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White Sox manager Robin Ventura knows he’ll go through some growing pains

Sox manager RobVentur(center) knows he will go through some painful learning experiences when regular seasbegins. | Mark Duncan~AP

Sox manager Robin Ventura (center) knows he will go through some painful learning experiences when the regular season begins. | Mark Duncan~AP

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Updated: May 2, 2012 8:23AM

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The next knock on White Sox manager Robin Ventura will be the first one. Through five weeks of spring training, the surprise hire with no managing experience has avoided criticism.

Of course, Ventura hasn’t pulled a starting pitcher, put a steal sign on or found himself in an unfavorable late-inning pitching matchup in a game that matters, so his game-managing reputation is pristine.

When the real games begin, the scrutiny will begin, too. And, at some point, Ventura will get dirty. The same goes for Mike Matheny, who will manage his first real game at the professional level for the
St. Louis Cardinals.

‘‘They’re in for a treat because, believe me, the game speeds up,’’ former San Diego Padres and Philadelphia Phillies manager Larry Bowa said recently. ‘‘If you haven’t had experience in the minor leagues, you’re going to find out during the course of the season that there will be trials and tribulations.’’

When Bowa speaks, first-year Sox bench coach Mark Parent listens. A former manager in the Phillies’ minor-league system,
Parent sits next to Ventura and
assists him with game decisions. Bowa had a big influence on Parent.

‘‘I played for Bowa in [Class] AAA and the big leagues,’’ Parent said. ‘‘I’ve never been around a guy who was so ready three innings ahead of time. So when a guy like that says something, it’s notable. The game is fast. You have to slow it down.

‘‘But whether Robin is conscious of it or not, he’s been doing things to kind of slow things down. Bullpens getting ready, stuff like that. We talk about it on the bench, different things you can do.’’

As spring training winds down, games begin to mirror real games, but they’re still not the same.

‘‘You’re thinking ahead,’’ Ventura said Thursday. ‘‘It’s still harder in spring training to think that way because you’re making sure guys get in certain innings.’’

Ventura is probably thinking about being thrown into the fire during the first nine games — at the Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians and at home against the Detroit Tigers. Talk about an initiation.

‘‘The game itself, you want to slow it down . . . but that’s when you have to lean on certain people,’’ Parent said.

Ventura slowed the game down in his head as a player — all the good ones do — so he knows how it works. But it has been eight years since he wore a uniform. Ventura is aware of what he’s in for, and he’s not naïve enough to think there won’t be painful learning experiences.

He’s like a boy walking into his first fistfight knowing he’ll walk away with a black eye. Take it from Bowa.

‘‘Yeah, I know what he’s saying, but it is what it is,’’ Ventura said. ‘‘I’m not leaving. I’m staying here. I’m staying here.’’

Ventura will have it easier managing in the American League than Matheny will in the National League because of the designated hitter. He also has pitching coach Don Cooper, who is in his 10th year in charge of the pitching staff.

And, by all accounts, Ventura has everything in his DNA to succeed. Calm, experienced as a player and smart — a personality test
administered by the Sox revealed he has the makings of a four-star military general or a Fortune 500 executive — he quickly has gained the respect of his players without making a splash.

‘‘We’ve seen his demeanor here in spring training, and you’ve got to think you’ll get the same during the season,’’ right-hander Jake Peavy said. ‘‘I can’t say enough about the people Robin has surrounded himself with.

‘‘And when you need a fire lit, when Robin speaks, guys listen. When Robin says do something right . . . the few times Robin has said, ‘Hey, I need more intensity in the infield,’ or, ‘I need this,’ you see guys respond.’’

How he responds to running a game is what we haven’t seen. The watching begins in earnest Friday.

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