Jose Abreu might be struggling, but he gladly accepts All-Star honor
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HOUSTON — First baseman Jose Abreu will represent the White Sox at the All-Star Game and, nicer yet, as a starter voted in by the fans. He is the first Sox player voted in since Frank Thomas in 1996.
‘‘It’s a huge honor,’’ Abreu, 31, said through a translator Sunday. ‘‘To be voted in by the fans means a lot.’’
An irony is that Abreu, who also made it as a 27-year-old rookie in 2014, isn’t having his best season. The news that he was voted in for the American League came during a 2-for-23 stretch at the plate. He is batting .184 with three home runs since May 26.
‘‘I think he’s trying to carry a heavy load, to be honest,’’ manager Rick Renteria said. ‘‘He’s got a lot on his plate.’’
Even as he maintained a comfortable lead in the balloting with each passing week, Abreu became increasingly unenthused about discussing his All-Star chances with the media. His performance is why. But fans recognized his entire career, which has been marked by consistency.
‘‘It’s no secret my numbers right now are not as good as I want them to be or as good as an All-Star player should have,’’ Abreu said. ‘‘But I’ve been working hard during my whole career, even this year and even through the last five or six weeks. It hasn’t been easy.’’
Abreu, who is batting .259 with 12 homers, 27 doubles and 50 RBI, would have been an All-Star one way or another. He would have been added to the team as the Sox’ only representative had he not been voted in. He has been their best player in his 4½ seasons since coming over from Cuba, and there are no other viable candidates this season.
Besides, no one commands more respect in the Sox’ clubhouse.
‘‘He has the attitude a leader needs,’’ said left-hander Luis Avilan, who joined the Sox in a trade last offseason. ‘‘He has it all.
‘‘When you’re with another team, you hear things about other players, and the talk about him was that he was an excellent teammate, really nice person and really humble. When I got traded here and got to know him, I said, ‘Man, it’s all true.’ He’s a great mentor for the young guys because of the way he works and conducts himself in the clubhouse and on the field.’’
Because his English is limited, ‘‘leader by example’’ is linked to Abreu’s hip. But he does have a voice that’s heard.
‘‘He’ll speak up when it’s time,’’ center fielder Adam Engel said. ‘‘When he talks, we all listen. We’re all receptive to anything he has to say, which, even though he speaks Spanish, is something he deserves credit for. His voice isn’t necessarily loud, but when you need to hear something, he speaks up.’’
Abreu will speak up in team meetings, in hitters’ meetings before each series or around the batting cage.
‘‘Those are the moments we all shut up and listen,’’ Engel said.
If Abreu needs to get more detailed messages across, he’ll bring a translator to make sure.
‘‘But he speaks good enough English to say what he needs to say,’’ Engel said.
‘‘When he speaks — and it’s not often — it’s loud and clear,’’ bench coach Joe McEwing said. ‘‘Not verbally loud, but people listen.’’
McEwing said he marvels at how Abreu goes about his work. Same routine every single day, as steady as they come.
‘‘He is the definition of what a big-leaguer should be on an every-day basis,’’ McEwing said.
More than anything, though, he leads by example.
‘‘You can see he’s been banged up a lot, but he never complains about it and goes about his business,’’ Engel said. ‘‘The other day, he could barely walk [after fouling a pitch off his ankle] in Cincinnati, and he finishes his at-bat. As a teammate, that fires you up. He sets that standard, like, ‘I’m out here giving it all I’ve got,’ and he expects the same from you.’’