White Sox

Healthy Avisail Garcia makes difference in White Sox lineup

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Healthy Avisail Garcia makes difference in White Sox lineup

OAKLAND — While it sounds like Avisail Garcia hasn’t entirely stuck to a strict diet of fish and salad, the White Sox will probably let it slide.

Given what Garcia has produced this weekend and the season overall, the White Sox need not worry if their slimmed-down outfielder helps himself to an occasional plate or two of chicken during the postgame.

Garcia — who lost 15 pounds in the offseason adhering to the diet — had three more hits, including a massive two-run home run in Sunday’s 7-3 White Sox win over the Oakland A’s.

He has hits in 19 of his last 21 contests and is hitting .346/.380/.492 with four homers, 17 RBIs and 20 runs in 33 games. Garcia’s presence in the middle of the order has given the White Sox something they sorely lacked in 2014 when he played only 46 games because of a torn labrum in his left shoulder.

“It’s a huge difference,” first baseman Jose Abreu said through an interpreter. “He’s capable of showing what he can do in the field. He’s a very, very talented player. He has five tools, and he has shown it. It’s good for us, because he made us a better team.”

Garcia’s effort Sunday was his sixth multi-hit contest in eight games. With 45 hits this season, Garcia already has surpassed last season’s hit total (42) in 13 fewer games.

[MORE: White Sox complete sweep of A's with four-run victory]

Courtesy of a Sunday’s ninth-inning homer, Garcia had a critical hit in each game as the White Sox completed their first sweep in Oakland since May 16-18, 1997 when he was a month shy of his sixth birthday.

Garcia had a go-ahead, two-run double Friday to cap a five-run rally and a game-tying two-run single on Saturday. The White Sox believe with experience Garcia will continue to develop, especially in the power department, though manager Robin Ventura doesn’t like the comparisons to former teammate Miguel Cabrera.

“That’s unfair,” Ventura said. “That’s unfair. I think that’ll be something that’ll happen in his game (home runs), I think when he understands his swing a little bit better and what needs to bet here. But any time guys are compared to Miggy it’s unfair. I would stay away from that one, that’s how good Miggy is. I would hope for him to be like that, but for people to compare him like that is really a tribute to him.”

Garcia has been at his best lately by staying up the middle in his approach. On Saturday, Garcia fell behind in the count to pitcher Jesse Chavez 0-2 before he worked it full and singled to center with the bases loaded.

Garcia said his focus has been to work counts and see a lot of pitches.

[RELATED: Marcus Semien's advice for Micah Johnson: Work hard]

“I have a pretty good idea what’s going happen, so I’m just working hard,” Garcia said. “You have to be patient. Sometimes that’s going to happen. Sometimes you’re going to strike out. Sometimes you’re going to homer. Sometimes you’re going to hit a base hit. You have to be patient. You just have to focus on the game and try to do your best.”

Garcia’s hard offseason work resulted in a fitter version.

When he unexpectedly returned to the field last August, Garcia was a little heavier than he wanted to be because of his inactivity from April through mid-June following surgery. But through his diet and exercise, Garcia arrived at SoxFest in January in great shape and he’s looked the part with the ability to speed across the outfield and around the bases.

Ventura’s just as impressed with the presence Garcia has provided behind Abreu and Adam LaRoche, even starting as the cleanup hitter Sunday with left-hander Scott Kazmir starting.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

“Some teams might focus a little bit on Jose and not that you forget about Avi ,but he’s lurking there,” Ventura said. “He swings the bat real nice. Has a nice approach inside out. When he gets it, it’s gonna go.

“Not too many people can hit it that way right handed.”

Few postgame spreads in the majors offer fish. Most clubhouse meals favor steak, chicken and pasta. Even though he’s strayed a bit, Garcia figures it’s more fuel for the final 128 games.

“Sometimes I eat chicken because you’ve got to eat sometimes heavy,” Garcia said with a laugh. “Because this game is a long season, and you’re not going to eat always fish.”

Yoan Moncada's knee will be fine, White Sox say, but what should we make of his roller-coaster first half?

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USA TODAY

Yoan Moncada's knee will be fine, White Sox say, but what should we make of his roller-coaster first half?

