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 Talk Podcast: American League All-Stars rave about Jose Abreu

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: American League All-Stars rave about Jose Abreu

With Jose Abreu playing in the All-Star Game, we asked some of his American League teammates about the White Sox first baseman. Justin Verlander, Craig Kimbrel and Michael Brantley rave about Abreu, explaining why he’s such a great hitter and a tough out for pitchers. 

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below:

All Star of the present Jose Abreu trying to help Yoan Moncada become the All Star of the future for White Sox

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USA TODAY

All Star of the present Jose Abreu trying to help Yoan Moncada become the All Star of the future for White Sox

WASHINGTON, D.C. — While the White Sox wait for their All Stars of the future to develop, Jose Abreu is representing the club at the All-Star Game in the nation’s capital.

Abreu, elected by the fans to be the American League’s starting first baseman Tuesday night, might represent the White Sox present, but he’s a key part of their future, as well. While his contract situation remains a mystery — the team would need to extend him in order to keep around past the 2019 season — he’s helping to develop the players who are planned to make up the next contending group on the South Side.

No player is more under Abreu’s guiding hand than Yoan Moncada, his fellow Cuban who just a season ago was the No. 1 prospect in baseball. Moncada’s development from top prospect into star of the future is the biggest storyline of the season for the White Sox. And Abreu, the role model in this clubhouse, is in part tasked with helping Moncada do just that.

“Our friendship is special,” Moncada said through a team translator last week. “We’re always talking about everything, having fun. He gives me advice, and I always try to make fun of him. Our relationship has been for a long time. We were friends in Cuba. And now we are rejoined here. It’s just a very good relationship. I’m blessed having him here.”

“He’s a Cuban, and it’s always special to play with a fellow Cuban countryman. He’s a great kid,” Abreu said through a team translator Monday. “I think that it’s a blessing. The White Sox did all that they could do for us to play together. I’m just enjoying the moment and every day with him. It’s special. It’s definitely a very special feeling.”

Abreu is often lauded by White Sox brass as the perfect example of what they want their young players to become. His incredible production makes that an easy comparison: He put up at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs in each of his first four major league seasons. But it’s what he does outside the lines that gets the highest praise. Rick Hahn, Rick Renteria and all of Abreu’s teammates constantly talk about his work ethic, his routine, his dedication to getting better and the way he goes about his business.

Moncada’s noticed. And he sees Abreu’s latest accomplishment — getting picked as an All-Star starter — as vindication that, yes, Abreu’s methods certainly work.

“Knowing him, knowing all the effort that he puts into his preparation, his work ethic, all that work that he puts into his preparation is paying off and he’s recognized with this election,” Moncada said. “That’s something that motivates you, something that lets you know that if you do things the right way, you’re going to get rewarded. For me, it’s a motivation, and I feel really honored to share this team with him.”

Moncada’s first full season in the bigs hasn’t gone smoothly. He’s had his hot stretches — including the last couple weeks; he’s slashing .356/.453/.644 since July 2 — but he’s also had long periods of struggles. Certain aspects, such as a propensity for striking out and making errors at second base, have been constants throughout the campaign.

Renteria refers to the mistakes and the poor results as teachable moments. Does he have a proxy teacher in Abreu?

“I tell him to enjoy the game,” Abreu said. “Enjoy the game, have fun, be a little more focused on the situation of the game. But I think the key is to have fun.”

Mostly, though, Abreu is convinced that Moncada will blossom into the kind of player White Sox fans hoped he would when he brought that top-prospect track record to the organization in the Chris Sale trade. The expectations are undoubtedly high, but Abreu’s been seeing Moncada meet them for some time. The two have known each other since the younger Moncada was 17 years old.

“I think that he was born with special abilities to play this sport,” Abreu said. “Before I met him, there were a lot of people talking about him in Cuba because of his abilities, the talent that he has. And when I met him, it was a very special moment. As soon as I met him, I realized, ‘Wow, what people say about him is true.’ His body type, his ability to play the game. He’s special.”

So will the All Star of today and the All Star of tomorrow one day share the All-Star stage?

“I would like to have that opportunity. Let’s pray to God to have that opportunity,” Abreu said. “If that happens, that would be really special for us.”