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Yoan Moncada’s contribution to White Sox ‘testament to inner strength and fortitude’

The White Sox third baseman was back in lineup after two days of rest.

Yoan Moncada of the White Sox throws to first base to get Kevin Newman of the Pirates on Wednesday in Pittsburgh. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)

White Sox third baseman Yoan Moncada was back in the lineup Saturday after sitting out Friday, the day after an off day.

Ordinarily, this is no time for two-day rests, not with first place in the American League Central to be defended and 16 games left in the season.

But this is no ordinary season, and not just because the Sox are leading the division. The coronavirus pandemic shortened it to 60 games and necessitated restrictions, changes and challenges too numerous to list.

“We’re talking about human beings trying to play through an unchecked pandemic,” general manager Rick Hahn said Friday. “One of the things that is great about having sports back is that it returns some level of normalcy to people’s lives. And part of being a fan is getting worked up when a guy’s not meeting your expectations on the field. That’s just normal behavior, that’s a fan’s right. However, this year it’s really, really different. There’s a lot going on in terms of keeping these guys out on the field that makes it a lot harder to meet those expectations.”

Moncada was arguably the Sox’ best all-around player in 2019, and expectations for him in 2020 included MVP conversations. It speaks to the Sox’ lineup depth that they led the AL in average (.268), runs (234), home runs (75), slugging percentage (.470), OPS (.801) and run differential (+60), with Moncada taking a .248/.337/.404 hitting line with five home runs into Saturday.

The Sox are third in on-base percentage (.331) and are attempting to become the first team since the 1995 Indians to lead the AL in the aforementioned categories.

Moncada tested positive for COVID-19 during the team’s intake (he was asymptomatic) but quickly worked his way back to the field and looked to be in midseason form when he returned. He homered and went 3-for-5 on Opening Day and hit .351/.442/.595 in his first nine games, then tailed off and revealed he was not only dealing with sore legs but fatigue, as well.

The effects of the virus seem to be at play.

“You’re talking about a 25-year-old world-class athlete, MVP-caliber talent who got the best medical care that you could’ve had, and he’s still feeling the effects of this disease,” Hahn said. “It is no joke. This needs to be taken seriously, and the fact that he’s able to provide what he has provided is remarkable and a testament to his inner strength and fortitude. It’s easy to lose sight of that.”

The exit velocity on Moncada’s batted balls is down a couple of mph this year, perhaps a sign of fatigue. Yet there he was making a remarkable barehanded play charging a grounder and making an off-balance throw for an out against the Pirates on Wednesday. He went 2-for-5 in both games in Pittsburgh.

As Hahn said, we’re watching the world’s best athletes in action, but we might not know all of the things going on in players’ lives right now.

“It’s nice being able to get worked up over player performance again; it’s nice to get worked up over bullpen decisions or lineup decisions or the kind of things that are every sports fan’s birthright,” Hahn said. “But what these guys are dealing with deserves a great deal of respect.”