Tony La Russa leaning to Yoan Moncada in middle of White Sox’ lineup

“I think he likes a challenge,” La Russa said of Moncada.

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Yoan Moncada bats during a spring training game against the Texas Rangers at Camelback Ranch on March 2, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona.

Rob Tringali/Getty Images

While we shouldn’t expect new manager Tony La Russa to get locked into one primary batting order with his new collection of hitters, it’s apparent he is leaning toward Yoan Moncada batting fourth, which would be a new wrinkle.

Moncada has batted fourth 32 times during his career, and fifth and sixth 36 and 38 times, respectively. He primarily has been a top-of-the-order hitter, leading off in 108 games and batting second in 145.

La Russa said he likes having a switch-hitter in the 4-hole, and Moncada “has the ability to rise to the occasion, and that’s what you look for a lot in the middle of the lineup.”

La Russa will bat Jose Abreu third, and Moncada, he said, will provide more than adequate protection, allowing the reigning MVP to see good pitches.

“I think he likes a challenge,” La Russa said.

La Russa said he’s not opposed to hitting Moncada second, as well.

“He’s just a very talented guy, and I think the more you ask him, the more he’s going to produce,” La Russa said.

Tim Anderson will be the leadoff man, Eloy Jimenez figures to bat fifth and Nick Madrigal ninth, which is where they often batted under former manager Rick Renteria.

Andrew Vaughn batted second Sunday against the A’s, a spot Moncanda, Luis Robert and Yasmani Grandal have hit this spring.

La Russa said he’ll tweak the order during the season based on who’s hot, who’s not, who’s hurt and matchups.

“It’s a talented group,” he said. “I mean, I’m having fun with it.”

Foster’s groin

Matt Foster made his debut when Jimmy Lambert went down with a forearm strain last season and it turned into a find for the Sox. Foster posted a 2.20 ERA in 23 appearances and it’s his spot to lose in the bullpen.

A groin issue delayed his first Cactus League appearance until Saturday, and he was less than sharp, recording only one out while allowing two runs on two hits and two walks. Foster said he was over amped up and overthinking trying to implement a slider into his customary fastball-changeup mix.

“I was getting a little ahead of myself, trying to work on some stuff and then put myself in kind of a bad position, which I really didn’t do great of getting out of,” Foster said.

Foster said the groin issue was something he dealt with last season and called it “nothing major.”

Grandal’s knee

Grandal (right knee inflammation) hasn’t caught a Cactus League game yet, although an undisclosed target day is circled. He appeared in his first game Saturday as a designated hitter.

“The break he caught and we caught is it was really early in the camp,” La Russa said of the injury. “This amount of games, if he can take the starts planned for him, not only as a hitter, as a DH, but catching, with his experience, he’ll be fine.”

Grandal stopped short of saying he’ll definitely be ready to catch April 1 in Anaheim for the season opener, but La Russa is hopeful.

“The thing we have to look at is Mother Nature, will she cooperate and keep him healthy,” La Russa said. “In two weeks, he can really get sharp.”

Sox 1, Athletics 0

A team shutout

Lance Lynn walked two batters after Jose Abreu couldn’t quite get to a foul pop near the wall on a 3-2 pitch with two outs in the third inning. The right-hander finished with three walks over 3 1/3 scoreless innings in Mesa, Arizona. But Lynn also struck out four and hasn’t allowed a run in three starts this spring.

“Physically it feels good, I just have to stop going so deep into counts and walking guys,” Lynn said.

Lynn leads the Sox in strikeouts (12) and walks (eight).

“If I have to walk people now to get that done for the season, then so be it,” he said. “I’m still not happy about it.”

What a relief

Facing the team that knocked the Sox out of the playoffs in a bullpen Game 3 loss last season, Evan Marshall (four strikeouts, one walk) recorded five outs and looked ready for the season to begin. He has 10 Ks, one walk and no hits allowed over four scoreless appearances. Codi Heuer, who struck out four in two hitless innings, hasn’t allowed a run in five outings. Aaron Bummer pitched a perfect inning, and Jose Ruiz recorded the Sox’ 14th and 15th strikeouts in the ninth.

Reynolds wraps it up

Infielder Matt Reynolds’ homer was enough to give the Sox (3-8-3) their first winning streak of the spring. Yoan Moncada singled and walked to reach base for the eighth consecutive game. He’s batting .333 during that stretch. Catcher Zack Collins was 2-for-4 and raised his average to .375.

Abreu (.125), who stayed in Mesa to play the entire game, was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts but was robbed of a homer by center fielder Buddy Reed. Andrew Vaughn (.308) was 0-for-4 with a strikeout.

On deck

Cubs at Sox, Glendale, 3:05 p.m. Monday, MLB.TV, 1000-AM, Alec Mills vs. Dylan Cease, who’s making his first spring start. Michael Kopech is slated to make his second relief appearance of the spring.

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