Tony La Russa knows he can bat Luis Robert anywhere in White Sox’ lineup

“Because of his speed, there isn’t any place you couldn’t put him,” La Russa said.

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Luis Robert on the backfields of Camelback Ranch this spring. (John Antonoff/For the Sun-Times)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — White Sox manager Tony La Russa welcomed center fielder Luis Robert back to the lineup Wednesday for the first time in three days, and the No. 6 spot is where he penciled him in.

La Russa could have put Robert anywhere and called it a good fit, and he probably will move him around plenty during the regular season.

Top of the lineup, middle of the lineup, Robert fits.

“Oh, yeah, because of his speed, there isn’t any place you couldn’t put him,” La Russa said Wednesday. “If he’s really hot, you give him that extra at-bat in the 2 spot, or leadoff if Tim [Anderson] takes a day off. Hitting in the middle of the lineup, he’s going to have plenty of chances to drive in runs and score runs.”

Robert, a package of power and speed, led off for manager Rick Renteria last year when Anderson was injured. As a leadoff man, he batted .357/.455/.536 in seven games.

“I felt good there,” Robert said, noting he was a top-of-the-order hitter for most of his career in Cuba and the minor leagues.

But Anderson has a grip on that spot, which is OK with Robert.

“It’s not that big of a difference,” he said. “I can feel comfortable wherever.”

Robert, who finished second in American League Rookie of the Year voting, got back on track in the last week of the season after a horrendous September and has carried it over this spring, although he struck out twice against the Dodgers on Wednesday. Perhaps the short layoff after being out with a lower abdominal strain hurt his timing. But he has chased fewer pitches out of the strike zone this spring.

“I’ve been feeling comfortable at home plate,” he said. “I’ve been taking pitches. If it’s something that is not in the strike zone, I just let it go. What makes you feel comfortable at the plate is when you are really recognizing the pitches or swinging at pitches that you can do damage.”

La Russa saw Robert last year but was taken aback by how big the 6-2, 210-pounder looked in person this spring.

“Humble guy who just likes to let his play speak for him,” La Russa said. “He’s exciting.”

Closing to a tee

After pitching a perfect inning, closer Liam Hendriks modeled a PEN IS MIGHTY T-shirt before a Zoom call.

“The more I pitch, the better I feel,” said Hendriks, who gave up a tying homer to the Cubs’ Patrick Wisdom on what he called a poorly located breaking ball in his previous outing. “Take a few days off and mix in a back-to-back coming up.”

Inspired by a recent Chicago Sun-Times back-page headline, the shirts were designed by @SnarkBuehrle.

“We definitely have a confident group of guys,” Hendriks said. ‘‘We have guys who have the wherewithal to be confident because of what they can do on the mound. It’s something special I’m excited to be part of.’’

Billy ball

Billy Hamilton appeared in his first game as a pinch runner, got a great jump and stole second base without a play. He popped out with the bases loaded to end the game.

Dodgers 4, Sox 3

‘Out of sync’

Opening Day starter Lucas Giolito allowed a solo home run to Will Smith, two runs and three hits, and he needed 65 pitches to get through an uneven 3⅔ innings Wednesday. But he struck out six despite never finding a rhythm in his fourth start.

“Ideally, I would like to have 1-2-3 innings where I’m striking everyone out, but that’s not baseball, so I welcome the challenge,” Giolito said. “Fastball command needs to be better. It was one of those days where I was a little out of sync, hard to find a rhythm. I made good pitches, but a couple of mistakes got me.”

With two starts left before the opener against the Angels on April 1, Giolito has racked up 17 strikeouts in 12⅔ Cactus League innings.

Pen really is mighty

The key components of the bullpen were sharp. Closer Liam Hendriks pitched a perfect inning, left-hander Aaron Bummer struck out all three batters he faced and Evan Marshall retired the one batter he faced, finishing Giolito’s fourth inning. Marshall has allowed one hit, no walks and no runs in five appearances.

‘We know we’re good’

The Sox are a confident bunch.

“We’re just really, really good, and we know we are,” Giolito said. “Our rotation, we’re super-nasty. The bullpen, best in the league. The expectations are high from outside sources, but also internally. And we own that. We just know we have to stay focused, take it game to game.”


Yoan Moncada, batting fourth again, walked and was grazed by a pitch, extending his on-base streak to 10 games.

On deck

Royals at Sox, 3:05 p.m. Thursday, Glendale,, 1000-AM, Austin Cox vs. Dallas Keuchel. Catcher Yasmani Grandal, working his way back from right knee inflammation, makes his first start behind the plate.

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