Perhaps it’s the new environment in the clubhouse. Or maybe it’s freedom from the weight of all the personal issues he dealt with in 2016. And he doesn’t think he’s doing anything much different at the plate.
Whatever the case may be, Jose Abreu is knocking the crap out of the ball once again. On Tuesday, Abreu was rewarded for his efforts as he was named the American League player of the week for May 22-28. It’s the fourth time Abreu has won the award and the first since Sept. 14-20, 2015.
“Last year when the season ended, I started working on my body and my preparation, just to be ready for the season,” Abreu said through an interpreter. “It was hard work that I put into my body and to my preparation, and now I get to just let it go. You always try to do your routine and try to prepare yourself the best that you can. But now it’s like my soul, everything is more loose.”
Everything coming off Abreu’s bat of late is a rocket.
Over the week, Abreu hit .452 with three doubles, two home runs, five RBIs and seven runs. He produced a 1.194 OPS and also hit the 100th homer of his career.
Perhaps the strongest indicator of Abreu’s return to prominence after a difficult 2016 (he still hit 25 home runs and drove in 100) is the way the ball is exiting Abreu’s bat.
During a slow first two weeks, Abreu’s exit velo averaged 88.75 mph. That number has since picked up as over his last 92 batted-ball events, Abreu’s average is 92.3 mph.
But he was even better last week, averaging 95.5 mph. This season, batters carried a .539 average on balls hit at 95 mph or above through Sunday.
Manager Rick Renteria hasn’t seen any difference in Abreu’s preparation or his approach. He thinks it’s possible Abreu just feels better. Last season, Abreu learned in April that several key people who helped him get to United States from Cuba had been arrested for running a smuggling ring. Abreu testified in that trial during spring training. He also was reunited with his son, Dariel, in August after having seen him only once since he had left Cuba.
“Any human being who has anything going on their lives takes up some time in their mind and their heart, anybody would be really glad when some of those things are put to the side,” Renteria said. “It frees you up to do what you are supposed to do be doing.”
Though he appreciates the honor, Abreu would like to see it translate to more White Sox victories.
“I feel very happy for this award,” Abreu said. “Like you said, it’s a recognition for all the work every day and my preparation. That said, the most important thing is the team. You always want to help the team win games. It’s a good award, but the most important thing for the team.”