KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Jose Abreu’s missing bat in the middle of the White Sox lineup has been a problem. Maybe that’s what prompted the Sox first baseman to have a talk with it Tuesday morning.
“See the ball, hit the ball,” Abreu playfully said in English, holding two bats up at his locker before the White Sox’ split doubleheader against the Royals Tuesday at Kauffman Stadium.
Abreu also pleaded with his bats to give him two hits, which he got in a 3-0 victory over the Royals in Game 1. Abreu singled, lined out to right field and doubled home the Sox’ second and third runs against Jonathan Heasley. That came a day after he walked twice and singled in a 5-3 victory. Abreu also walked Tuesday.
It seemed to be a good sign for the Sox. Abreu, 35, entered the series batting .200/.284/.312 with four homers. The Sox have banked on him for 30 homers and 100 RBI since his rookie season in 2014, and while his scuffling isn’t only reason why the they ranked 26th among 30 teams in runs, 28th in on-base percentage, 22nd in slugging and last in walks, having both him and Yasmani Grandal waiting to get untracked in the heart of a lineup missing Yoan Moncada and Eloy Jimenez for sizable chunks of the season plays big.
“Looking more like himself, isn’t he?” said manager Tony La Russa, who after planning to have Abreu DH in Game 2 gave him a break instead, inserting Luis Robert into the DH spot. “He has the pom pons for the second game. He’s resting.”
La Russa said Abreu, who almost always resists time off, “put a lot into that game” and that the decision was “mutual.”
“He’s cheering in the dugout. He worked hard,” said La Russa, who also rested shortstop Tim Anderson in Game 2.
And he’s keeping teammates loose on an important road trip that continues through Kansas City Thursday and into the weekend against the Yankees. Giving teammate Luis Robert a hard time after Robert’s homer beat the Royals Monday, Abreu let out a primal scream and had his teammates in stitches. Tuesday morning, he had them laughing some more. Maybe he was sensing that bat is coming around.
“He was on one pregame,” said Dylan Cease, who pitched 5 2⁄3 scoreless ininngs with nine strikeouts to improve to 4-1. “It was pretty awesome.”
During the game, Abreu sprinted full speed across the infield to the dugout after making an inning-ending putout, beating everyone else there.
“He’s loose,” Cease said. “He brings not only intangibles but a middle of the lineup bat that always has good at-bats, RBIs, moving guys over. As professional as it comes.
“He’s the ultimate grinder and competitor. He could severely sprain his ankle and he’ll want to be taped up and out there limping, if he can. To have someone with that kind of fighting spirit, I think just sets a good tone for everybody.”
At 94 pitches after striking out MJ Melendez for the second out in the sixth, Cease made it obvious he didn’t want to come out but said he respected La Russa’s decision, which proved good when Bennett Sousa struck out pinch hitter Michael Taylor with a runner on second.
Joe Kelly loaded the bases with no outs and pitched out of it striking out Carlos Santana and Ryan O’Hearn and getting Hunter Dozier on a soft pop-up in the seventh, Jose Ruiz pitched a scoreless eighth and Liam Hendriks the ninth for his 11th save.
The struggling Royals were 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position and struck out 14 times. And the Sox were over the .500 mark. If Abreu gets going, maybe they won’t go under again.
“Right now we’ve got good morale,” Cease said. “Road trips can always feel a bit longer than home series. We’re not by any means burnt out or anything like that. We’re grinding. We’re still trying to do some damage. I think we’re feeling good right now.”