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Ventura seeks to improve on surprising first year

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The question momentarily stumped Rick Hahn, and it had nothing to do with filling the White Sox vacancy at third base or finding a way to bring back free agents Kevin Youkilis and A.J. Pierzynski.

Instead, it dealt with how Robin Ventura could get better after his first season managing at any level produced 85 victories, a second-place finish in the American League Central and a third-place finish in the 2012 American League Manager of the Year balloting, as voted on by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Hahn put that improvement on himself and his staff as much as he would Ventura.

"Perhaps this year we'll give him a roster that has a little more flexibility, which will be a challenge for him to put the guys in the right position, to get the most out of the player who has some positional flexibility, or having more lineup options on a given day based on who we're facing," Hahn said. "Part of that is incumbent on us."

Ventura presided over one of Major League Baseball's surprise stories last season, despite season-ending injuries to Opening Day starter John Danks and third baseman Brent Morel.

For 117 days, the White Sox sat atop the AL Central and responded to Ventura's quiet cool at the helm. It wasn't necessarily better than previous manager Ozzie Guillen, who guided the South Siders to a 2005 World Series title, but Ventura was a perfect fit style-wise at the right time.

While Ventura politely deflected the idea he was good at managing, stating instead that, "I can get better," Hahn believes the lofty expectations held by the organization upon hiring Ventura were exceeded.

"We knew he had the potential to grow into one of the finer managers in the league," Hahn said. "I think he got there a lot more quickly than we even anticipated, whether it be communicating with the players, to setting the tone, to focus on what helps us win that night's game, to really his in-game management strategy, to putting his players in position to succeed.

"He was fantastic for us. We're looking forward to him being a veteran manager next year."

Areas of improvement espoused by Ventura in his second year, as mentioned during his Winter Meetings interview session at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Hotel on Tuesday, would be described as wide-ranging.

"Any time you go into something and you think you know it all or are done learning, you're going backwards," Ventura said. "Getting better with in-game stuff, in-between game stuff and even after-game stuff with you guys would hopefully be what I get better at. And hopefully it's good for you guys, too."

But when specifics were asked for within those areas of improvement, Ventura smiled and added, "I'll keep that to myself, things that we'll work on."

"You don't want it to be mechanical enough to know that guys think you're faking it or anything," Ventura said. "You roll with how it's going and the emotions of the team. It's not a script by any means. The season is different every year.

"Different game to game as far as what happens and moves you make. Attitude-wise, I'd like to be the same every day. Everything is different all the time."

Not all uplifting stories have the storybook ending to match. A 4-11 finish turned a three-game division lead on Sept. 18 into a final three-game deficit behind the Tigers at the season's finale.

Factors for the demise range from the White Sox hitting just .198 with runners in scoring position during this stretch to some of the young pitchers such as Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Addison Reed hitting a wall. Ventura had the most straightforward explanation: It's baseball.

"When you lose, you can use a bunch of different words to describe it. You are outplayed because you didn't win," Ventura said. "Were you fatigued? Yeah, but so is everybody else. Did you choke? Yeah, you can say it in a way that if you don't win you choke anyway.

"It just didn't happen. Our worst stretch of baseball happened at the very end. That's part of baseball. We didn't hit very well. For that period of time it felt like we couldn't score and if we did score, we didn't pitch well that particular night. The effort was there. Being prepared and all those other things were there, it just didn't happen."

Could it happen in 2013? Ventura isn't quite ready to think about Spring Training in December, not when he's enjoying family time in California. But when Spring Training arrives in two months, Ventura and his staff will be ready.

Chicago White Sox