HOUSTON – Jose Abreu is doing more time as a designated hitter and for him, “doing time” is a good choice of words – in any language.
Abreu doesn’t like it, but he tolerates it splitting time between playing first base and designated hitter with Yonder Alonso. The toughest thing about it for the Sox’ two-time All-Star first baseman is finding things to do between at-bats. It would be easy to spend all of it taking swings in the cage behind the dugout but that can be counterproductive, Abreu said, so he has taken to doing things like polishing his English.
“[Sunday], for example, I was in the dugout with [Ivan] Nova and [Jose] Rondon and they were trying to teach me English,’’ a laughing Abreu said Monday through translator Billy Russo. “Just a way to spend time, have fun during the game and not overthink about the game. It’s a way to stay loose, and keep playing English.’’
Abreu, who played first base against the Astros Monday, has been noticeably more free-spirited in the dugout during games he’s not playing first base. Even though he was going through a rough stretch – 5-for-31 over his last eight games – the last thing he wants to do is bear down in the cage.
“I just find a way to not take too many swings because that gets me too tired for an at-bat,” he said. “So I find ways to stay loose and joke around with the guys.
“When I’m passing through a tough moment it’s best for me to step back and not overthink my hitting. When you dwell on the things you’re doing wrong all the time, as opposed to what you’re doing right, you create a mess. I’ll think about life and things outside baseball.”
The only Sox to play all 46 games, Abreu has DH’d 14 times compared to 32 playing first base. The first base/DH split split was 114/13 last season, 138/18 in 2017, 152/7 in 2016, 115/39 in 2015 and 109/35 in 2014, so he’s well on his way to a career high for DH work. Manager Rick Renteria is doing so to keep Abreu’s legs, at age 32, as fresh as possible, and it doesn’t hurt that Alonso, while struggling with a .181 average going into the game, is capable defensively.
Palka on fire
Outfielder Daniel Palka, who went 9-for-20 with three homers in six games with the Class AAA Charlotte Knights last week, was named International League Batter of the Week for the period of May 13-20.
For May, Palka is hitting .364 with eight homers, one double, 16 RBI and 19 runs scored.
Palka led the Sox with 27 homers last season but slumped miserably to start the season, was optioned to Charlotte on April 13 after going 1-for-35 over his first 13 games.
With few viable options available at Charlotte, the Sox opted for a bullpen day to open a rough seven-game road trip. Ryan Burr, who hadn’t started a game since he pitched against Gonzaga for Arizona State in 2014, pitched the first two innings and allowed one unearned run. Jace Fry pitched two thirds of an inning, allowing a homer to Jake Marisnick with his first pitch — and was replaced by Jose Ruiz.
“This just happens to be a situation we’re in right now,” said Renteria, whose fifth starter Manny Banuelos went on the injured list with a sore shoulder Friday. “We deal with it like anybody else does with things in life. It is what it is and we’re going to do best we can with it.”