KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Welp, the White Sox are still in first place after a day in Kansas City.
Their rainout Thursday of the scheduled opener to a four-game series and 10-game homestand, coupled with an off day for the second place Cleveland Indians, assured the Sox – who came to town riding a three-game losing streak and a skid of 11 losses in 15 games — of maintaining their half-game lead.
A silver lining? In their last two losses Jose Abreu appeared to be finding his much-needed hitting stroke with three hits in each game.
It’s only May but having been in first place since April 23 is meaningful to Abreu, whose first two seasons in the majors have been spent at or near the bottom of the American League Central. And it should be meaningful to his teammates, too, he said Thursday.
“We’re in first place,’’ Abreu said through translator Billy Russo. “No matter what the situation is, we’re in first place — and that’s something that should give you motivation to come here every day and play hard and get a win. Everyone has to remember that, because that’s something we didn’t have the last two years at this point in the season.’’
To see Abreu work in the cage on his swing every day, early and often, is to know his level of motivation is soaring. In fact, he might work too hard, according to manager Robin Ventura and hitting coach Todd Steverson. But Abreu knows no other way.
“Sometimes he probably spends too much time trying to figure it out,’’ Ventura said Thursday. “It’s an odd thing to say but guys can go down there and take too many swings. I’ve always been a believer in quality over quantity. You go down there and get out of there.
“Guys that swing a lot, they almost become numb to where your swing is and where the barrel is at. He’s normally done that and in his mind that’s how he feels he needs to get out of it.’’
Abreu, though, says he is coming out of the slump because of his hard work.
“Robin and Trick [Steverson] are always telling me ‘hey slow down a little,’ ’’ Abreu said. “But that’s the only way I know how to work, to work every day. It’s not in my nature to take a day off or do nothing. I like to work hard. That is the way I grew up as a player.’’
Abreu knows he is the centerpiece of the White Sox lineup, one that has scored three runs or less in 24 of their 48 games, has scored 20 runs in the last eight games while hitting .115 with runners in scoring position during that. He hates to dwell on it, but he admits feeling the weight on his shoulders.
“Probably,’’ he said. “[But] I want to. I want to help the team win games.’’
Ventura, who gave Abreu a day off Sunday, likes what he’s seen since and expects more displays of power – he has six home runs – to come along.
“I do,’’ he said. “I think he’s swinging it, the last couple of days it’s looked pretty fresh. Hands wise, getting the barrel to the ball. It’s a good sign for us.’’
Abreu says he’s feeling better because he’s hitting the ball to the opposite field.
“That’s when I’m in a good rhythm.’’
He knows pitchers are jamming him inside and that he was swinging at balls off the plate.
“I don’t like to think about if they are pitching me inside or outside,’’ he said. “My focus is to swing at balls in the strike zone, not at pitches that are out of the zone. My focus is to get back to my good approach.’’
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