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Abreu assures La Russa he's OK to play through slump

/ by Vinnie Duber
Presented By Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
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Friday night, Tony La Russa admitted that what he was seeing from José Abreu was "atypical."

But there was nothing atypical about seeing Abreu's name in the Chicago White Sox lineup Saturday.

After Friday's loss to the Seattle Mariners, in which the dual funks both the White Sox and Abreu are in continued, the South Side skipper speculated that the reigning MVP was playing through some pain and that something might need to be done.

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Being sure to clarify that his suspicion was that Abreu was "sore" and not "hurt" — an important distinction considering the rotten injury luck the White Sox have dealt with all season — La Russa guessed that his slumping first baseman could use a rest of some fashion. Knowing that Abreu is loath to take a single day off, maybe that meant more appearances as the designated hitter, something to give him a breather as the White Sox plan a long-haul run at a championship.

But according to La Russa, he got the assurance he needed from Abreu that all was well, or at least well enough that he would stay in a lineup that's already had so many huge holes punched in it by injuries.

"He put his hand on a ball, which is the baseball bible, and assured me that he wasn't being overly heroic," La Russa said Saturday. "So I said, 'Great, you're in there.'"

 

A night earlier, La Russa's concerns seemed graver. Not that Abreu was destined for the kinds of months-long absences currently affecting Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert, but that a team leader insistent on staying available while so many of his teammates are not was just trying to do too much.

"It sure seems to me he's dealing with some pain issues that he wants to play through," La Russa said Friday. "We're going to talk to him about (how) there's still three-plus months to go and at some point, is it better to back off a little bit if you can identify what's sore.

"It just seems to me that's he's — and a lot of guys are watching — atypical kind of stuff for him, at-bats. I wouldn't doubt he's got some aches, so we're going to talk to him, do the right thing by him, that's for sure."

It doesn't take the sharpest baseball eye to see that Abreu has indeed looked atypical of late. He's batting just .173/.221/.272 in the month of June, obvious plummets from his usual MVP-level production. The season doesn't end today, of course, though if it did his .750 OPS would be a career low by nearly .050 points. He has just four hits in his last 10 games.

Potentially alleviating some of the concern, Abreu's made a habit of making bad stretches distant memories, often snapping out of slumps with streaks so hot that his numbers are right where he expects them to be by season's end. And to see that happen this time around would be as unsurprising as his insistence to be in the lineup every day — particularly with his team in such dire need of his bat.

"If it gets to where it's detrimental to him or the team, I think he'll speak up," La Russa said Saturday. "He's DH'd a couple times and actually has taken a day off. As long as we keep that communication honest and trust him.

"There's been a lot of times he's gone to the post ... (and) we've been concerned about something and he gets the RBI that makes you happy he played, because he was the difference, defensively, offensively.

"We trust if it's not in his best interest, which is not in our interest, that he's going to let us know."

And so a night after wondering whether Abreu would be able to keep powering through this woeful stretch, amid any potential physical troubles, it was a hefty dose of reality to see the MVP doing pregame work down the left-field line, practicing his swing in his patented hard-working style in an attempt to turn things around. For himself and for his team.

Anything but atypical for No. 79.

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