MINNEAPOLIS -- There aren’t many louder noises right now than those being produced by Jose Abreu’s bat. But the heavy sighs of relief from everyone else in the White Sox organization can’t be far behind.
For the last month, Abreu has regained the form that made him one of the biggest offensive forces in the American League the previous two seasons. That the stretch -- one that saw the White Sox first baseman reach base in 29 straight games before Saturday’s 11-3 loss to the Minnesota Twins -- arrived after a lengthy slump in which he appeared mortal comes as a huge relief to both the player and club. Instead of heading into the offseason with questions about his ability, both Abreu and the White Sox know he’s still plenty capable.
“It’s encouraging, absolutely,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “Even for his own sake, that he knows it’s in there and it can come out. It’s one thing for a guy to go through something like that and not find it before the end of the season, and you have thoughts going into the next season, some doubts that other people might put on you. It’s important for him to have that. Now his confidence level is just at a different level than it has been the past couple of months because he knows how it feels and what he’s doing when he goes up there.”
When he hits as he has since Aug. 2, Abreu has no equal in the White Sox lineup. Not only does he boast tremendous power, Abreu hits with runners in scoring position as evidenced by his .329 career average before this season in 323 plate appearances. He’s the kind of bat an offense can be formed around and one Justin Morneau said he enjoys watching from the on-deck circle. Morneau is impressed with Abreu’s ability to adjust as he did in the eighth inning on Friday when he got enough of a 1-2 curveball on the hands to hit it into center field and break the game open.
“I don’t know if anyone is important than anyone else, but he’s possibly the most important hitter in our lineup,” Morneau said. “It’s just that threat you need in the middle of the lineup. You make a mistake and he can hit it out of the ballpark and even when you make good pitches he’s seeming to get the good part of the bat on the ball.
“Guy makes a great pitch inside (Friday) and somehow he pulls his hands inside and hits the ball up the middle, drives in two runs. When you have a guy like that in the middle of the lineup, it just makes everyone else better. He’s been getting on base for a month straight. It’s fun to stand behind in the on-deck circle.
“When I’m old I can tell my kids about guys I’ve played with and he’s one that will be on the list for sure.”
Entering Saturday night, Abreu had hit .379/.425/.664 with nine home runs and 23 RBIs in 127 plate appearances since Aug. 2. Before that, Abreu’s OPS was .770, more than 130 points below his career mark of .904 headed into this season. His average with runners in scoring position has also increased from .240 to .266.
Abreu said his turnaround has happened for multiple reasons.
He credits the team’s hitting coaches, including assistant Greg Sparks, for a technical adjustment -- “I’ve been using more of hands and synchronized the movement of my hands with my eyes, chasing the ball,” Abreu said through an interpreter.
He also said he received extra motivation from a month-long visit from Cuba by his 5-year-old son, Dariel. Abreu doesn’t want the perception to be that his son’s absence caused his slump. But he’s very pleased to have once again found this level of performance.
“I didn’t hit because I didn’t hit,” Abreu said. “I’m glad the last month or so the production has been there.
“I don’t think that there is pressure. I think there is motivation. When the people have bad thoughts about you, that’s good because that means you are held in high consideration to them. But I don’t think I feel pressure because of that.”
The White Sox front office also shares in Abreu’s enthusiasm. As they begin to construct the roster for 2017, they have a better sense of who they have in the middle. And knowing they don’t need to find a new man for the middle of the order could make all the difference.
With Abreu in full swing, the White Sox have hit .275/.330/.441 and averaged 4.6 runs per game. Those figures are up from .249/.312/.395 and 4 runs a game.
“It was his first time probably in his life and certainly in the states where he struggled,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “Inevitably the league makes an adjustment to you and it becomes incumbent on the player to make the adjustment back. We’ve seen that now where he’s making that and he’s looking a heck of a lot more like the player he was the first couple of years.”