BOSTON — After slogging through the season’s first two months with a brittle .686 OPS, White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu finally appears to be breaking free of the worst slump of his brief major league career.
Entering Tuesday night’s contest against the Boston Red Sox, Abreu is hitting .348 with a 1.008 OPS through 17 games this month. He has four home runs in June — he only had six in April and May — and his go-ahead two-run double in the 10th inning of Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel on Monday earned the White Sox a much-needed win.
Abreu hasn’t completely erased his first 53 games of the season, which saw his OPS bottom out at .675. His slash line is up to .267/.325/.440 but well beneath his career .296/.357/.521 mark. But hitting coach Todd Steverson saw Abreu stick with the right approach — it’s not as simple as him making good contact once for everything to click — throughout his early-season ineffectiveness, which has allowed him to re-emerge as a force in the White Sox lineup in June.
“One knock doesn’t make a season and one knock doesn’t make an average go (up) 30 points, either,” Steverson said. “As anybody will understand if you watch this game long enough, this game’s a process. One game isn’t going to give you 100 points. We play every day, or almost every day, for a reason, and that’s to continue the process.
“He’s done well on the process, he’s getting better, there’s still more left in there.”
Manager Robin Ventura said Abreu’s pitch recognition has improved over the last few weeks, leading to the 29-year-old Cuban slugger swinging at better offerings. Opposing pitchers battered him on the inner third and in off the plate during the first two months of the season — he’s always struggled to do much with those pitches — but as opposed to years past, Abreu wasn’t able to take or fight those pitches off with much effectiveness.
In June, Abreu’s done a better job at working opposing pitchers into missing out over the plate, where the 6-foot-3, 255-pounder can extend his arms and slam line drives to every field. Kimbrel tried getting Abreu to chase low and out of the zone on Monday, but missed with a 2-2 fastball low and down the middle that Abreu ripped into right for his game-winning double.
“During the whole at-bat I was trying to find his fastball because I know he has a very good fastball,” Abreu said through a translator. “I also was thinking of his curveball — I was trying not to swing at a bad pitch, especially his curveball because I know he throws the curveball down in the zone. I was able to battle and at the end find a fastball to put the barrel on the ball and get a base hit.”
Abreu had gone through slumps before in his first two years with the White Sox, but those lasted days or weeks, not months. While the White Sox got off to a hot start (23-10) without him steering the middle of their order, Abreu’s powerful presence was sorely missed during the early part of a stretch that’s seen the team fall under .500 and to fourth place in the American League Central.
The White Sox lineup has yet to fire on all cylinders — third baseman Todd Frazier is hitting .125 with a .561 OPS in June — but getting Abreu back on track is a good start.
“I think it’s perseverance,” Ventura said. “… He had a plan. He’s sticking to it, and he’s going to fight through it. But now he’s also swinging it better, seeing it better. That becomes a big thing for him. You can see his hands working a little bit better, getting the barrel to it, hitting the balls harder. When you stick it with that way, that gives you more confidence.”