White Sox spring record doesn't count, but Tony La Russa hungry for wins

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Vinnie Duber
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Sox spring results don't count, but La Russa hungry for wins originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Spring training games don't count.

That the White Sox own a 1-7-3 record after their first 11 games of the Cactus League schedule means nothing in the grand scheme of the team's championship expectations for the 2021 season.

Spring training is a different animal than most things that end in final scores, win-loss records and statistics. Players spend the spring preparing for the summer, it's that simple. And so while there are daily workouts and bullpen sessions and batting practice — the typical things that folks think of when they hear the word "practice" (aside from Allen Iverson, of course) — the games are practice, too.

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Pitchers might head into a spring outing not trying to play the typical chess match with the opposing lineup but to work on a specific pitch. Hitters, meanwhile, are trying to get their timing at the plate back after months without game action so they're ready come April.

Spring lineups do not look like the lineups deployed during the regular season, often filled with reserves and players who won't make the team. This spring, specifically, rules have allowed teams to cut games to as short as five innings and even stop innings before the third out if a pitcher threw a prescribed number of pitches.

"At the end of the day, it's all about winning," White Sox reliever Aaron Bummer said Friday. "But at the same time, we're going through that process, working each and every day. We're putting the work in. ... And a lot of guys are just figuring some things out. I think once we kind of get out there rolling, with our guys out there and the light's turned on, we're going to be just fine.

"It hasn't clicked as a cohesive unit, as we roll through these first 10 games or so, but slowly seeing the little signs of life, the little pieces getting put together, ... there's just no doubt that come April 1 we're going to be ready to go and we're going to be better to win games.

"I know there's not a panic in our room, there's not a panic in anyone's eyes. It's just going out there and doing our thing and trusting the process to eventually win games."

While he knows all this well, don't try to tell Tony La Russa that the outcomes of these games are meaningless. That's not how he's wired.

"He's a really good manager, and managers like him like to win, no matter the situation, no matter where we play," White Sox left fielder Eloy Jiménez said. "This is spring training, we're just trying to get ready. But he wants to win."

La Russa has brought it up multiple times as his team has won just once in the first 11 games he's managed since his surprise offseason return to the post of South Side skipper. The games haven't counted, but his competitive juices have been flowing since the start of the Cactus League schedule.

"I think you've got to practice winning," La Russa said after the White Sox first game of the spring. "You get 30 chances, so you don't want to wait until Opening Day. Whether the team or a manager, you're supposed to be using those games to anticipate and make decisions.

"When I get to Opening Day or October, there really isn't any difference in the concentration and the process."

That was when the White Sox were 0-1 in Cactus League play.

Since, as the losses — and a few ties — have piled up, La Russa's mentioned it again and again. He doesn't like losing, even if all the losses will swiftly be swept into the dustbin of exhibition baseball history.

"That’s why they keep the score," he said before Thursday night's game, another loss. "Six times we’ve been losers, messes up the rest of the day. You try to draw some positives because you work on it and all that stuff. But just got to manage better. Bad managing. The guys are trying hard, so I’ll manage better, try to.

"We’ve lost six times, only won once. That’s not good. ... Based on what I’ve seen, we’re going to improve, and I believe we’ll be tough to play and win our share. More than our share, hopefully."

La Russa knows that players getting their work in and preparing for the regular season can be hurdles to racking up spring victories. He's happy to see the incremental improvements over the course of the month, he's happy to see players get opportunities to work on certain things in a game environment, and he seems genuinely excited about the few roster battles going on in camp.

But he's not happy with the final scores the White Sox have experienced so far.

Those two emotions are just going to have to live together until the wins start coming, be they in the spring or once the regular season begins April 1.

"It's no fun to get beat like we’ve been getting beat. But every day we’ve identified something that we work on, which is good," La Russa said Friday. "I think that we expected a slow start because we were going to take our main guys and give them an extra batting practice or two.

"From here to the end, you’re going to see guys who are either on the staff or competing very closely for it. That’s going to be a difference.

"Maybe the combination of getting them out there more often as a team, having more guys that expect to be there Opening Day — and working on some mistakes — that translates into some wins. Because I don’t care of it’s spring training, you walk out of there and we’ve lost a game, it’s not a good feeling."

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