Yasmani Grandal opens up about nightmare 2022 season


If you’re wondering what happened to Yasmani Grandal last season — why he was a fraction of his former self in what was a grueling year both offensively and defensively — the White Sox' catcher has been asking himself those same questions for months.

If Grandal is awake, and not coaching his daughter’s youth basketball team in Chicago, he is spending seemingly every moment of the day trying to answer and fix all that ailed him so the misery that he experienced in 2022 doesn’t happen again.

“I tend to take losing a little bit harder than most people. It fired me up. By firing me up during the year, it frustrated me even more because I was unable to be helpful,” Grandal said in an interview on the White Sox Talk Podcast. 

Did his frustrations sometimes get the best of him?

“Oh yeah. It definitely came out in bad ways. I tend to go into this dark hole. My wife can notice it. I’ll get home and I’m not talking to anybody. I get to the field and I’m not talking to anybody and I’m on the constant go. Work, work, work,” Grandal explained. “Why did we do this? Why did we do that? Why did I do this? Why am I not moving this way? So I’m looking at myself for all of the failures that we had and how I can change that.”

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Watching Grandal go through a rigorous two-hour workout designed by Chicago Blackhawks strength and conditioning coach Paul Goodman at a gym near the United Center, you can see that fire burning inside him. He is 10 weeks into a torturous seven-day-per-week training regimen designed to rebuild his body, which he said broke down last season.

“I don’t think too many people understand what it’s like to have a dead leg. When I hurt my back last year, both of my discs bulged and went completely out,” Grandal said. “I was running down to first base against Texas (on June 11). I had a really good game the day before. A really good game the day before that. I was feeling really good at the plate. Running to first, I was like, ‘My hamstring went.’ I kind of slipped when I came out of the box. A day later, I can’t even get out of bed.”

With the White Sox struggling to meet expectations, playing under .500 baseball two months into the season, and with several key teammates out with injuries, Grandal decided against having a procedure on his back.

“The doctor told me we can do the surgery and it takes ten minutes. It’s just a small incision,” Grandal said. “I felt like I needed to get back to my team and help them out. That’s just the mentality that I had at the time.”

So Grandal chose to rehab his back injury — which still kept him out of the lineup for six weeks.

Still, after he returned, he barely had enough strength in his lower half to hit the ball out of the ballpark.

“The days that it would come back and I felt great, you could tell that I would drive the ball, but it was still not there. It was almost like warning track power," Grandal said. "I would hit a ball. I would just square it up and I would be like, ‘That should have been a homer.’ And it gets caught."

After bashing 22 or more home runs in the previous five full seasons, Grandal hit only five in 2022 to go with seven doubles, leaving him with a .269 slugging percentage. That sat near the bottom of the majors and almost half of his output in 2021 (.520).

That is why he has been attacking his training sessions with such maniacal ferocity that he has often been on the verge of exhaustion — even to the point of blacking out.

“I’m constantly trying to get to that point of passing out," Grandal said. "Because why not? How are you supposed to get better?”

Five weeks into his training, he actually did.

“We’re doing this five-mile bike ride, so you’re going all out for a half a mile. I finished the first one, got on the bike for the second time and halfway through that one I told (performance coach) Ian Keith, 'I have to get off the bike,'" Grandal recalled. "He (Keith) said, ‘Are you alright?’ After that, I don’t remember what happened. I got off the bike and I passed out. I told him, 'I’m going to go until I go. I will pass out. Just make sure you see where I am at.'

“This was definitely a first.”

Fortunately, the physical beatings Grandal is putting himself through are paying off in a big way.

“From the beginning of the offseason to now, it’s a 360-degree change,” he said. “My back is stronger. My mobility is better. I’m able to push more weight. I’m able to run more. I’m not getting sore. I’m not getting stiff.

"That’s why I’ve been going seven days a week. We play seven days a week. I’ve always had this mindset that the catcher has to be the best trained guy on the field because we’re pretty much doing the most difficult job in our game. We’re on a crouch and we’re moving all the time. That’s why I’ve developed this regimen.”

Our conversation turned to what everyone’s been talking about regarding the 2022 White Sox:

What the heck happened?

Despite the injuries and underperformance by many key players like Grandal (which played an integral part in the team’s downfall), there seemed to be something lying underneath that prevented them from approaching the World Series caliber play that they and many fans were expecting.

Was it the manager? The coaches? The players? Leadership? Team chemistry?  All of the above?

Grandal was puzzled by it as well.

