White Sox

Alex Avila gets best of former teammate Justin Verlander, homers in White Sox loss

Alex Avila gets best of former teammate Justin Verlander, homers in White Sox loss

DETROIT -- Things might be a little awkward between Alex Avila and Justin Verlander.

The two former teammates faced off on Wednesday afternoon for only the second time ever and Avila didn’t treat the Tigers’ ace too kindly.

Avila, who caught Verlander for six seasons, ripped a 435-foot solo homer to dead center in the fourth inning, but the White Sox still lost to the Detroit Tigers 3-2.

Avila is now 2-for-5 with a walk in two games against Verlander. They also faced each other on June 5.

“I know I’m going to be hearing about it,” Verlander told Detroit reporters. “I think I’m going to ask him back for one of the watches I’ve gifted him. It’s only fair, I think.”

Avila and Verlander have shared a ton of memories over the years.

Avila was Verlander’s primary catcher from 2010-2015. He caught him 116 times, including in 33 of 34 starts when Verlander won his only Cy Young Award and was named the American League’s Most Valuable Player. Verlander had a 3.10 ERA with Avila behind the plate, including a 2.35 in 2011.

Avila hit against Verlander three times on Wednesday, striking out twice. He thought his old teammate looked extremely sharp as Verlander held the White Sox to two runs and three hits in seven innings. Verlander struck out nine.

“He has pitched great all year, really exposing hitters’ weaknesses with that mid-90s fastball, staying at the top of the zone with that,” Avila said. “His slider-cutter worked well for him. He’s pitching great. It’s tough to get runs off him.”

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Avila was excited to not only face Verlander, but also to catch Chris Sale. He said White Sox manager Robin Ventura told him he’d catch Wednesday’s game a few days earlier and he anticipated the game.

Verlander said he thinks the catcher has the advantage in these types of meetings.

“Alex having caught me a lot, cheated a little bit to that first pitch heater in, and that’s fine,” Verlander said. “A lot of guys do that and I just need to execute it a little better.

“It’s like he’s faced 1,000 times, so you can’t get upset because it’s an ex-teammate.”

Avila said it “felt great” to homer off Verlander, but he hadn’t yet talked to him or texted.

“I’m sure we’ll talk about it at some point,” Avila said.

Verlander figures this won’t be the only time the two square off. If Avila wants to keep hitting homers, he might think about leaving personal items at home.

“I think I’ve gave him two or three (watches),” Verlander said. “I’ll start with the least expensive one and work my way up because we face each other a lot.”

Jose Abreu's got a new beard, but what he really deserves is a contract extension

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USA TODAY

Jose Abreu's got a new beard, but what he really deserves is a contract extension

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Sunday marked the first surprise of White Sox spring training, courtesy of first baseman Jose Abreu.

“This year, I’m going to try to steal more bases,” Abreu said through a translator.

This might have sounded like a joke, but Abreu was completely serious.

On paper, he’s not exactly Rickey Henderson. In 614 career games, Abreu has only six stolen bases. However, the slimmed-down first baseman does have some sneaky speed. His six triples last season ranked third in the American League. So there are some wheels to work with.

“I like the challenge. I think that’s a good challenge for me. I’m ready for it,” Abreu said.

How many steals are we talking about? A reporter asked sarcastically if a 30-30 season is in the offing? Abreu didn’t exactly shoot down the possibility.

“Who knows? When you fill your mind with positive things, maybe you can accomplish them,” Abreu said. “The mind of a human being works in a lot of different ways. If you fill your mind with good things, good things are going to happen.”

The morning began with Abreu walking to the hitting cages with his Cuban compadres Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert, who the White Sox signed last summer. He held his first workout on Sunday. At the White Sox hitters camp last month, Moncada took Robert under his wing, showing him the ropes, even telling Ricky Renteria, “I got him.”

But Sunday, Abreu was in charge, holding court with the three of them in the cage. Abreu watched closely as Robert hit off a tee, giving him pointers about his swing.

“I just like to help people,” Abreu said. “When I started to play at 16 in Cuba, I had a lot people who hounded me to get better. At the same point, I want to give back things that I’ve learned and pass that along to other people. That’s what I’m doing. I’m not expecting anything else. I’m just glad to help them and get them better.”

What kind of advice has he passed along to Robert?

“Since I came to this country, I learned quickly three keys to be a success: Be disciplined, work hard and always be on time. If you apply those three keys, I think you’re going to be good. Those are the three keys I’m trying to teach the new kids, the young guys,” Abreu said.

Abreu lost about 10 pounds during the offseason. He said he hopes to learn more English in 2018. He also arrived at spring training sporting a scruffy beard which he grew while he was in Cuba so he “could be incongnito.”

Abreu likes his new look. Moncada thinks he should shave it off.

“If the organization doesn’t say anything, I’m just going to keep it,” Abreu said.

Well, so much for that.

Moments after Abreu spoke with the media, Renteria told reporters that Abreu will have to “clean it up a bit.”

The two will find a compromise. Come to think of it, maybe Abreu and the White Sox should do the same about a contract extension in the near future.

Yes, he’ll be 33 when his contract expires in two years, but there have been no signs of a decline with his performance. Instead, Abreu is only getting better both offensively and defensively.

Heck, now he wants to steal bases, too.

After Renteria, Abreu is the leader of this team. He commands ultimate respect inside the clubhouse. He’s become another coach to Moncada, Robert and others. He’s a huge brick in the present and too big of an influence and cornerstone to not have around in the future.

“I hope to play my entire career in the majors with the White Sox,” Abreu said Sunday. “But I can’t control that.”

At some point, a decision will have to be made whether to keep Abreu or trade him. In the meantime, ask yourself this question: What will bring more value to the White Sox, getting a high-end prospect or two in return not knowing if they’ll ever succeed in the majors? Or keeping your best player, the heart and soul of your team, allowing him to show your future stars the way while they’re developing in the major leagues?

Seems like an easy decision to me.

Jose Abreu has already begun mentoring Luis Robert

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USA TODAY

Jose Abreu has already begun mentoring Luis Robert

As the White Sox have added young Cuban stars in the making in Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert, Jose Abreu's long-term role on the team has shifted.

The 31-year-old first baseman has been looked at as something of a mentor for the two young Cubans. He seems to be delivering on that so far.

Abreu picked up Moncada from the airport when he first was called up to the White Sox last July. Now he's helping Robert in the batting cage.

The Cuban trio is expected to play a big part of the White Sox future in the coming years. 

Robert has already stated his goal of making it to the majors this year to join Abreu and Moncada, but that may be an overly ambitious goal. Either way, plenty of eyes will be on him throughout 2018 as he marches towards the White Sox roster and his Cuban teammates.