's hard to detect progress independent of their place in the standings. It might be admirable that Ventura can keep his players from turning on him or each other during these prolonged tough times. Now, what's going to keep the fans from turning on the product?