It’s not often you see a boss intentionally loading the bases to meet Christian Yelich.
Of course, it’s not often you see Yelich beat .088.
White Sox manager Rick Renteria certainly turned a few heads on Monday when he chose to intentionally go Milwaukee Brewer’s second baseman Keston Hiura in front of Yelich in the fifth round. The White Sox won 2-1 and the reliever Jace Fry was in trouble with runners on second and third with one out. Charging the bases for Yelich may not have been the obvious move, but it was not the wrong move either.
Last Wednesday, Brewer’s manager Craig Counsel pulled Yelich out of his range because the outfielder is fighting so badly. But the White Sox knew it was coming into the home-and-home series, so when it came to either making a pitching change to face Hiura (remember the three-batter rule in that situation) or setting up a left-lefty matchup with Fry before Yelich, made door # 2 very meaningful.
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Sure enough, Yelich struck out, the first of four strikes for the former National League MVP in the two games at Miller Park.
“I do not want to make too many generalizations about strategic decisions in small samples. And also, remember that I am interested in some availability or lack of availability that may exist in a given night,”
The Brewers ended up with two goals in that round after Renteria went to Steve Cishek to face Avisail Garcia, but Cishek produced a base ball that had just slipped by Yoán Moncada at third base to make those two runs. From a leadership point of view, Renteria made the right call.
Perhaps more important is that he clearly has the purchase from his clubhouse and did not flinch when the White Sox went to a 1-4. His team responded by winning six straight before falling 1-0 to Brewers Wednesday at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“Two parts. We have very talented guys offensively who continue to develop and score points on the board. They grind out bats,” said Renteria. “Defensively, we seem to catch the ball and do the things we should be doing there.”
As is typical of Renteria, he gave his players credit, but the White Sox specifically identified the manager as the right guy to develop the organization’s talent during a painful rebuild. He certainly deserves some credit if his team plays smart baseball within its competition window, which seems to be open. By Wednesday, the White Sox were tied for the fifth-smallest baseball error by three.
“We will try to make the minimum amount of mistakes mentally and physically. But you have to play a well-rounded ball game, “said Renteria. “We’ve had a nice little drive there and hopefully it will continue.”
Now in its fourth season as White Sox boss, Renteria has its fair share of doubts. Fans and the media – myself included – sometimes picked up some of his lineups over the past three seasons and all too often ignored the hand he received. Until now, Renteria has never had the chance to prove itself with a real challenger, simply been branded as a development manager. That rumor comes from a track record of developing young talent, but is somehow spun into a negative attribute, mainly because he was pulled out of the Cubs in 2014 after just one season when Joe Maddon became available.
But on the South Side, Hahn has expressed nothing but faith and commitment to Renteria, making sure fans know his manager will have a chance to win with a talented team. That team finally arrived in 2020 and Renteria has done nothing but inspire hope through the first 12 games.
“I have been impressed by his use of the bull,” Hahn said. “I have been impressed that he can balance the desire to win every game, given how important, mathematically, every game is, but at the same time remain focused on the long term and preserve the players’ health and availability the best we can in difficult circumstances. “
And the COVID-19 pandemic is part of the equation. Every manager handles difficult circumstances as they try to keep their team safe and healthy – even less competitive – during a shortened season of 60 games that were restarted only after a less than adequate second spring training session. But one thing that was obvious early in the White Sox’s “Summer Camp” is that Renteria’s players remained engaged during the 3.5 month period and showed up to Chicago in shape. They have remained focused during the first 12 games of the season, resulting in a record of 7-5.
“You have a group of young men growing up together and having a lot of fun understanding what they can do. They trust each other a little more and we let them play it out, “said Renteria.
But the real challenge has not yet come. If the White Sox continues to play close, competitive games that mean more and more, every move by the manager will be scrutinized.
Imagine charging the bases for Yelich in October.
But Renteria, 58, has been in professional baseball for the better part of four decades now. He has been a Major League coach since 2008. And he has just now had his opportunity to lead a really competitive team. He is fiery and determined. So if you think he’s going to fail, you’re probably not giving him enough credit.
“These are moments that dictate what you will and will not do,” Renteria said. “If you have a club that can snail and they get hot, you let them get hot. But they still have to be able to do other things when needed. Luckily, they come to their own and swing the bats well.”
The White Sox will surely come into their own. And Renteria seems to know exactly what to do with them.
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