White Sox

White Sox want slumping Jose Abreu to hit the reset button

White Sox want slumping Jose Abreu to hit the reset button

Mired in the worst stretch of his career, Jose Abreu was out of the White Sox lineup for Sunday’s series finale against the defending World Series champion Kansas City Royals at U.S. Cellular Field. Manager Robin Ventura’s goal in giving Abreu the day off was to allow the slumping slugger to hit the reset button on what’s been a disappointing season to date.

Through 43 games, Abreu is hitting .243 with a .714 OPS and six home runs. His offensive downturn was in the spotlight Saturday, when he grounded into a double play with the bases loaded in the seventh inning of the White Sox 2-1 loss to the Royals.

It’s clear the White Sox need better production out of Abreu. The White Sox have lost four consecutive series, and in that stretch Abreu hit just .217/.275/.304.

“Sometimes it’s better just to sit there and watch the game,” Ventura said. “And for him he just needs a little refresh.”

Abreu seems to have self-diagnosed his problems, admitting that he’s been swinging at too many pitches out of the strike zone. But fixing those pitch recognition/plate discipline issues is easier said than done, especially when the 29-year-old is pressing to break out of his slump. 

“I’m feeling the pressure, probably, because my approach is not like I used to be,” Abreu said through a translator. “But I don’t have a specific reason to give you to why I am struggling right now. I just have to work hard.”

At the root of Abreu’s issues may be that opposing pitchers are successfully pitching him in off the plate. Just over 20 percent of the pitches Abreu has seen in 2016 have been inside and out of the strike zone, according to FanGraphs, which up about eight percent from 2015. And that strategy has worked for opponents — Abreu is swinging at more of those pitches than he did last year, resulting in lower-quality contact.

Abreu’s long, powerful swing was able to cover the low-and-away corner of the strike zone last year, but perhaps because he’s being pitched inside more, he hasn’t had success on those pitches. Abreu hit .133 on low-and-away sliders that stayed in the strike zone in 2015; in 2016, he doesn’t have a single hit on those pitches.

The fastball-in, offspeed-away plan is as old as baseball itself, but it’s worked against Abreu this year. He’s making less hard contact (28.6 percent, down from the mid-30’s in 2014 and 2015) and more soft contact (22.6 percent, about a five percent increase from the previous two years) and only has six home runs.

“It’s a matter of my approach,” Abreu said. “I’ve been swinging at a lot of pitches out of the zone and that’s not my approach.”

The White Sox, though, are confident Abreu will begin to start hitting like the guy who was such an important piece of their lineup from the moment he debuted in 2014.

“We are not worried at all,” third baseman Todd Frazier said. “He’ll be fine.”

Abreu successfully adjusted to being pitched differently in 2014 and 2015, and his work ethic has been consistently praised by coaches and teammates throughout his 2016 doldrums. Maybe getting the day off Sunday will provide the spark Abreu needs to get locked in, or maybe it’ll be a hard-hit ball this week.

But eventually, the White Sox expect it to click.

“We know what type of guy he is, and he will grind this out,” Ventura said. “He definitely will. We have all the faith it’s going to be back and he’ll be fine. It is a rut and you gotta get out of it.”

White Sox free up spot on 40-man roster by outrighting Dylan Covey

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USA TODAY

White Sox free up spot on 40-man roster by outrighting Dylan Covey

The White Sox freed up a spot on their 40-man roster Sunday, outrighting pitcher Dylan Covey to Triple-A Charlotte.

Covey pitched in 18 games last season, making 12 starts for the South Siders. Things did not go well, with Covey turning in an 0-7 record and a 7.71 ERA in 70 innings.

While there was an outside chance that Covey could have provided at least some starting-pitching depth heading into the 2018 season, the team's recent additions of Miguel Gonzalez and Hector Santiago — not to mention Covey's results from last season — wiped out that idea.

At the moment, the White Sox starting rotation figures to look like this by Opening Day: James Shields, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Gonzalez and Carson Fulmer, with Santiago seeming like a good option to provide depth as the long man in the bullpen.

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.