Pedro Grifol ‘obsessed’ with turning White Sox around

The White Sox have a chip on their shoulder.

Their manager has one, too.

A PECOTA projection giving them 0.0% chance of playing in the postseason put it there in early February. Over/under win totals projecting them since then to repeat as a 100-loss team put one on the other shoulder.

The players rallied around it during spring training. Manager Pedro Grifol uses it as fuel, too.

“I don’t think I even have to go there any more with these guys,” Grifol told the Sun-Times this week. “It’s actually permeated through that clubhouse pretty good. To where I don’t have to touch it. I know it motivates the s— out of me. Zero point zero zero? That means why play?”

Grifol will tell you why. To demonstrate the things he’s trying to do in his second year will work. And to prove the Sox are something better than the 61-win team they were in his first season.

“Everybody works in the offseason to do something special and hopefully play in the postseason,” Grifol said. “We have no chance of doing that, with 162 games in front of us? It motivates.”

When Grifol was hired by general manager Rick Hahn before last season, Hahn shrugged off Grifol’s low profile as the Royals bench coach, saying he was exactly what the Sox needed after they finished 81-81 in Hall of Famer Tony La Russa’s final season. Grifol won his introductory press conference by promising preparedness, communication and a “kick your [butt]” attitude.

Then he lost 101 games. Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf fired Hahn and vice president Ken Williams before the season was over, promoted Chris Getz to GM and kept Grifol with two years left on his contract in the manager’s chair.

Grifol returned more motivated than ever for his second season.

“I’m obsessed,” he said. “I’m obsessed with turning this organization around and putting us in position where we can play for something. I can’t get too far ahead because we’re here at Day One [of the season] but I am obsessed with getting better every single day.”

Grifol isn’t pounding his desk, but he’s tapping it for emphasis.

Every. Single. Day.

“And I know if we relentlessly pursue that we will put ourselves in a nice position to play for something at the end,” he said. “You don’t work as long as I have and have a year like we had last year and not be obsessed with turning it around. All offseason, that’s all we talked about.”

And then ace right-hander Dylan Cease was traded late in spring training, leaving Grifol with a completely new, inexpensive starting rotation. Five of his relief pitchers are new to the Sox, too.

Grifol says there is clarity with the team’s style of play (better defense, better fundamentals and execution), and moves were made to improve the clubhouse culture.

“Now we have to stay within those pillars,” he said.

Grinding through it with a lineup banking on a top five Andrew Benintendi, Yoan Moncada, Luis Robert Jr., Eloy Jimenez and Andrew Vaughn — which was shut out and held to three singles in a 1-0 Opening Day loss to the Tigers on Thursday — could be challenging. The Sox’ offense ranked at or near the bottom in numerous categories last season and essentially wasn’t upgraded.

Therein lies reasons for those prognostications.

They aren’t Grifol’s prognostications. If he has a number of wins in mind, he’s not sharing.

“I would never say that. It just limits us,” he said. “Whoever throws a number on a team or a player, ‘this is what a guy is going to hit, this is his projection,’ you’re just limiting a player. Are we a 70-win team, an 80-win team, a 90-win team? S—, I want to win 162. Why would I limit our mentality to 70 wins. It goes back to predictions, why play then?”

Getz said he’s tasking Grifol with getting the most of the talent he’s working with.

“I know he’s much more comfortable with the role he’s in in year two,” Getz said. “I was very happy with how spring training was run. He feels like he has the staff around him that can do the job on a regular basis and he’s going to have to lean on his staff. I’m here to support him.”

Driving to Guaranteed Rate Field for Thursday’s opener, Grifol said he was both curious and excited.

Grifol said every player has something to prove.

He does, too.

“Everybody has their motivation. Some is family, money, fame, whatever it is, it’s all healthy because it takes you where you need to be,” Grifol said. “When 0.0 chance is put on all of us, it just adds to the motivation. You don’t think we can do something? Well, watch.

“[But] we can’t talk our way into having a good year. We have to do it.”

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