Forget moving Luis Robert up in the White Sox lineup. Thursday, he was out of it completely.
The severely slumping rookie got an off day as the White Sox attempted to avoid a four-game sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Indians.
Robert, who set the game on fire with his jam-packed tool box upon his major league arrival, has swung from the surefire American League Rookie of the Year to an invisible man for a playoff-bound group of South Siders. After slashing .298/.348/.612 with 10 homers and 24 RBIs in his first 33 big league games, the month of September has been a nightmare for Robert, who is 6-for-70 (a .086 batting average) with 30 strikeouts in 20 games since the calendar turned.
"The reality is you have a young man coming into the big leagues and no matter how talented you are, you hit a wall. I know nobody wants to see the wall be hit, but you hit a wall," manager Rick Renteria said Thursday. "The hitter starts thinking he’s off on his mechanics or something and then you realize maybe you are chasing pitches and it’s a little bit of a circle. You try to keep him calm and moving, trying to keep him trusting what it is that ultimately got him here and continue to make small adjustments over the course of time.
"Sometimes, though, them not being robots, it is emotional and a mental game, obviously. You have to make adjustments. A lot of it is depending on trust and confidence. There’s this belief that players at times don’t lose their confidence or don’t lose their trust. No, that’s not true. All of us, every single one of us, loses confidence and trust in ourselves. We try to keep them from going too far into the abyss so they can come back to where they need to be.
"It’s not easy to hit in the big leagues as much as they make it seem easy."
Indeed, Robert's immense talent shouldn't have anyone concerned that this is some sort of harbinger of long-term doom for one of the White Sox brightest young stars.
But what about the short term?
Just as the White Sox as a team are running out of time to right themselves with the postseason approaching, the same is true for Robert. The South Siders have lost four straight, five of six and six of eight and fell out of first place after losing Wednesday night. The franchise's first postseason series in a dozen years starts Tuesday, and they're in danger of stumbling their way into October.
Robert is in the same boat, individually, and his deep slump means the White Sox could be left with a hole, however temporary, in their lineup as what veteran starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel called "the real games" begin. With the opening-series the best of three games, there's little margin for error when it comes to the White Sox meeting their re-calibrated playoff expectations and making a run to the World Series.
These sorts of stretches aren't uncommon for players, particularly young players who are still getting their first tastes of the major leagues. But it's come at a critical time for Robert.
"As a player with more experience than him, I know that these moments happen," first baseman José Abreu said Wednesday. "What I've been telling him is just keep calm, keep working, don't lose focus.
"We need him. We need him to be the player that we all saw that he can be in the middle of this season and the player we know that he can be in the future. We all know he's going to be a superstar, and we need him. It's not a joke, he's a very important player for us, and we need him to find his stride again and help us because the race is not going to get any easier. We need him."
It will likely take more than one day off to get Robert right again. But this is a strategy Renteria has employed when his young players have struggled. We'll have to wait until the White Sox return home to face the Cubs in the final series of the regular season to see if the day of rest yields any positive results.
For those, including certain first-ballot Hall of Famers, who suggest that moving Robert around in the order might be a solution to the rookie's woes, Renteria's not so sure that strategy would make much difference.
"When an individual is out of sync, so to speak, you can hit him first if you want, you can hit him in front of the best hitter in the world, they're going to attack him the same way," Renteria said Tuesday. "If they feel that he is outside of the zone, they're going to continue to attack him that way. They're not going to try to put him in a position to have more chances to do what they don't want him to do.
"So that's not necessarily what we're looking at in terms of what he's doing."
What the White Sox need, as Abreu mentioned, is for Robert to figure things out in the final weekend of the regular season if he's going to be able to make the kind of impact they know he can in the postseason. If his slump continues into next week, along with those of Yoán Moncada, Edwin Encarnación and Nomar Mazara, the White Sox offense could continue to be in the same kind of funk it has been over the last week.
And that could mean a very short playoff run.