Melky Cabrera a White Sox rocks to riches story

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Melky Cabrera leads the White Sox with a .301 batting average. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – As Melky Cabrera celebrated his 32nd birthday Thursday, he flashed back to his childhood growing up near Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, where his mother played an important role in making him one of the best switch-hitters in baseball.

Cabrera throws left-handed – and with exceptional accuracy from left field with nine assists – but he said batting from the right side was his natural way. As a kid, he wasn’t satisfied with his level of success as a hitter so he asked his mom to flip stones to him and went to work.

With a broomstick, young Melky swung at stones from the left side, and the right, and the rest is history.

“Nobody taught me how to switch-hit,’’ Cabrera said Thursday through translator Billy Russo. “It was something that came naturally.’’

Mom helped, though, and you had to wonder if, while batting right-handed against Royals lefty Matt Duffy, Cabrera’s thoughts drifted home for a moment to those days when Maria Teresa Astacio chucked rocks to him in the back yard.

“No wonder why he finds the barrel so much,’’ teammate Adam Eaton said when told of Cabrera’s childhood drill. “He’s one of the best hitters I’ve played with, I’d say one of top three.

“Why? He’s so smart, he always gets himself in hitter’s counts and that’s why he finds the barrel a lot.’’

Cabrera went 2-for-4, raising his average to .301, but that wasn’t nearly enough to prevent Duffy from pitching a complete game in the Royals’ 2-1 victory.

Cabrera has been the Sox’ toughest out and steadiest hitter this season. He singled in his first two at-bats and leads the Sox in hits (124), doubles (26), batting average and OPS (.795) .

While he says he hits with better power from the right side, Cabrera says his best side is from the left. He entered Thursday’s game with an overall slash line of .286/.336/.415 that split at .290/.339/.420 batting left-handed and .276/.329/.405 right-handed.

“From the left side, I don’t know why but I have more control with the bat,’’ he said.

The Sox didn’t have enough bat control to challenge Duffy with much after Tim Anderson, Carlos Sanchez and Jason Coats, the bottom three on manager Robin Ventura’s lineup, singled in succession with two outs in the second inning. Coats, called up this week when Avisail Garcia went on the disabled list with a hamstring strain, collected his first career RBI.

After Sox right-hander Miguel Gonzalez strained his right groin in the second inning, Ventura was forced to go to his bullpen much earlier than expected. Michael Ynoa contributed three clean innings of hitless ball with no walks and three strikeouts, and 2015 first-round draft pick Carson Fulmer worked the fifth, sixth and seventh innings.

Fulmer was touched for two runs in the sixth, allowing an RBI triple to Cheslor Cuthbert and an RBI single to Eric Hosmer. Cuthbert drove in Jarrod Dyson, who had been called out on an attempted steal but awarded second on a replay challenge.

Tommy Kahnle struck out the side in the eighth, but Duffy (8-1) finished off his complete game by retiring Jose Abreu, Todd Frazier and Dioner Navarro in order in the ninth.

The Sox lost their second straight here after winning the series opener and fell to 54-60, a season-high six games below .500. The Sox are 3-9 against the Royals this season, including 1-5 at Kauffman Stadium.

Duffy needed 98 pitches to record the complete game, his first. Duffy allowed seven hits, walked none and struck out seven while lowering his ERA to 2.82.

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