White Sox waiting for Yoan Moncada to get his groove back

“Most of it comes down to pitch selection,” assistant hitting coach Howie Clark said. “It’s being ready and attacking the pitches you can do damage on.”

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — There are six weeks to go in the regular season, plenty of time for Yoan Moncada to get his groove back.

If you are visualizing a power packed White Sox lineup that now has Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert clicking alongside Tim Anderson, Jose Abreu, Andrew Vaughn and a soon-to-arrive Yasmani Grandal, perhaps that’s the best way of looking at the talented White Sox third baseman’s season.

Another way is to say we’re four and half months into it and Moncada hasn’t been the offensive force he was when he batted .315/.367/.508 with 25 home runs and 34 doubles in 2019, in large part because of a bad month of August. A year ago, Moncada batted.225/.32/.385 with six homers in 52 games but was given a pass for fighting through issues related to the coronavirus.

In 2021, Moncada was batting .254/.368/.387 with 10 homers and three stolen bases in 110 games before Friday, when he launched a 423-foot two-run homer to center in the fifth inning against Rays right-hander Michael Wacha, giving the Sox a 4-1 lead.

He had described his season as “decent” before the game, and he knows he has been very good at third base, and the main thing, he said, is that he is staying healthy.

“That was one of my goals before the season started,” he said through translator Billy Russo. “I’ve been able to be on the field a lot. That’s good.”

But everyone has patiently waited for the 26-year-old switch-hitter’s bat to come back. While extending his hitting streak to seven games, Moncada was 11-for-63 (.175) with one homer and one double in his previous 26 games.

Batting fifth in manager Tony La Russa’s lineup, Moncada flied out to center with Luis Robert on third to end the first inning, and he struck out with runners on first and third and one out in the third. The home run was a “that’s more like it” moment.

“Most of it comes down to pitch selection,” assistant hitting coach Howie Clark said. “It’s being ready and attacking the pitches you can do damage on.

“Look, he shows up and puts in his work. He knows what he wants to be. He’s addressing it, and sometimes these things take time to kind of show in the games.”

Clark said Moncada, who has a good batting eye, might showing too much patience at the plate. His walk rate improved to a career-best 14.3 percent this season, nicely beefing up his on-base percentage. But it was 7.2 percent in 2019 when he set an offensive standard that would become expected of him, and perhaps the walk rate is too high for his own good, if that’s possible.

“He can get a little too patient at the plate,” Clark said. “And maybe the pitches to drive he lets go. It’s such a funny thing because he’s so good at commanding the zone. Early on, he was walking quite a bit because it was a product of him being aggressive in the zone and he was pushing pitchers outside the zone and taking his walks.

“It’s very easy to get a little more passive and all of a sudden you’re behind in the count and then you’re fighting for your life. And I think that’s where it is.”

There’s a fine line between aggressiveness and selectivity, and to that end Moncada says he’s “in a good spot but probably not where I want to be.”

“It’s a feeling. I’m not in the best feel right now, not in my moment, my groove, I will say,” he said.

There’s still time to find it. La Russa said Friday that Moncada “is close.”

“You can see where he’s determined to get it back,” La Russa said. “Just needs some success to get him really feeling like he’s King Kong up there.”

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