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Sheets states case for playoff spot with two-homer night

/ by Vinnie Duber
Presented By Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
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You think Gavin Sheets had Sept. 1 circled on his calendar?

"Obviously, I hoped to get back here as soon as possible."

The Chicago White Sox rookie was sent down in early August, not because he didn't impress during his first major league stint but because his rookie status put him on the unfortunate end of a roster crunch in the outfield. Sheets didn't go down because he deserved it. He went down because he could easily be brought back up.

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His time back at Triple-A Charlotte lasted nearly a month, during which he continued to hit and hit well. But you can tell that the day that major league rosters expanded couldn't come soon enough.

In his first game back in the bigs Wednesday night, Sheets, returned to the newly 28-man White Sox roster, hit a pair of home runs and drove in four, the main player in his team's 6-3 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

"That's how he looked in spring training," White Sox manager Tony La Russa said, pleased with but not at all surprised by Sheets' power surge. "A lot of those young guys made such an impression. They would just play late in the (exhibition) game, or you wouldn't play them for three days and when they played, they played like it was the seventh game of the World Series. They've carried that hunger over.

 

"I think he wants to be a big leaguer and he wants to be a productive big leaguer. You've got to like his chances. I do."

Sheets impressed enough during his first go-round to deserve to stick, even if the roster realities wouldn't allow it. Now he's off to a flying start in his return trip to the majors, and he could secure something else: a spot on the White Sox' playoff roster.

"Yeah, I'm not even going to think about that," Sheets said. "Obviously, I think you all know how I would feel about getting a spot on the playoff roster. Obviously that would be incredible. But right now, it's about just playing this next month, and whatever happens happens."

There don't figure to be too many spots up for grabs on the position-player side, what with the significant injuries that knocked Eloy Jiménez, Luis Robert and Yasmani Grandal out for months-long stretches in the rear-view mirror. But Sheets has a case to make as a left-handed hitter with pop that could be deployed in key postseason situations off the White Sox' bench.

Just how much Sheets — who added right field to his defensive repertoire ahead of this season — would factor into the playoff mix could depend on how healthy Adam Engel is. The White Sox' outfielder has been on the injured list multiple times this season and played in just 33 regular-season games. He's on a rehab assignment right now, meaning he could indeed be ready to provide his combination of impact offense and defense as the regular right fielder in October.

But even if Engel is soaking up most of the starts in right field, Sheets will earn consideration for a spot as part of the reserve unit, alongside, one would guess, guys like Leury García, Billy Hamilton, Brian Goodwin and Seby Zavala. The need for fewer starting pitchers in a best-of-five division series would perhaps open another spot for a position player.

More than anything, though, Sheets' ability to flat out hit is what would make him a valuable inclusion.

"The fact that he's been productive at the minor league level and the major league level, he'll certainly be under consideration if, of course, the matchup makes sense for our ballclub, if we feel he's going to put us in a position to help us win a series," White Sox assistant general manager and player-development chief Chris Getz said last month. "It's tough to truly predict, but I think he's positioned himself well to certainly be in the conversation."

"Gavin is a great hitter, man," White Sox starting pitcher Carlos Rodón. "It's nice to have a left-handed power bat like that who can impact a game with just one swing."

Or two swings, in Wednesday's case.

The White Sox have already started making the difficult decisions needed to thin what's been a crowded outfield since Jiménez and Robert came back. The team designated Jake Lamb for assignment Wednesday, allowing them to bring Hamilton off the injured list and Sheets up from the minors. That might have been an indication of how they were thinking about Sheets already when it came to who to have around as the games reach their most important level yet.

 

For Sheets, he's not going to focus on where he ranks or playoff-roster math. He's perfectly happy to keep hitting. Of course, if he does that, though, then it will become ever more difficult for the White Sox to head to the postseason without him.

"The first time, you're getting in and you're trying to prove yourself every at-bat. That's kind of the nice thing about coming back here now is it's not about that, it's about helping the team win," Sheets said. "I feel like I've done enough to prove I can compete here and play here, but now it's about putting together great at-bats and winning ball games.

"And that's nice, because that's the baseball I like to play. I don't want to try to impress everybody every at-bat, it's about putting good at-bats together and trying to win a ball game like tonight.

"To say I missed this place would be an understatement. This is an awesome clubhouse, awesome guys. And you dream about being in a playoff chase and being in first place. To be back here and helping this team win, that's what it's all about. It's an incredible feeling."

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