It sounds like Yoan Moncada’s knee is going to be fine.

The immediate future of that knee looked very much in question during the fifth inning of Saturday’s game against the visiting Kansas City Royals, when Moncada crumpled to the ground after getting hit in the knee with a baseball. He was in some pretty significant-looking pain, which after the game the second baseman likened to being hit with a hammer.

But Moncada hopes to play in the White Sox first-half finale Sunday, and manager Rick Renteria isn’t even leaning toward adding a fifth day to Moncada’s All-Star break until he sees how his second baseman feels Sunday.

It ended up being a good forecast for Moncada, who has had the definition of an up-and-down first half of his first full season in the major leagues.

While much of the talk has been about Moncada’s struggles so far this season, he’s actually been hitting very well over the past two weeks, coming into Saturday’s game with a .300/.391/.525 slash line and five extra-base hits, six RBIs and eight runs scored in the previous 10 games.

“I think he’s just being a little more aggressive in the zone early,” Renteria said. “He’s had quite a few really good at-bats over the last 10 days. Even if I think about (Friday), him walking the first three times, working deep counts, continues to be very focused in the zone. I mean, he understands the strike zone as good as anybody I’ve ever seen, regardless of how much time he has or doesn’t have in the big leagues. He’s got a really good idea.

“I think now he’s trying to take advantage of knowing that guys are going to try to come after you early. And if it’s in the zone, fire on that pitch. Get the barrel to it and do what you can.”

It’s a good stretch in a season that has to this point been defined by stretches for Moncada, who just a year ago was the No. 1 prospect in the game. Through the campaign’s first 17 games, his batting average was just barely higher than .200. Then he got hot for next 12 games before hitting the disabled list, which brought his season to a screeching halt. He returned in mid May and watched his batting average drop more than .020 points before the end of the month. In 46 games between May 15 and July 1, Moncada slashed .195/.242/.324. And then things finally reached an upswing in the last two weeks.

None of that tells the entire story, of course, good or bad.

Moncada has had his big moments, and Renteria, for one, continues to rave about Moncada’s mastery of the strike zone. But a look at the offensive averages leaves out other not-so-pretty areas of his game, like his major league leading 130 strikeouts and his 15 fielding errors, the third most in baseball.

Expectations were high for Moncada coming into the season and understandably so as the first-to-arrive major piece of this rebuilding effort. His acquisition in the Chris Sale trade followed by his White Sox debut last summer made his development the main storyline of this season.

So far, things have obviously not lived up to the hype, and Moncada isn’t happy, either, though he’s taking cues from his manager, Renteria, and teammate/mentor/friend, Jose Abreu, and looking at the positives.

“It hasn’t been as good as I wanted it to be,” Moncada said through a team translator on Friday. “But it hasn’t been as bad as you can think. It has been a challenging first half, but I’ve been learning a lot and working. I think the second half is going to be much better.”

Certainly this kind of performance from a young player (remember that Moncada is only 23 years old) isn’t completely unexpected. While he arrived in the majors after tearing up Triple-A, Moncada, as the White Sox brass will remind you, is not a finished product. None of these young players are. And the struggles at the plate and in the field could wind up not as harbingers of doom but simply as growing pains on the way to the big league stardom White Sox fans hope for from Moncada and all the other highly touted youngsters in the organization. Development isn’t linear, as Rick Hahn likes to say, and Moncada was perhaps never destined to improve in such dramatic fashion that it was visibly noticeable to the layman from one day to the next.

But at the same time, fans are understandably irked by repeating mistakes. In just the last handful of games, Moncada added to his strikeout total, made a fielding error that cost the White Sox a run and failed as a base runner to pick up a ball hit to the outfield, getting doubled up for a double play.

Talking specifically about the fielding error, Moncada’s 15th of the season, Renteria explained what happened — Moncada was trying a little too quickly to turn a double play — and that it is another learning moment in a season of them for these White Sox.

“Just something where you end up have to emphasize in a double play situation like that not to get anxious,” Renteria said. “You have to catch the ball first and then feed it to the guy on the other end. It’s not abnormal for young players to try to turn the DP from where they are at. It’s not the case. Receiving the ball fist and then giving the good feed. It’s not unheard of. It happens a lot. They speed it up a little bit.

