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In times like these, White Sox make do with Jon Jay in cleanup spot

Jay leads the Sox with a .327 average. He’s also their best baserunner.

Jon Jay is the latest player to hit in the cleanup spot for the Sox this year.
David Banks/Getty Images

DETROIT — Outfielder Jon Jay is the White Sox’ cleanup hitter.

He’s also their best baserunner, according to bench coach Joe McEwing. And he leads all active outfielders with a .996 career fielding percentage.

Those aren’t bad bullet points for a résumé, but the three designations come with asterisks. Jay isn’t a prototypical No. 4 hitter and, at 34, is one of the slowest runners on the team and doesn’t cover a lot of ground in the outfield. But he has keen awareness on the bases and is hitting .327 after going 1-for-4 with an RBI single in the Sox’ 7-4 victory Monday against the Tigers.

With Yoan Moncada injured, James McCann cooling off and Eloy Jimenez coming off a stint on the injured list, don’t scoff at manager Rick Renteria’s lineup with Jay in the middle. With the Sox entering play Monday hitting .203/.246/.294 in their last 12 games, Jay will do.

‘‘Because he is a quality hitter,’’ Renteria said. ‘‘The game does not speed up on him. If he gets opportunities, like he has recently, he can still drive in a run. You’re not necessarily looking for him to hit the ball out of the ballpark.’’

In 1,160 career games, Jay has hit cleanup all of five times, four this season. It doesn’t figure to be permanent, and Jay is taking it in stride while it lasts.

‘‘It’s cool,’’ he said. ‘‘But nothing changes. Just try to be consistent . . . no matter where you’re hitting.’’

Jay is a career .287/.352/.379 hitter with a limited number of home runs (36) and stolen bases (55). The latter notwithstanding, McEwing called Jay the Sox’ best baserunner.

‘‘Because of what he sees before a play develops,’’ McEwing said. ‘‘His game awareness of where defenders are, what he can take advantage of, knowing how the ball comes off the bat, what angles outfielders take on certain balls, pitchers’ and catchers’ tendencies on balls in the dirt, what he can and can’t do to take chances.’’

Jay, who missed the first three months of the season with a strained hip, has reached base in 27 of his 30 games.

‘‘I’m out there and I’m able to contribute, and I’m happy about that,’’ he said.

Monitoring Cease

Rookie Dylan Cease is at 96 1/3 innings (28 for the Sox and 68 1/3 for Class AAA Charlotte). That’s 27 2/3 innings shy of his career-high 124 in the minors last season.

Pitching every fifth day to the end of the season would give Cease about 60 more innings if he averaged six per start. That would bump his total to around 150, but Renteria said he isn’t sure Cease will go to the finish line without being shut down.

‘‘It would be hard for me to tell you,’’ Renteria said. ‘‘They did limit his inning usage in the minor leagues to see if we could get him more work here.’’

Cease, who will start the first game of a split doubleheader Tuesday, has said he hopes to go the distance.

‘‘We’ll evaluate where he’s at and determine how many more starts he’ll get,’’ Renteria said. ‘‘We still have to be prudent.’’

Zavala returns to Charlotte

With catcher Welington Castillo expected to return from emergency medical leave Tuesday, catcher Seby Zavala was optioned to Charlotte.