With Triple-A Charlotte entering its own All-Star break this week, White Sox first baseman/designated hitter Justin Morneau will continue his rehab assignment with Double-A Birmingham beginning Monday.
The goal for Morneau, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list after signing a one-year, $1 million deal June 9, has always been to make his 2016 debut sometime after the All-Star break. The White Sox begin the second half Friday in California against the Los Angeles Angels.
“I think for him it’s always going to be about his pace and what he feels like he can handle and where he’s at,” manager Robin Ventura said. “I think we’re at a point where you’d welcome it as soon as you can get him as long as he’s comfortable and feels like he’s ready. That’s going to be the biggest thing, and we’re going to have to be patient with that, for him, knowing when’s the right time to give a thumbs up.”
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Morneau has 19 plate appearances over six games during his minor league rehab assignment, with two hits (a single and triple), one walk and four strikeouts. The 35-year-old said last week he’s not concerned with the results of his at-bats as he tries to get his timing back.
The 2006 American League MVP posted an .860 and .821 OPS in 2014 and 2015, respectively, with the Colorado Rockies and has a .282/.349/.483 slash line over 13 major league seasons. Even if Morneau hits below his career averages, though, he’d likely provide an offensive boost to a White Sox lineup that’s struggled to get production from its designated hitters this season.
Entering Sunday’s first half finale, White Sox designated hitters have combined for -1.0 WAR and have the second-worst OPS (.615) in the American League. The six home runs that White Sox players have hit as designated hitters represent the lowest total in the league, too.
So while the White Sox aren’t rushing Morneau to the majors, there’s a pretty clear need for improvement that they hope he can provide.
“He’s a veteran presence in there, left-handed hitter, and any time you add somebody like him or you mix him in there, is your lineup gets a little deeper,” Ventura said. “There’s a dangerous left-handed hitter in there that we didn’t necessarily have before that you can insert in there. It helps your lineup in a lot of different ways.”