PITTSBURGH — This is where White Sox hitting coach Frank Menechino earns his money.
With a five-game losing streak to break Wednesday and seemingly no one except Yasmani Grandal hitting a lick, the job gets hard.
“Hitting coach, hardest job in baseball, right?” Menechino said.
That’s what they say, especially when it seems like no one in the lineup is producing.
“You get three guys hitting well and you’re happy as [heck],” Menechino said.
Having one, Grandal, and another, Tim Anderson, come to life on his birthday helped the first-place Sox (44-30) defeat the Pirates 4-3 to salvage a win on a six-game road trip that had gone sideways.
“I did an Ozzie Smith somersault after that last out,” manager Tony La Russa said after Liam Hendriks ended it at PNC Park with a perfect ninth inning for his 19th save.
Grandal was 6-for-19 on the trip with a clutch go-ahead pinch-hit homer in a 6-3 loss to the Pirates on Tuesday and a tiebreaking two-run, two-out double in the sixth Wednesday. The double scored Anderson, who followed second baseman Leury Garcia’s first homer of the season in the second with an RBI double that scored Luis Gonzalez after the rookie collected his first career hit — a double.
Those hits were welcome sights for Menechino, who saw Anderson go 4-for-25, Yoan Moncada 4-for-20, Jose Abreu 3-for-24, Andrew Vaughn 3-for-18 and Yermin Mercedes 1-for-12 on the trip. Danny Mendick, who replaced Moncada in a double-switch at third base in the ninth inning, went 3-for-14.
Team slumps come with the territory, Menechino said, and while he has been grinding through this one with his hitters, he’s not freaking out.
“You can point to anyone on this team and say, ‘What’s wrong with him?,’ ’’ Menechino said, “and the bottom line is selectivity, right? Looking for what I want to do, where my pitch is and not missing it. If you’re up there just to take pitches and you’re taking a good strike, and if you give a pitcher strike one, it’s hard to hit.
“It’s all about getting back to approach.”
The Sox batted .175/246/.262 while getting swept in four games by the Astros. With injuries depleting the offensive forces in their outfield, the Sox pieced things together and kept on winning with the “next man up” collection of Garcia, Vaughn, Billy Hamilton, Engel, Brian Goodwin and Jake Lamb having just enough good days to survive.
That’s going to be hard to sustain long term, though, especially with Mercedes falling back after he, in spectacular fashion, offset the loss of Eloy Jimenez with a Rookie of the Month performance in April. Mercedes broke an 0-for-21 streak with a pinch single Tuesday and didn’t play Wednesday.
“It happens to a lot of guys,” Menechino said. “A lot of September call-ups come up and they go off. Now it’s time to make adjustments. It’s time for him to make his adjustment to what they’re trying to do to him and get back, get focused on what he can do.
“[Mercedes is] trying to get back to being a .400 hitter, trying to make things happen, trying to pick up the team and do good things. But there is a guy on the mound who doesn’t want you to.”
After another off day Thursday, the Sox open a homestand with three games against the Mariners.
“It’s been kind of [a] miserable five straight days,” La Russa said. “We’d have taken a win anytime in there to ease the misery.
“You’ve got a day off tomorrow, so you get to enjoy it. If you had to pick one of the five to win, I guess you’d pick this one. It’s a really good win for us. But it’s all ahead of us. Enjoy it and then get ready for the homestand.”