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‘Relentless’ work ethic paying off for White Sox first-time outfielders

Daryl Boston looked on the field Saturday and did a double take. “We got seven infielders on the field right now!” Boston said. “Seven infielders.”

Danny Mendick and Andrew Vaughn have played more outfield this season than anyone saw coming.
Danny Mendick and Andrew Vaughn have played more outfield this season than anyone saw coming.
Nam Y. Huh/AP

Daryl Boston, the White Sox first-base coach who also oversees the outfielders, looked on the field Saturday and did a double take.

“We got seven infielders on the field right now!” Boston said. “Seven infielders.”

Three of them were in the outfield — Andrew Vaughn in left, Danny Mendick in center and Jake Lamb in right — all pressed into outfield duty this season because of injuries to Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Adam Engel.

When Billy Hamilton left Saturday’s game against the Tigers with an oblique injury, Mendick played center for the first time. In his career, he has played a total of eight times in right field and two in left.

Vaughn, a first baseman who was expected to be the Sox’ designated hitter, has made the conversion without incident, which is all the Sox could hope for.

“I would call him an average outfielder,” Boston said.

For that, he wants no credit.

“I didn’t do anything,” Boston said. “That’s all Vaughn and his work ethic. Comes out every day — well, we kind of backed off a little since the beginning of the season because he doesn’t need as much work — but he gets his early work. Him and Jake Lamb have been relentless in getting their work done.”

A corner infielder, Lamb had never played in the outfield before this season. Now he has played in 16 games there.

“The biggest thing is they get live balls off the bat in batting practice, and you just can’t teach the experience you get from actual live balls,” Boston said. “They take it really seriously.”

Boston could see Vaughn’s athleticism when he started doing drills in spring training. But he had to learn where to throw, how to create angles on throws and when to throw home or keep the double play in order.

“It’s not easy,” Boston said. “They may break back on a ball now and then, but for the most part, I have been very pleased.

“Vaughny is learning on the job, but it’s coming fast for him. And he is not afraid to make a mistake. Sometimes an infielder wants to play everything safe, but he’ll lay out for a ball.”

The outfield for the series opener against the Blue Jays on Tuesday was Vaughn in left, Engel in center and Leury Garcia in right. Vaughn was an offensive star, hitting a tying homer against lefty Robbie Ray in the seventh for the Sox’ first run and breaking a tie with a sacrifice fly in a five-run eighth inning.

“It was special,” he said of the home run against Ray, who had been dominant with 13 strikeouts. “Anything I can do to help this team win or do anything possible to get us ahead or get us tied. It’s an amazing feeling.”

Meanwhile, Jimenez and Robert continue rehabbing their torn pectoral muscle and strained hip flexor, respectively. The timing of their returns is still to be determined, but it will be late in the season, if at all.

“Yeah, I miss seeing Robert and Eloy,” Boston said. “I can’t wait to see the band back together again.”

Kopech not there yet

Right-hander Michael Kopech (strained left hamstring) was eligible to come off the injured list to face the Jays but isn’t ready.

“I still think he’s got a little pinch in there that’s holding him back some, but he’s making progress,” manager Tony La Russa said.

Abreu refreshed

First baseman Jose Abreu returned to the lineup after getting a day off “for physical and mental rest” before Monday’s team day off, La Russa said.

“He plays at such a high level, puts so much responsibility on himself, you just wear the gray matter out,” La Russa said. “A day off was great, two in a row. He’s going to be himself. It’s just fair to refresh.”

Abreu was 1-for-4 with a hard infield lineout Tuesday. His single leading off the eighth started a five-run inning that broke a 1-all tie.