Robin Ventura called it a tough decision, but in need of bullpen help, the White Sox designated third baseman Conor Gillaspie for assignment ahead of Sunday’s series finale with the Royals, returning relief pitcher Matt Albers from his rehab assignment.
“It’s always a tough decision, especially when you’ve got a kid like that where you know what he’s capable of,” Ventura said of Gillaspie. “You know he’s a much better hitter than what those numbers indicate. That’s what makes it tough.”
Gillaspie hasn’t been the only White Sox hitter to struggle this season, well evidenced by the team’s last-place rank in the American League in scoring. But Gillaspie was far from the type of season he had a year ago, when his .282 batting average ranked second among qualified AL third basemen.
In 58 games in 2015, Gillaspie hit .237 with a .276 on-base percentage and a .640 OPS. He hit three homers and drove in 15 runs. In 2013 and 2014, Gillaspie combined to play 264 games for the White Sox, and he posted career highs in batting average and on-base percentage (.337) last season.
[MORE WHITE SOX: White Sox draw positives from trio of comebacks in loss]
But Gillaspie’s poor play of late — as well as the team’s general lack of an offensive spark — meant the White Sox replaced him at third with rookie Tyler Saladino, who’s 7-for-23 in his first six major league games. Saladino has started the last six games dating back to last weekend’s Interleague series at Wrigley Field. Gillespie hadn’t started since July 9.
The White Sox also were in need of another relief pitcher in a bullpen which has had a big workload in the first two days back from the All-Star break, pitching a combined 12 2/3 innings during Friday’s doubleheader and Saturday’s 13-inning affair.
“I think with (Saladino) coming in here and showing what he can do, you need another arm and that becomes the move. It doesn’t make it any easier,” Ventura said. “It’s always a tough one to make a move like that. But we know he’s capable of much more.”
[MORE WHITE SOX: Taxed White Sox bullpen earns praise, blame in loss to Royals]
Gillaspie’s departure opens the door for Saladino as the team’s everyday third baseman, which Ventura dubbed him Sunday. Ventura’s been happy with Saladino’s approach at the plate and his defense, especially. That was on full display Saturday, when he made a series of nice plays during the 13-inning game.
“We’ve been impressed. He’s been able to make some adjustments. On the field, you look at him and he fits in anywhere. There’s not really a position that you could put him at that he wouldn’t look very comfortable at. That’s just in his DNA of being a baseball player. On that part, you like what you see,” Ventura said. “Every time you look at him, he’s just dirty. In a good way of just being a baseball player. He’s always in the middle of something.
“You’re happy to give that opportunity to a kid like him that we’ve seen for a few years. You’ve watched him over the last couple years, but you know that he fits in somewhere, he can do something for you.
“The value that (Saladino) has defensively is tremendous. He’s a guy you can put at a lot of different places, he’s going to be a plus defender at any of those places. For us, if you’re not going to score a ton of runs, you better be able to catch it.”
[SHOP WHITE SOX: Get your White Sox gear right here]
Albers joins a bullpen that’s been short on arms for a while. The White Sox opted to go with one fewer reliever for that aforementioned Cubs series on the North Side of town, and with the All-Star break and a Monday off day providing plenty of time off, they decided to plan to keep it short through this series with the Royals.
But Friday and Saturday altered those plans, and Albers is back with the team for Sunday after an extended time away. Albers started the season with the team and pitched in four games in April before going down with a finger injury.
Albers made a total of eight minor league appearances with Double-AA Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte during his rehab assignment, allowing six runs on 10 hits — including a pair of home runs — in 11 2/3 innings. He struck out nine and walked just one.