“You go over it with him a little bit, and he cleans it up. That’s one more experience we can rely upon that didn’t turn out well but we can talk about it and have it run through his mind and see if he can understand exactly what we are talking about. He normally does.”

That’s all part of the development for Moncada, and like great players before him, rookie-year struggles in certain facets can disappear by the following season. Look at Kris Bryant on the other side of town, who led the National League with 199 strikeouts during his rookie season and has watched that number plummet in each season since. Perhaps Moncada will end up with similar results.

There’s been plenty to dislike about Moncada’s first half, but that doesn’t mean the flashes of brilliance weren’t there. Moncada carries the burden of expectations as one of the prospects touted as a main piece of the organization’s bright future. And just because the first half didn’t look like anyone wanted it to doesn’t mean he still can’t get to that point.

And hey, if the second half looks more like the last two weeks, maybe these first-half struggles fade into distant memory.

Jose Abreu might be starting to pull out of his slump, an example to White Sox young players

Jose Abreu might be starting to pull out of his slump, an example to White Sox young players

Perhaps things are starting to turn around for Jose Abreu.

It seems somewhat counterintuitive that the American League’s starting first baseman in next week’s All-Star Game is having his worst season as a big leaguer. But that’s been the case for Abreu, who after four remarkably productive and consistent seasons with the White Sox entered Friday’s game against the visiting Kansas City Royals with an OPS nearly .140 points below his career average. That’s mostly due to an extended slump in which he slashed .174/.218/.292 between May 27 and Wednesday’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals.

But maybe Abreu’s pulling out of his tailspin. He collected a pair of hits in Friday night’s win, including a well-struck home run to lead off the bottom of the sixth. That was his first extra-base knock since a triple on July 1 and his first homer since June 27.

Heck, a single two innings prior was enough to spark jokes from the home dugout, with Abreu’s teammates joking that he should get the team to retrieve the ball as a commemoration of his first hit in what’s seemed like forever.

Wiseguys, eh?

Abreu, always happy to joke around, appreciated the humor. And it’s what the White Sox appreciate about him that might be finally bringing him out of a month and a half of poor results: his work ethic.

Abreu’s commitment to his craft is a repeated talking point for manager Rick Renteria, general manager Rick Hahn and Abreu’s teammates. It’s what they respect most about a guy who put himself in some pretty elite company during his first four years in the major leagues. It’s what makes him a role model to the younger players so critical to this rebuilding effort who have already reached and who have yet reach the South Side.

Abreu’s efforts during this slump and the work he’s done to try to pull himself out of it: another example of what the young White Sox can learn from this veteran leader.

“I’m trying to tell them, to let them know what you need to do when you’re passing through a tough moment,” Abreu said through a team translator after Friday’s game. “Just have confidence in yourself, belief in yourself, belief in the stuff that you are doing and the stuff that brought you here. I think that’s the way.

“That’s the key for you to overcome difficulties and tough moments, have belief in yourself, have confidence in your approach, confidence in your routine, your work. That’s the way to overcome the difficulties, especially at this level.”

None of the current major league White Sox have escaped lengthy stretches of struggles in this developmental season. That includes big pieces of the rebuild like Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson. If they need some pointers on how to get back on track, looking to Abreu for help seems an obvious move, and the guys admit they get advice from Abreu on a regular basis.

Questions about hypothetical deadline and offseason trades will likely follow Abreu to Washington, D.C., next week. After all, if the rebuilding White Sox have a player good enough to start the All-Star Game, why wouldn’t they be interested in moving him for some young pieces?

Well, this kind of thing is why. Abreu is such an example to the young players who will soon make up the vast majority of this roster that the White Sox place a different value on him than other teams might. They see him as an important part of the developmental process for these prospects and young major leaguers. And he’s a good enough player to earn a start in the All-Star Game, which helps the argument that Abreu should be a part of the next White Sox contender.

That’s all to be determined, of course, but Abreu, with his work and his mentorship, is showing his value on a daily basis. And if this is him pulling out of his slump, then that value gets even greater.