DETROIT – Adam LaRoche speaks softly, and carries a big stick. He has swung a productive power bat for much of his 12-year career, which is why the White Sox signed him to a two-year, $25 million free-agent contract last offseason.
In his first year as a White Sox, though, LaRoche has put that stick on display only sporadically, producing a .236 average and .346 on-base percentage with nine homers and 37 RBI, mostly in the cleanup spot in a sputtering lineup.
“Obviously right now it could be a lot better, individually and as a team,’’ LaRoche said.
LaRoche was signed on for his veteran clubhouse presence and leadership as well as his offense. His is a quiet voice – one listeners must be close by to catch – but one that is heard. The Sox clubhouse is full of teammates, young and veteran alike, enduring tough times and the well-respected LaRoche is one who will reach out.
“And when I do nobody will ever probably know about it,’’ LaRoche, 35, said. “That’s the way I’ve always done it. I’ve never been a rah-rah type to do it publicly or in the dugout. Some guys have had success with that — not that I don’t believe in it – but that’s just not my style.
“When somebody is down and out, sitting at their locker I’ll pull up a chair next to him and try to talk him through some of the things they’re going through because most likely I’ve been through it. Shed some light on that and let them know that it’s not the end of the world, just a blip on the radar.’’
In the era of two wild card teams when it takes being very bad to be out of the playoff picture as the trade deadline appears, at 32-41 the White Sox find themselves in desperate need of an extended winning streak to avoid being in seller’s mode as July 31 approaches.
The challenge for manager Robin Ventura is to keep his entire clubhouse in max-effort mode.
“I’ve been on teams when you look up in July and August, you got to be realistic, you look up in the standings and see you’re way back,’’ LaRoche said. “There’s times where a bunch of the guys kind of check out and ‘we’ll get em next year.’ It’s crucial when you’re going through a tough stretch to not allow that to happen. Robin has done everything he can do to make that not happen. The rest is on us as players to stick together and be confident in what we’re doing.’’
So far, Ventura has succeeded at that. The Sox are losing because of poor defense and a bevy of sub-par hitting performances but not for lack of trying, which is one reason why Ventura is keeping his job.
“I don’t see anybody checking out,’’ LaRoche said. “No, I see everybody staying about as positive as you can. Our last two or three wins have been close games, exciting games, and regardless of where you are in the standings a win is a win. We need a bunch of them right now, and the idea is to bring that momentum into the next day. You hope you get on a streak where you roll out five or six and keep doing.’’
“We’ve got to push,’’ team vice president Ken Williams said Friday. “We’re going to have to have a run and the great thing is, you can imagine that because you run in Chris Sale and [Jeff] Samardzija and [Carlos] Rodon and [Jose] Quintana out there [in the starting rotation].
“You can imagine going on that kind of a run and we do have the pieces. Certainly right now, if I’m being honest, I don’t see any indication of that. But you never know what’s going to click at a given time and you go on a roll. And when you’ve got this kind of starting pitching and the bullpen to support it, this is the kind of thing you just need a little offense to support it and a little fundamentally sound baseball. We don’t need anybody to make the great play, we just need them to make the plays they should make.’’
If players read what’s being written or listen to talk radio discussions about the state of the team, they know they’re taking their lumps. This team, after all, was built to win.
“It’s negative times,’’ LaRoche said. “If we buy into that it gets worse. You have to find a way to stay positive. This game is full of heartbreak and letdowns. The guys who are mentally the strongest and prepared for it will survive in this game. You can also do that collectively as a team. The more guys who do that the more who fall into place and take on that same attitude.’’