Since Nick Madrigal returned from his shoulder injury, he's delivered a heaping helping of Nick Madrigal.
The guy the White Sox took with the No. 4 pick in the draft two summers ago has been billed as a change of pace from the modern batter, a high-contact singles hitter who's going to bring speed and defense and slap the ball all over the yard, not out of it. Everyone's got plenty of confidence that Madrigal can unlock some power at some point. But so far, he's been as advertised. And that's been quite good.
He entered Saturday's game against the Kansas City Royals with a .400 batting average. Just call him Nicky Ballgame.
"I'm at my best when I just see the ball and hit the ball," Madrigal said Saturday. "I'm not worried about where the pitch is going to be or anything like that. I've always been that way.
"I think if I stick to my plan, no matter who's pitching or what team it is, the scouting report, I'm going to be able to hit anyone."
So far, he's hit just about everyone. Well, at least he's hit the Royals an awful lot. He's only played in 11 major league games, so he won't amass enough at-bats to threaten Ted Williams' status as the most recent player to hit .400 over the course of a season. But more than half of Madrigal's games have come against the Royals, who he played against when he was first called up on July 31 and who he played against after he returned from a three-and-a-half-week stay on the injured list. It's who he's playing against now as the White Sox move through their final series against their division rivals this season.
Madrigal separated his shoulder sliding into third base in just his fifth career game. That led to the absence, and though three and a half weeks represented a significant chunk of this shortened season, it could have been worse. The White Sox could have been without Madrigal the rest of the way, at least that's what folks feared when he popped up from that slide holding his arm. There were flashbacks to Michael Kopech getting hurt in his fourth major league game and needing Tommy John surgery.
Instead, Madrigal's back and he's got a hit in every game he's played in since he's returned. This is the Madrigal the White Sox hoped they were getting when they drafted him. He's been poking, shooting, guiding, cueing and just about every other similar verb you can think of-ing base hits through the infield and in front of opposing outfielders.
Friday night — as the entire White Sox team did its best Madrigal impression, scoring seven runs on 14 hits, only two of which went for extra bases and none of which left the park -— Madrigal banged out two more singles, the first of which drove in a run. It was the dictionary definition of the kind of thing Madrigal's been doing since arriving in the big leagues. He pushed a single up the middle, squeezing it through the infield, just out of the reach of the ranging Kansas City shortstop. His second was a more well struck liner into shallow center that allowed Nomar Mazara to go from first to third and score on Tim Anderson's sacrifice fly shortly thereafter.
That's Madrigal for you. And he's feeling good.
"When I was coming back, spending a few days in Schaumburg, my swing felt fine. At first I was a little hesitant to really full-out swing with my shoulder, and each and every day it felt much, much better," he said. "Right now, I feel healthy. My swing feels great, and I’m pretty satisfied with everything."
It was while rehabbing at the team's alternate training site in Schaumburg that Madrigal caught some internet attention when he banged a home run off the scoreboard during a simulated game.
It was an uncommon display of power from the diminutive infielder. And as everyone waits to see whether his against-the-grain hitting style will fly at the major league level — it has so far — the questions keep coming about whether he'll be able to add some power to all that contact. He keeps answering them, his confidence high that he'll be able to make it so his slugging percentage doesn't match his batting average for much longer.
"I know it's going to come," he said. "I know it's something that’s been on a lot of topics from people, extra-base hits. Right now, my role is to get on base for this lineup, and I know that in the back of my mind. So whether I'm bunting every time or blooping it out there, I understand what my role is on this team. I don't need to try to hit home runs. So I've really tried to embrace that.
"I know it's going to be part of my future game. It’s something I’m not going to re-create myself. It's just going to come naturally. ... People are always going to say something about my swing, that's been my whole life. It's something I’ve heard a lot. But I'm going to stick to my approach and the way I'm swinging right now."
Certainly it's working.
Madrigal might not hit .400 much longer, but he figures to be an important piece of this White Sox team for years to come. Though he arrived with less fanfare than, say, Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert, he was one of many highly ranked prospects White Sox fans followed for years waiting for them to ascend to the major leagues. Well, he's here now, along with the rest of the White Sox future. And that future has turned into the present in a hurry, the White Sox leaping out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode this season.
They entered Saturday's game in sole possession of first place in the AL Central standings.
"It's been a blast. It's something I hoped for all offseason," Madrigal said. "I've always visualized being on a winning team and being here and in this position.
"Honestly, it's not too big of a surprise. It's something we've all worked for (and) talked about. Everyone's known we've had the pieces to put together a really good team and make a run at it.
"It's definitely a joy to be around these guys and everything that's going on."