White Sox’ Yoan Moncada — striking out half the time — on ‘rough’ early season

MINNEAPOLIS — Yoan Moncada’s troubles at the plate could simply be a matter of what he’s doing with his head when he swings the bat.

“He’s not keeping his head down through the swing,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said. “I think he’s pulling off a little bit so he’s not allowing himself to track the ball as long as he possibly could.

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“He’s got a really, really good eye. But I think from a physical standpoint, if he keeps his head down a little bit longer — I know the guys are working on trying to stay behind the baseball — he’ll put himself in a better position.”

Yoan Moncada (background) receives encouragement from White Sox teammate Tim Anderson. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Is that all it is? Is that why the 22-year-old second baseman, as important to this Sox rebuild as anybody, is striking out in nearly half of his at-bats this season and living below the Mendoza line?

It’s not the sort of performance Renteria had in mind when he anointed Moncada the team’s leadoff man. Yet in his first two at-bats Thursday against Twins starter Jose Berrios, Moncada struck out looking and swinging, respectively — saddling him with his seventh multiple-strikeout game (out of 12) already this season. And when he watched three straight strikes from Gabriel Moya go by in the ninth inning of the Sox’ 4-0 loss, he was staring at his third straight game with three strikeouts.

Berrios was dominant, tying a career high with 11 strikeouts in seven innings. It was his third time reaching that number, and the first since last August against the Sox. Moncada was bound to have a difficult time with the nasty right-hander.

Still, Moncada hasn’t just had a problem with strikeouts. He has, to name one other, been the opposite of clutch with runners in scoring position. So here’s a question: Is his main problem what he’s doing with his head when he swings, or what’s going on inside it?

“I feel good,” Moncada said through an interpreter before the game. “I’m not frustrated. I know that probably the results are not there, the good results, but I still have plenty of confidence in me. I believe in myself because I know what I’m capable of doing. Right now, it’s just a matter of a rough time — but I still feel very confident in myself.”

Moncada has reviewed video of his swings with coaches. He continues to receive guidance from friend and mentor Jose Abreu. He insists that batting leadoff is right in his wheelhouse.

“Even though I’m feeling good right now, my swing, my offense is not where it’s supposed to be,” he said. “My swing is not in sync right now. I hope that probably in one or two more days, I’ll be able to adjust and put my swing where it’s supposed to be. I’ve been patient. I’ve been recognizing the pitches. It’s just my swing is not there.”

On a night when 34-year-old Joe Mauer became the third Twins player to 2,000 hits — joining Rod Carew and Kirby Puckett — the struggles of the young Sox stood in interesting juxtaposition. Starting pitcher Lucas Giolito had his moments, but his five walks allowed were indicative of his uneven performance. Shortstop Tim Anderson had a throwing error that allowed an unearned run to score, and he appeared to get himself picked off first base for the second game in a row; only a numbingly long replay process saved him.

And then there was Moncada, who again just couldn’t get anything going. After whiffing nine times in three games, he stood at 24 strikeouts in his first 49 at-bats on the season. It led to a postgame meeting with Renteria in the manager’s office.

“They beat themselves up because they want to do well,” Renteria said. “Most on the outside don’t understand that the pressure that they put on themselves to have success, it’s pretty daunting.”