So what’s up with Luis Robert?
In July and August, it sure looked like Robert wasn’t going to need to do any adjusting in his first taste of big league action. He wasn’t just running away with American League Rookie of the Year honors, he was looking like one of the best bats in a White Sox lineup that boasts more than one legitimate MVP candidate.
He said this during “Summer Camp”:
“If for whatever reason I don’t start the season as hot as I know I can, I will do my best to make the adjustments as fast as I can. But of course, that’s not my mindset right now. I’m pretty sure I’m going to be able to start the season pretty hot and display all my talent.
“I will have to adjust as much as I can if I have any trouble.”
He was right about one thing: He did start hot.
But the trouble has now come for Robert as he’s entered his second full month as a major league hitter. The game’s pitchers have adjusted. And now it’s time for Robert to adjust, too, because his September has been nasty.
Robert is slashing .100/.203/.150 with just one extra-base hit, the 458-foot moonshot of a homer he hit Sept. 3 in Kansas City. He’s struck out 23 times in 17 September games.
For the guy who described a hiccup in the middle of an otherwise fantastic first month and a half as “hitting a wall,” this has to count as hitting a mountain.
Manager Rick Renteria did give his struggling rookie a day off Sept. 13 against the Detroit Tigers. The skipper often employs that sort of tactic for slumping hitters, saying it gives them a chance to “take a breath” and refocus. Since that day off, Robert is 1-for-23 with nine strikeouts.
And Robert’s not the only one. Yoán Moncada is hitting .185 in September. Edwin Encarnación is hitting .164 on the season. Nomar Mazara hasn’t fared much better, at .216. It hasn’t stopped the White Sox from scoring runs and having one of the best offenses in the game. But with the playoffs right around the corner, they could really use these guys to get right.
“I put something up on the board today in my office. It says: ‘Why didn’t that guy just lay off of that pitch?’ Something to that effect, right?” Renteria said Saturday, referencing the reactions of outside observers to struggles at the plate. “There are two people that it speaks to. One is the person that's never actually done it. And the other one is, the person who has done it but has forgotten how hard it is to actually do it.
“It's not an easy thing to be a big league hitter. All big league hitters can go through moments in time that are difficult. ... If the talent wasn't there that has provided for them the opportunity to have the successes that they've had to this point, I'd be concerned. But because the talent is there, and because I do know that when a player falls into a nice groove those talents will end up exploding, (I remain confident).
“What is our hope? Our hope is that between now and the time we actually start to make that run (in the playoffs) … that they start to take off again and be as impactful as we need them to be.”
While getting Moncada or Encarnación back to their normal levels of production would be huge, Robert could have the most to contribute as a full-strength threat come playoff time, where he could be a true X-factor. He has that jam-packed tool box, and even while he’s struggling at the plate, he can still make an impact defensively or on the base paths.
White Sox fans have seen what he’s capable of when he’s locked in at the dish. In July and August, in his first 33 games in the big leagues, he slashed .298/.348/.612 with 10 homers, eight doubles and 24 RBIs.
It’s that kind of Robert the White Sox need in the playoffs. But just as was the concern before the season started, time is now Robert’s enemy.
In a normal campaign, the rookie would have months to continue making adjustments. Big league pitchers solved him after 30-something games? That’s a dent in a 162-game schedule, and he would have the entire summer to make his own adjustments.
Instead, at the close of this shortened, 60-game schedule, the postseason starts in a week. And one of the White Sox key offensive pieces is slumping.
How does it come to an end? There have been glimmers of hope, such as the two walks he drew in Sunday's loss in Cincinnati. But it might take time, time Robert and the White Sox don’t have much of.
"From my small sample size (working) with him last year (at Triple-A Charlotte), his approach to that is, 'I'm going to swing out of it,'" White Sox hitting coach Frank Menechino said earlier this month. "'Well, hold up now. That's what they want you to do, try to swing out of it.'
"So these are the important lessons he has to learn where sometimes less is more. 'Go up there and see some pitches and prove to these guys you're not going to swing at everything.' It's a learning experience for him. It was a learning experience for him in Triple-A. He went through these stretches in Triple-A. And they get it when they get it.
"For me to sit here and say what should he do, we could all sit here and tell him what he needs to do, but he's got to do it and he's got to figure it out himself. ... He'll figure it out and slow the game down.
"But a lot of times when guys are in a little slump, or let's just say a full-blown slump, you get to the point where you press. You get to the point where you break your helmet or bat, go off in the cage. And then you get to the point where you don't care no more. 'I'm just going to go up there and put the bat on the ball.' Those three stages, players will get to. When all of a sudden they don't care about getting a hit, their body relaxes, they react to what they see and they start hitting again."
As Renteria described, it’s not so much of a question whether Robert will figure things out. He’s an incredible talent. But it’s a real question whether he’ll figure things out in time to make a sizable contribution to what the White Sox hope is a deep playoff run.
With only seven regular-season games left, the clock’s ticking.