Situational hitting will always be in with White Sox manager Rick Renteria
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Paul Konerko made it clear that he doesn’t want to be one of those former baseball players knocking the current state of the game.
“Anytime an ex-player starts talking about the game today, you’re treading on thin ice of sounding bitter, and that’s not me at all,’’ Konerko said during a visit this week to Guaranteed Rate Field. “The game to me is always right, whatever it is at that moment.’’
Konerko said he doesn’t want to sound “like an old cranky guy” complaining about the music the kids are listening to nowadays.
Home runs are in, strikeouts are up and the ball is being put in play less and less. Situational hitting exists, but sometimes you need to look hard to find it.
Konerko, a six-time All-Star who hit 432 of his 439 career homers as a member of the White Sox, didn’t see much of it watching a recent Dodgers-Brewers game on TV.
“There were guys up there [hitting], and there is no downshifting gears,’’ he said. “The way the count goes, what the score is, it doesn’t matter, it’s just all out, unleashing your hardest, best home-run swing on all three strikes on every at-bat. There were always selective guys who did that, but even those guys, 10 years back or beyond, played the scoreboard a little more. ‘OK, we need a baserunner here.’ Now it’s, ‘We’re going to have this attitude and do this every time and over the course of the season it will bear out.’ ’’
Which brings us to the White Sox, who, if Rick Renteria has his way, will always know what the score is and how to approach at-bats accordingly as long as he’s the manager.
Renteria says situational hitting is talked about all the time, which means in the dugout, in the clubhouse and during hitters meetings. During certain segments of batting practice, hitting coach Todd Steverson makes Sox hitters practice situational scenarios (runner on second, no outs or runner on third, one out, for example).
“The reality is that very talented players have a way of being able to make those types of things look simple, and it’s never a one-word explanation to a player,’’ Renteria said. “I know there’s this thinking that strikeouts don’t matter. Strikeouts do matter.’’
Renteria alluded to Yoan Moncada — whose 152 strikeouts this season (including three Saturday) is threatening Mark Reynolds’ record of 223 — getting rung up Wednesday with a runner on third and the infield back, a situation that demands contact.
“He thought the pitch was down,’’ Renteria said. “As you continue to develop understanding what you want to try to do, there’s probably a chance you maybe put the ball in play and get a run across the board. That’s a situational at-bat.’’
Renteria has some old-school leanings as a manager, including use of the sacrifice bunt when it flies in the face of more current “never give away an out” managing. He sees the game changing, too, but doesn’t believe all of it is necessarily for the better.
“I can’t speak for the rest of the league,’’ Renteria said. “Do I kind of agree [with Konerko] that everybody’s just swinging for the fences? Yeah, I do. I think that there’s a mentality right now that the fly ball is the greatest producer of runs because if the ball gets out of the ballpark — you have to have guys on base — you can create a lot of runs. I get all of that, but what happens when a team isn’t swinging the bat very well as a whole and they’re not hitting the ball out of the ballpark and you have to transition to a little hit-and-run or sac bunt? Or whatever the case might be where the situation calls for a ground ball to get the run in? You have to be able to do those things.
“As we continue to evolve as a team, as an organization, those are things that we’re not going to cease talking about.’’