Undeterred by uncertain future, Melky Cabrera stays hot

OAKLAND, Calif. — If White Sox general manager Rick Hahn is shopping outfielder Melky Cabrera in these weeks leading up to the trade deadline, he might want to pin a quote or two from hitting coach Todd Steverson on the ad:

‘‘Professional hitter. Believes in his approach. Knows how to function at the plate and has a belief in himself and knows exactly what he can do.’’

For Steverson, who talked about Cabrera before the Sox’ 7-4 loss in the series finale Wednesday against the Athletics, Cabrera is at the top of his list of hitters in the lineup he’d want up with a runner on third and less than two outs. Or in any RBI situation, for that matter.

‘‘A guy who can use the whole field on a line or go off and hit a double,’’ Steverson said.

Melky Cabrera hits a two-run home run against the Athletics Tuesday in Oakland. (AP)

Cabrera, who is in the final year of a three-year, $42 million contract, is more than expendable on a team in full rebuild mode. Interest doesn’t seem to be hot right now, perhaps because of the Sox’ asking price and his defensive metrics, which don’t flatter him despite his strong and accurate arm. But that might change as the trade deadline July 31 nears, particularly for teams looking for a career .286 hitter with World Series experience.

‘‘This is an important season for me, but I don’t like to think about free agency or what is in the future,’’ Cabrera said through an interpreter. ‘‘Because if you do, you miss the opportunity to enjoy what you are doing right now. So I am just trying to do my best, work hard every day, help the team win games and be the best player I can be. That’s my mindset.’’

That mindset seems to be working. Cabrera, 32, is batting .343 with eight home runs and 32 RBI in his last 41 games. He is batting .291 with 10 homers and 51 RBI overall and had one of the three hits — a ground-rule double to center — the Sox managed against A’s starter Sonny Gray in six innings.

‘‘He keeps it real simple,’’ Steverson said. ‘‘That’s where you try to keep hitting. You can scramble yourself as much as you want. You can try to decode and solve riddles all you want. At the end of the day, you want to keep it simple.’’

Cabrera said he basically looks for one good pitch to hit in a certain area and pounces. Experience has helped him ‘‘know what to do in [key] situations’’ and boosted his confidence through the years, but his approach always has been the same.

‘‘He’s able to slow things down in big situations on both sides of the plate,’’ manager Rick Renteria said. ‘‘There’s a lot of experience, which probably leads to the confidence he has. He has been on a phenomenal run, the things he’s doing in key situations for us.’’

Cabrera also has been fun to have around, clowning in the outfield with opponents and fans and keeping things loose with teammates. An open Bible at his locker portrays a serious, religious side, too.

‘‘He’s one of our top characters, but he does it in a good way,’’ Steverson said. ‘‘Really encouraging to everybody, always involved and loves to play the game.

‘‘I wouldn’t put a ‘clown’ tag on him; he’s more of an enthusiast. He can recognize when the dugout is a little somber or whatever and, in his broken English or Spanglish, get it going.

‘‘He’s also a guy who everybody trusts in when he goes up. You can’t predict a hit, but when he goes up there, you know he has a pretty good chance of barreling something up.’’

Follow me on Twitter @CST_soxvan.

Email: dvanschouwen@suntimes.com


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