KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Buried beneath the rubble of a season opener in which the White Sox committed three errors and scraped together four hits in a 5-3 loss to the Royals on Thursday was a very nice first game at third base by Yoan Moncada.
The switch-hitting Moncada, batting second in the lineup, followed a very productive offensive spring by going 1-for-3 with a walk. Moncada made solid outfield contact the times he made outs and did not strike out, which was noteworthy for one who led the majors with 217 strikeouts in his first full season in 2018.
This will be Moncada’s first full season at third after playing second base exclusively last season. And for the Sox, it was good to see him not only handle everything hit his way but make one very good play on Chris Owings’ slow roller down the line. Moncada charged, made a slick ball transfer from glove to hand and threw out Owings on the run.
“He’s pretty good,’’ manager Rick Renteria said. “He made some plays, I’ll be honest, I don’t think anyone else makes. And we’ve been saying that since spring training. A component of his athleticism, his first step off the ball on contact is really, really good. It’s special. And so is his ability to throw on the run and in different positions. I hope it’s a sign of things to come at third base.”
Moncada also gloved Alex Gordon’s chopper on the short hop to his glove side, squared around toward catcher James McCann and threw out Adalberto Mondesi at home. Maybe not a highlight play, but not a routine one, either.
At second base, Moncada committed 21 errors last year.
“His athleticism is the same as at second,’’ Renteria said. “There’s just a lot more going on at third, and there are more plays like those coming forward like today that he’s able to make because he’s so athletic and quick to the ball. And he’s got the ability to throw from different angles.’’
If only Yolmer Sanchez, playing second base in a position switch with the 23-year-old Moncada, and shortstop Tim Anderson had gotten their 2019 seasons off to a similar start.
Anderson overthrew first baseman Jose Abreu on a routine ground ball, and Sanchez, positioned near second base, had a sharp double-play ground ball glance off his glove for an error. Sanchez’s first move with his feet was toward second, not the ball. And right-hander Dylan Covey short-hopped Abreu with a throw for a third error.
In one inning, Whit Merrifield stole second and third against Carlos Rodon and McCann, whose strong suit at catcher is his arm.
Not a good start for a team whose 114 errors in 2018 ranked fourth in the majors. For a ballclub that must distance itself from that 100-loss season, it was an ominous start.
Rain and slick conditions notwithstanding, it was the same for both teams, as they say, and the victorious Royals’ error column showed none for the day.
It didn’t affect Moncada, a silver lining on a cloudy, wet Opening Day in Kansas City.
“He’s pretty good, and I hope moving forward he’s a special guy over there,’’ Renteria said.
NOTE: Saturday starter Reynaldo Lopez embarks on his mission to pitch 200 innings. According to Baseball Reference’s wins above replacement, Lopez was the Sox’ best player last season, when he went 7-10 with a 3.91 ERA in 188‰ innings.
“I’m eager and hungrier this year to do more, to do better, to keep improving,’’ Lopez said. “That’s my focus this year.”