Jose Abreu, mired in slump with Astros, returns to face White Sox this weekend

Jose Abreu is batting .218/.265/.261 with a .525 OPS and has not homered in 151 plate appearances this season.

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Jose Abreu of the Astros greets his former White Sox teammates on Opening Day at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas.

Jose Abreu of the Astros greets his former White Sox teammates on Opening Day at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas.

Bob Levey/Getty Images

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — You know Jose Abreu has had this weekend on his mind for some time. Probably since signing with the Astros in November.

The Astros open a weekend series Friday at Guaranteed Rate Field against the White Sox, for whom Abreu toiled and spoiled fans with nine years of MVP and All-Star production as one of the franchise’s best run-producing first baseman of all time.

The Sox opened the season at Houston — splitting the four-game series, with Abreu hitting safely in each game, going 6-for-16 with all singles — but this is different. This will be a homecoming at a place Abreu once said he wanted to play his entire career.

There will be a video tribute shortly before the first pitch. Abreu’s family will be there.

A big ovation can be expected.

“He deserves a lot from the South Side,” Sox right-hander Lucas Giolito said. “He did so much for the team and the community.”

Abreu, though, is off to a disappointing start, which at the moment is justifying the Sox’ decision to allow him to walk in free agency at age 36 and is weighing on his mind. He is batting .218/.265/.261 with a .525 OPS and has not homered in 151 plate appearances after hitting a career-low 15 homers for the Sox last season but posting a .304/.378/.446 batting line.

Statistically, he ranks as the worst first baseman in the majors, and fans, generally approving when he was signed, have changed their thinking.

“I hear some of the jeers and some of the comments, and it reminds me of my first year [1976] in L.A.,” Astros manager and former Dodgers outfielder Dusty Baker told reporters Wednesday. “He’s a big boy, he can handle it.”

Baker rested Abreu on Wednesday but said there was no way he wouldn’t play Friday.

“Oh, man, if I left him out Friday in Chicago, I might come up missing,” Baker said. “Chicago is known for that.”

Abreu was known for playing hurt and playing well in Chicago, and fans and teammates will remember.

“He probably hasn’t got off to the start he wanted to, but to come back here, what an honor, for what he did here for a long time,” Sox right-hander and former Astro Kendall Graveman said. “It should be a welcoming experience for him. He was the guy who accomplished a lot in a White Sox uniform and was loved. He always stood up, led people in the clubhouse and spoke when it needed to be spoken, he was a professional.”

“I’m Cuban, so I’m a fighter, and that’s what we do — we just fight hard,” Abreu told reporters through a translator in Houston. “I’ll continue to fight through it.”

Fighting through aches, pains and injuries is what Abreu was known for, too, on the South Side. It was one of the ways he led by example.

“He was one of the best leaders I’ve seen, not from the outspoken part but the work ethic and how he played through injuries no one knew about,” Graveman said. “He wouldn’t say it, but we saw it, gritted his teeth and performed every time. I would tell him, ‘Hey, you can take a day, it’s fine,’ but he just wouldn’t. That’s the kind of guy he was. That’s what I’ll always remember.”

The Sox, who moved on at first base with Andrew Vaughn, badly need wins and are happy to see Abreu coming to Chicago in a slump. Giolito, for one, won’t be surprised if things take a turn for the better. They can’t be much worse.

“Hard game,” Giolito said. “The adjustments you have to make can be difficult. But he’s the kind of guy who gets hotter as the season goes on, so we’ll see what happens.”

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