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Luis Robert’s grand slam lifts White Sox to Cactus League victory

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Top Cuban prospect Luis Robert, getting his first start in a Cactus League game Wednesday, belted a go-ahead grand slam in the bottom of the eighth inning, carrying the White Sox to a 14-12 victory over the Reds.

Robert, 20, who was 0-for-3 with a called strikeout, a walk and a steal of second base before he connected on his first pitch from right-hander Jackson Stephens, said he was looking for a breaking pitch and got it.

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The ball carried over the left-field fence.

Luis Robert has impressed in spring training this year. | Charles Rex Arbogast/AP Photo

“I knew before the at-bat, with the bases loaded, he wouldn’t throw me a fastball, so I was prepared for the slider,” Robert said through translator Billy Russo.

“I’m very happy. When I got up to home plate, I heard the crowd chanting my name. I took a deep breath, I calmed down, I looked for a good pitch to hit and I hit it.”

Robert, who is batting .300 this spring, covered a lot of ground on an active day in center field, the best of them running down a deep fly in center field. He said he is getting increasingly comfortable as he plays in the U.S. for the first time.

“I feel very good,” Robert said. “I’ve been feeling very confident, very loose. With more games, I’m getting more loose, and my confidence is in a good place. The best part is being able to play almost every day and do the things that I know I can do.”

Robert had appeared in seven games, entering midway through or during the late innings, until Wednesday, when he was in the starting lineup, batting seventh.

“At the beginning, I was kind of shy, but with more days and being around the guys, I’ve been loosening up a little bit more, and I’ve been more relaxed,” he said. “I realized it was just baseball, and that’s what I like.”

Robert, 20, was signed for $26 million in May. He is expected to start the season in Class A, at Kannapolis or Winston-Salem.

Scouts and most everyone in the Sox organization are liking what they’re seeing of Robert’s U.S. debut.

“He’s just an explosive, fluid player,” manager Rick Renteria said. “Very athletic. There’s a calm demeanor about him. His skillset is very high. He’s got tremendous eye-hand coordination. Great bat speed, great footspeed, runs the ball down with clean lines in the outfield. His in-game awareness is pretty sharp having not played here in the States quite yet.”

Before Wednesday’s game, Renteria alluded to Robert handling breaking pitches. As it turned out, that’s what Robert hit out of the yard.

“We’re kind of excited to see him go out there and be able to play on a club here in our system and just get him at-bats and experience,” Renteria said. “I think he’s probably pretty polished but we have to see him start facing breaking balls off-speed, sequences that he’s going to be facing over the course of his career. We know he can it a fastball. So we’re happy about that. He’s going to be somebody we hope is going to develop into a significantly impactful player at the major-league level.”

Here is Robert getting congratulated at home plate:

More Sox power

Matt Davidson hit his third home run of the spring and drove in two additional runs with a single, hiking his Cactus League-leading RBI total to 15.

Davidson, who homered in the sixth inning against left-hander Amir Garrett, raised his spring average to .423.

Yolmer Sanchez also homered, his first, and added two singles and three RBI. DH Daniel Palka hit one that landed beneath the scoreboard beyond the right-field fence, a blast estimated at 472 feet.

Leading off

Second baseman Yoan Moncada had his second straight banner game as a leadoff man, reaching base all four times up and going 3-for-3 with a double, a walk and two runs scored. Moncada also made a nice play ranging far to the shortstop side of second base to retire Jose Peraza on a close play at first. Against the Athletics on Monday, Moncada reached base three times with two singles and a walk and stole a base.

Gonzalez rocked

Right-hander Miguel Gonzalez failed to finish the first inning, getting two outs and allowing five runs, four hits and two walks.

“That’s pretty embarrassing,” Gonzalez said. “But we know it’s spring training; we have to get a feel for our pitches and do better the next time.”

Gonzalez, 33, said he has been sharp in his side sessions and he feels good, so he wasn’t overly concerned.

“Couldn’t hit my spots,” he said.  ”Just one of those days, didn’t have any feel out there. Something I need to work on in my bullpen and just flush it and go from there.”

On a better note, Nate Jones, Luis Avilan and Jeanmar Gomez were all good once again in relief.

On deck: Split squad. Royals at Sox, Glendale, Danny Duffy vs. Michael Kopech, 2:05 p.m. Thursday, whitesox.com.

Sox at Rangers, Surprise, James Shields vs. Cole Hamels, 2:05 p.m.