"It's not possible to go 0-for-500."
In case you were concerned Daniel Palka's sense of humor has been affected by his season-opening slump, don't be. That line got some laughs during his chat with reporters Sunday morning in the White Sox clubhouse.
But Palka has found out the hard way that it is indeed possible to go 0-for-21. That's where he stood entering Sunday's contest, still searching for his first hit of the 2019 season after the White Sox played their first eight games. It's been an obviously dreadful beginning to an important, "prove it" year for the guy who blasted a team-high 27 home runs as a rookie in 2018.
Coming out of nowhere after not even starting last season on the 25-man roster, Palka worked his way into the conversation about the rebuilding franchise's long-term future. He looked capable of being a dangerous bat off the bench, thanks to that left-handed power and knack for clutch hits. As every big leaguer does, he has his eyes on an everyday role. Through persistent questions about his defensive ability, he worked his butt off, practicing his outfield glove work before nearly every game. And all the while, he earned fan-favorite status for his joking nature during interviews and his willingness to interact with fans.
But the White Sox painted him into a bit of a corner when they traded for Yonder Alonso, relegating Palka to outfield duty even though he seemed best suited at designated hitter. The outfield remains crowded, with Eloy Jimenez locked into the everyday job in left field and a rotating cast of characters — Leury Garcia, Adam Engel, Ryan Cordell and Jon Jay, who's yet to return from a season-opening stay on the injured list — contending with Palka for playing time in the other two spots.
Roster moves are coming. Ervin Santana is expected to join the starting rotation next week, though the White Sox haven't publicly committed to that just yet. Jay will eventually return from the IL. Will someone in that outfield get squeezed out? Will it be Palka, the guy who led the team in homers last season? Baseball is a results-based business, after all, and Palka has no results to speak of in the early going.
"Obviously I'm not off to the start I was looking for," Palka said. "There are positives, things feel good, it's just a little bit of pressing right now. Kind of took a step back after yesterday and just restarted. Mechanically, everything looks good. It's just a matter of one dropping in there and getting started. I think the thing that annoys me most is that I'm not contributed to wins. I want to give the guys high fives on my side, too. It's just a matter of staying positive. Not much else to say about it.
"At the end of the day, I've got to know who I am and let my features contribute to the team instead of trying to be something I'm not."
In 2018, Palka certainly showed off attributes that could make him a valuable asset to any lineup. He brought a lot of power — and the exit velocity to go with it — and a flair for the dramatic. But in addition to the work he needed to do on his defense (work he believes has paid off in the early going this season), there were other numbers that needed a boost. He batted just .240 with a .294 on-base percentage. He struck out 153 times in 124 games.
Those flaws in his offensive game are glaring at the moment. He's hitless and though he's walked twice (one with the bases loaded for an RBI), he's got nine strikeouts in 23 plate appearances.
What's the solution?
"Realistically, I've just got to be patient," Palka said. "I'm not someone who gets a lot of pitches to hit because of some of the successes I've had. My mentality is always like, 'I want to do it, I want to do it now.' I've just got to take a step back and be patient up there."
"I haven't necessarily had any 1-on-1s with Palk. He's not a touchy-feely type guy," manager Rick Renteria said Sunday. "He's a guy that likes to work. He stays to himself quite a bit. I think more than anything, a pat on the back and just an encouraging word as he passes is something we continue to do. He continues to work with (hitting coach Todd Steverson) to get his approach back in order so he's able to take advantage of that powerful swing he has. Sincerely, more for him, it's managing pitches he can control and do something with."
Certainly the White Sox have given no indication that Palka is in danger of going anywhere, and Renteria has consistently stuck with Palka in the thick of the lineup (he did get a day off Sunday, along with Garcia). So it's on Palka to figure this out so he can begin his work of staying in that long-term conversation.
"It's a slump, and I'm going to get out of it," he said. "I'm the same me. It's not going to just magically disappear. I feel good about things."Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.