Through the second night of the season, Adam Dunn still looked like a new man, Alex Rios hit a game-winning HR, and it appeared as though that thanks to the blessings of sheer regression to the mean, Robin Ventura would guide a triumphant return to respectability. All he'd have to is show up.
Well, that notion held for about a week, and now he's in a pickle.
It's easy to imagine Robin Ventura mulling over his roster at the beginning of the year, fretting over the lack of depth, and deciding that the best workaround for the lack of experience all across his roster was to aggressively test the players he saw potential in.
Needing a right-handed hitter worthy of being slotted at the top of the order between Adam Dunn and Alejandro De Aza, Ventura understandably opted to push young Brent Morel, on the basis of his ability to make contact and his cameo as a viable major league hitter at the end of last season. With Viciedo on a development track that leads to the middle of the order and Beckham stuck in the doldrums, Morel looked like the best candidate to hit for a high average, and allow Ventura to slot Alexei Ramirez somewhere his double-play tendencies could be less hurtful.
Less understandable was the decision to invest hard in the skills flashed by Hector Santiago and install him in the closer role. Yet it too was based in the idea of trying to max out a roster that even Robin's GM doesn't think is the strongest. The best scenario would be if Santiago could be decent enough at knocking out tailor-made save opportunities that the White Sox top relievers would be able to combat emergencies as needed.
Both of these plans are going through very immediate and pressing troubles.
Morel's not so much shown that he's ill-suited for the role, as he's picked an odd time for his game to fall to pieces. His gargantuan strikeout rate has no precedent in any part of his track record as a player, but there's no denying he's lost. Worse yet, at the #2 slot, big opportunities are going to continue to find him, as they did Tuesday night against the Orioles.
In addition to twice finding his way into outs in less memorable manners, Morel struck out to strand De Aza at 3rd in the 7th, and was handed an opportunity to tie or win the game with the bases loaded and down a run in the 9th. After fouling back a pitch to hammer, Morel chopped weakly to 3rd for the final out. It at least provided a tough play for Wilson Betemit, which is more than what was expected.
Just like Ventura brushed off any notions of panic after Santiago's thoroughly blown save Monday night, he was equally dismissive of the idea that the Morel situation required urgent action.
"I still think he's going to be able to be more of a contact hitter, hit line drives," Ventura said. "I believe in him doing that, so he's going to stay there. He just needs to be a little more aggressive within the zone and things are going to turn around for him."
Knowing what we do about sample sizes, Ventura's in the right to not be panicking after 10 games, but that's more of a blanket principle being pulled over a situation with unique specifics. Especially with what this offense has shown so far, there's an emphasis on maximizing what opportunities the Sox are afforded, as well as a need to turn in a hot start to avoid hopelessly losing pace with Detroit.
Despite their troubles, Morel and Santiago may not really need to be benched as much as they may need to be exposed to less situations where the team's fate rests in their hands. Pinch-hitting for Morel in the 9th on Tuesday, or hurriedly calling for Addison Reed after Santiago's first HR on Monday might have saved each individual moment, but such treatment would also begged the question why either player was in their role at all if they required such protections.
So far, we've yet to reach the point where 'Ventura sticking to his guns' and 'Ventura adjusting to a problem' meet, but it will be very telling to see how he addressess these two decisions covered in fingerprints if they continue to hurt the team. Due to both his background--or lack of one--and situation, there's little room for Ventura to err, without his judgment, and the team's prospects for the season being called into question. While the words used to describe him will vary depending on performance--stubborn or steady, responsive or panicked--we're about to find out a lot about Robin the manager.