SEATTLE — If it looks to you like Jose Abreu is getting down the line quicker this year, your eyes are probably not deceiving you.
The White Sox’ 6-2, 250-pound slugging first baseman said he arrived at spring training about eight pounds lighter, and he’s also running with, as they say, a match to his behind — manager Rick Renteria’s, to be specific.
Like everyone else on the Sox, Abreu is sprinting down the line on routine groundouts, which seems like it should be a given but is something that’s often not demanded night in and night out during a 162-game season.
The theory of going at 80-90 percent is, why bust it down there and maybe risk a minor injury when you’re probably going to be out anyway? The argument for sprinting out of the box is supported by the existence of the slight chance an infielder makes an unexpected bobble, which could spell the difference between safe and out.
“All that starts with a philosophy Ricky brought to the team, and we buy into it,’’ Abreu said. “I’m also in better shape right now. I feel lighter and I can run faster, but the other thing is, I know that if I hustle, that is a good example for the younger guys. That’s one of the main reasons. It’s all connected.’’
Abreu has led by example with his work ethic, his strong desire to win and his hustle. And when his defense at first base has come under scrutiny — as it did when his error on a routine play led to a four-run first inning in a loss to the Twins last Thursday — you have to give the man credit for owning it and vowing to work at making it better. There’s something to be said for effort.
Abreu also has led with his bat, especially of late. He homered Wednesday against the Angels, his second in three days. All of his homers have come on the road and in the last 16 games.
“You’ve started to see him heat up a little,’’ Renteria said. “He has been giving us solid at-bats. He’s in a good place, and I expect he’ll continue to give us productive at-bats.
“Hopefully he maintains that over an extended period.’’
Abreu took a .266/.331/.476 slash line with seven homers and 21 RBI into Thursday’s late game against the Mariners after hitting .157 with no homers in his first 13 games. Since 2014, he ranks among the top 10 in the American League in homers, RBI, slugging percentage and hit-by-pitch. He was two homers away from 100 in his career and two bases shy of 1,000.
He hadn’t stolen a base since he swiped three bags in ’14, his rookie year, but for a big man, he runs with authority and doesn’t mind getting his uniform dirty with hard slides.
“[Running the bases] is a very important aspect of the game, and you have to excel in that,’’ he said. “I learned that from playing in Cuba. That’s how Cuban people teach you to play the game. I take pride in that.’’
Playing the first of four games in Seattle, the Sox were looking to snap a six-game road skid, the last three in a series sweep by the Angels.
They had lost nine of their last 11 overall.
Follow me on Twitter @CST_soxvan.