“At some point every team is going to go through [losing streaks]. The teams that are really good are going to snap out of it right away,” he said. “It seemed like 10 games stretched out to 20 games, 30 games, 40 games. And it seemed to be a pattern, a trend. At some point, I felt like we didn’t know exactly how to snap out of it. We had the ability to do it and we were trying to do it. It was almost like we got used to it. Used to ‘What day is [the team] going to be tonight?’”

Other than José Abreu (now a Houston Astro), every key position player spent time on the injured list. Most of them, such as Grandal, Tim Anderson, Eloy Jiménez, Luis Robert and Yoán Moncada missed significant time.

But Grandal said there was one injury that proved to be the death knell for the whole season.

“The biggest punch we had was when TA went down, because he’s our guy," Grandal said of Anderson, who suffered a finger injury on August 6 and missed the rest of the season. "I know that was a big punch in the gut because (as) TA goes, we go. I think it’s been that way for years. As soon as he got hurt it was like, man, that’s the knockout punch."

After that, someone on the offense needed to pick up the slack. Unfortunately, nobody did.

“Who are we going to look to to get that fire going?” Grandal said. “You’d see one day you’d come in and it would be this guy. And then kind of think, ‘Is he going to be that guy tomorrow?’ And then the next day it was, ‘Oh, is that going to be the guy?’ That was a challenging part about last year. Who’s going to be that spark? Who’s going to take over? Who’s going to be the guy today? And I felt like we put so much pressure within each other to be the guy that day, it just went downhill. 

“I was still trying to be that guy. I’ve done it before. I’ve carried a team in the second half plenty of times.

“And then you have this one guy that’s on the right side of you who you’re constantly with (Abreu) and you’re seeing what he’s doing, so you’re trying to help him out. He’s taking the load, so I’ve got to take some of the load off him to help him out.”

Nothing seemed to work.

A team built to win and possibly run away with the AL Central behind a powerful offense, instead finished 22nd in the majors in homers, 19th in runs, went 81-81 and were overmatched by the young and hungry Cleveland Guardians, who beat out the White Sox to win the division by 11 games.

“It was a punch in the gut and it made us realize that, hey, we’re good but so is everyone else in this league, and we can’t take anything for granted,” Grandal said. 

One by one, the White Sox' front office has been making moves to reshape the roster this offseason, especially the coaching staff, which has seen six new coaches hired, including manager Pedro Grifol.

“He brings in a lot of fire,” Grandal said of Grifol. “We’ve spoken a few times. We share ideas. It’s going to be good. I can’t say enough about that.”

Maybe the best news for Grandal, besides how good his body feels, is that the league is banning the shift, which he believes had a huge impact on him offensively when he hit from the left side.

"Thank God," Grandal said about the shift being banned. "I don’t care about batting average but I'll tell you one thing, the shift took a lot of money away from me. That’s one thing.  It took away a lot of hits, it took away a lot of doubles. In 2019, Cincinnati played five outfielders just to make sure I don’t get extra base hits. That has a lot to do with numbers at the end of the year. I used to hit a triple a year, believe it or not. Look at the numbers. They’re there. (Grandal had 7 triples from 2012 to 2019, but none since.) People were shifting me, knowing exactly where I was hitting the ball. Pitching me so I would hit it there no matter how hard I would hit it.  

"This year is going to be a little bit easier, just because now, with two strikes, you don’t have to go for that big (home run) swing. You can stay up the middle, get your line drive or pull the ball between first and second, where before if you pulled the ball between first and second it was a double play. It’s definitely going to change. I’m sure a lot of guys around the league are happy with it, but I’m definitely looking forward to it."

Ask Grandal about his hopes and expectations for next season, he brings up his own personal elephant in the room.

“It’s my last year of my contract," he said. "I’m not really worried about free agency. A lot of people ask me about it. I’ve done this twice already. I don’t really care about free agency. Whatever happens happens during the season, I’m worried about one day at a time. Get the win. Get to where we need to be and surpass that.”

If 2016 marked the beginning of the White Sox' rebuild, then 2023 might be more of a reset, a recalibration, a regrowth, a re-anything but last year, when everything that could go wrong went horribly wrong.

How do they make sure things go right next year?

With every push up, every squat, every time he gets close to passing out, Grandal is doing what he can to eliminate the vile taste of 2022, with big plans for the season ahead.

“Win the division, get to the playoffs and hopefully make a huge run and go all the way," he said. "Look at what the Phillies did. If they can do it, so can everybody else.”

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