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Yoan Moncada comes roaring into White Sox’ home opener

Yoan Moncada hits a double off the top of the center field wall against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on April 3, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

One of the nice things for fans about the home opener, White Sox manager Rick Renteria said, is seeing the new players on the roster for the first time. It’s a list that includes prized outfield prospect Eloy Jimenez, who will be a center of attention when the Sox host the Mariners on Friday.

But what about the new Yoan Moncada?

Get your eyes on this guy!

We’re all of five games into the season, so take it for what it’s worth with 157 to go. But coming off a spring training in which a more aggressive approach produced eye-opening results, Moncada hit everything in sight in three games against the Royals and two more against the Indians to open the season.

Moncada will take these numbers into a matchup against Mariners left-hander Yusei Kikuchi: an American League-high 1.422 OPS, a .450 batting average, two home runs, three doubles, six RBI and a major-league-leading nine runs scored through Wednesday. He has reached base every game, multiple times in all but one, and has struck out three times.

All that while making the transition to third base.

Now that’s more like the guy the Sox thought they were getting when they traded Chris Sale to the Red Sox for him, Michael Kopech, Luis Basabe and Victor Diaz. Those “we won the trade” gloats heard from New England when Sale finished off the Dodgers in the 2018 World Series have eased a bit, at least for the first week of the 2019 season.

“He’s been seeing the ball well,” Renteria said. “The kind of contact he’s making when he’s ahead, and even when he has two strikes on him . . . he’s very focused right now, and he’s having fun. He’s beginning to trust who he is.”

Moncada lost trust when he struck out 217 times last season, including 85 looking, causing him to take it upon himself to fix things after the season. He seemed to push his keen hitting eye to the limit, testing umpires on borderline pitches and ultimately taking too many called third strikes. Having had enough of that, he’s doing what’s needed to avoid getting rung up, starting with being more aggressive early and avoiding two-strike counts.

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“It feels very comfortable,” said Moncada, who had a .235/.315/.400 slash line with 17 homers, 32 doubles and 61 RBI in his first full season. “All the work that I did in the offseason and even in spring training is paying off. The results have been there.”

What’s also encouraging is Moncada’s at-bats from the right side after he hit .209/.287/.297 right-handed last year. He was 5-for-10 with a homer right-handed in spring training and had an RBI double his only righty at-bat this season.

It turns out, 650 plate appearances at age 22 and 23 in his first full season were something to build on.

“He’s a guy with a tremendous skill set, and another year under his belt has put him in position to settle down a little more,” Renteria said.

Watching Moncada’s progress is one of the most worthwhile things to look at in 2019. He will tell you there is more than him on this team.

“We have a very good team,” he said after smashing a double against Corey Kluber off the top of the center-field wall and ripping an 0-2 fastball from Neil Ramirez deep into the right-field seats, both shots in the Sox’ 8-3 victory traveling 400-plus feet. “We want to show what we’re capable of this season. It was good to get a win [against the Indians], but now we’re going home. Hopefully we’re going to start playing better and get rolling.”

NOTES: Right-hander Dylan Covey was optioned to Class AAA Charlotte, and shortstop Tim Anderson was reinstated from the paternity list. The Sox also reinstated Charlotte right-hander Ian Hamilton (shoulder inflammation) from the injured list.

† Tickets remained available for the Sox’ home opener as of Thursday. Parking lots open at 10 a.m., gates at 11. Fans are encouraged to be seated by 12:15 for opening ceremonies.

ON DECK

Mariners at Sox

Friday: Yusei Kikuchi (0-0, 2.53 ERA) vs. Reynaldo Lopez (0-1, 9.00), 1:10 p.m., NBCSCH, 720-AM.

Saturday: Mike Leake (1-0, 3.00) vs. Lucas Giolito (1-0, 2.70), 1:10 p.m., Ch. 9, 720-AM.

Sunday: Wade LeBlanc (1-0, 6.75) vs. Ivan Nova (0-0, 1.29), 1:10 p.m., Ch. 9, 720-AM.