The rest of the story: La Russa lets players tell him when they need a break
First baseman Jose Abreu and third baseman Yoan Moncada have struggled in June after being strong in May.
For White Sox manager Tony La Russa, filling out the lineup card this deep into a season often means balancing when it’s the right time to give a player a day off.
The first 2 1/2 months are starting to take their toll physically and mentally, and players who started the season hot are starting to cool off. And some are downright slumping.
First baseman Jose Abreu has struggled in June, hitting only .173 with one home run. Abreu, the reigning American League MVP, had a slow start in April, but he hit .333 with six home runs, five doubles and a triple in May.
La Russa said he thinks some of what is contributing to Abreu’s slump in June is the usual wear and tear of a season. Abreu has had some scary moments on the field this season, including a collision with the Royals’ Hunter Dozier in May, and those bumps and bruises add up. La Russa acknowledged that after Abreu went 0-for-3 in the Sox’ 9-3 loss Friday to the Mariners, but he had Abreu in the lineup again Saturday.
‘‘The conversation went, like, he’s ready to play,’’ La Russa said, explaining his decision. ‘‘He put his hand on a ball, which is the baseball bible, and assured me that he wasn’t being overly heroic. So I said, ‘Great, you’re in there.’ That’s how it went.’’
Getting Abreu to rest can be easier said than done. He was taking swings on the field Saturday morning, less than 12 hours after the game Friday had ended.
‘‘You’ve seen what he did over the years,’’ shortstop Tim Anderson said of Abreu. ‘‘He’s definitely working. I just saw him in the cage, so I think that says a lot about what kind of guy he is and what type of work ethic he has.’’
La Russa’s sustained faith in Abreu might pay off. He did, after all, hit a bloop single to shallow left field in his first at-bat Saturday before play was suspended because of rain. That was Abreu’s first hit since his single in the seventh inning Tuesday against the Pirates in Pittsburgh.
‘‘He’s sore, but he’s not hurt,’’ La Russa said. ‘‘That’s the key.’’
And Abreu isn’t the only player whose health La Russa is trying to take into consideration when he decides on his starting nine each day. He has had to have similar conversations with third baseman Yoan Moncada.
Moncada rolled his ankle slightly while taking a swing Friday, then later had to be checked after running to first base. He remained in the game, but La Russa said Moncada iced the ankle immediately after the game ended.
Despite this, Moncada was also in the lineup Saturday. Like with Abreu, La Russa is choosing to trust Moncada when he says he’s good to play.
‘‘If it gets to where it’s detrimental to him or the team, I think he’ll speak up,’’ La Russa said.
During the Sox’ series last weekend against the Astros in Houston, Moncada insisted he could play, even though he was battling a sinus infection. Moncada went 0-for-3 on Sunday, and his production also has slowed in June. His OPS is down to .663 this month after it was .892 in May.
La Russa said he thinks he and the medical staff can manage the right amount of rest for Moncada, but his name can be a hard one not to write on his lineup card.
‘‘As long as we keep that communication honest and trust him,’’ La Russa said. ‘‘But there’s been a lot of times he’s gone to the post [where] we’ve been concerned about something, and he gets the RBI that makes you happy he played because he was the difference defensively, offensively. Just part of relationships and trust. And we trust if it’s not in his best interest, which is not in our interest, that he’s going to let us know.’’