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Yermin Mercedes’ bat perks up as White Sox defeat Royals to complete series sweep

White Sox (19-13) improve to season-best six games over .500

AP Photos

If it feels as if you haven’t heard much from rookie sensation Yermin Mercedes lately, all you have to do is check his numbers in May to know it’s true.

Mercedes, 2-for-15 with no extra-base hits in five games before Sunday after running away with American League Rookie of the Month honors, tripled home the White Sox’ first run and scored on Leury Garcia’s sacrifice fly in the second, then drove in two more runs with a double down the left-field line against Royals lefty Mike Minor in the Sox’ 9-3 victory.

The win, the Sox’ 11th in 15 games and their 10th in a row against the Royals at Kauffman Stadium, completed a three-game sweep and a 4-1 road trip that started in Cincinnati after the Sox learned center fielder Luis Robert would miss at least three months with a hip injury, -raising the Sox record to a 19-13, a season-best six games over .500.

“We’ve got outstanding heart, outstanding spirit,” manager Tony La Russa said.

Mercedes provided an early spark. Pitchers are trying to figure out how to pitch Mercedes, owner of a .373 average and 1.005 OPS and are pitching him inside more. Mercedes looks to be cutting down his swing to adjust, resisting temptation to swing for the fences.

“Working hard and don’t try to do too much,” he said.

La Russa liked what he saw.

“He has so much talent, it’s tempting [to think home run] because he can hit a ball a mile but the higher average he hits, the more RBI and home runs he’s going to get,” La Russa said. “But it’s a tough discipline and he came through today.”

Danny Mendick, an infielder playing right field for the second consecutive game, handled everything flawlessly defensively and singled in a run after belting a home run Saturday night, and Jose Abreu knocked in three runs with singles in the seventh and ninth. Andrew Vaughn walked, doubled, scored two runs and laid out to make a running catch in left field.

“It was one of the most complete games we’ve played,” La Russa said.

Right-hander Lucas Giolito (2-3) allowed a run in the first inning, halting the Sox’ starting pitchers streak of consecutive scoreless innings at 25„, but did not allow another run over five innings of four-hit ball. Giolito walked two and struck out two, throwing 93 pitches.

“I didn’t really have good stuff working,” Giolito said. “Just battled, some long at-bats. Really just out there trying to get early contact and get as far as I could go.”

The Sox widened their MLB best run differential to plus-53, and their starting pitchers lowered their MLB best ERA to 2.66. They are 7-1 against left-handed starting pitchers and 21-1 against lefties since the start of the 2020 season.

The Royals (16-17) have lost eight in a row and fell below .500 after entering their homestand with the best winning percentage in MLB.

Left-hander Aaron Bummer, who retired all five batters he faced with three strikeouts, and Jose Ruiz got the final three outs. Bummer (1.59 ERA) has not allowed a run in his last six appearances, with no walks and eight strikeouts during that span.

Mercedes has been a godsend, easing the loss of Eloy Jimenez to a torn pectoral muscle suffered during spring training. La Russa dropped Mercedes from his customary No. 5 slot in the lineup to sixth, he said, to take some pressure off.

It seemed to work.

“It gives him the chance to back off a little bit, don’t have to worry about protecting Pito,” La Russa said.

The Sox’ next worry is the defending AL Central champion Twins, who come to town for a three-game series starting Tuesday. The Twins (12-20) are struggling but no one is writing them off yet.

“Happy flight home and enjoy the off day [Monday],” La Russa said, “but then it’s about what’s next. We’re still in May.”