Gavin Sheets forced his way back onto the White Sox’ active roster.
Who knows, perhaps the rookie can force his way onto the postseason roster, too.
Recalled from Triple-A Charlotte on Wednesday as major-league rosters expanded from 26 to 28, Sheets was inserted into the lineup as the designated hitter in the Sox’ 6-3 victory against the Pirates. Sheets’ welcome-back statement? A three-run homer against Pirates right-hander Max Kranick that broke a scoreless tie in the fourth inning. He added a solo shot against Duane Underwood Jr. in the eighth.
“To say I missed this place would be an understatement,” Sheets said. “Awesome clubhouse, awesome guys. You dream about being in a playoff chase and being in first place. To be here helping this team win is what it’s all about. It’s an incredible feeling.”
It was the left-handed-hitting first baseman/outfielder’s seventh and eighth homers in 30 games. While he was away at Triple A, Sheets beefed up his hitting line to .295/.362/.507 while slugging 11 homers and driving in 46 runs in 60 games. Sheets is batting .239/.311/.554 with 20 RBI and an .865 OPS in 30 games.
“It’s good to have him back; he’s earned at-bats,” said manager Tony La Russa, noting Sheets’ feel for the strike zone and ability to hit with two strikes. “He did it in camp, and he’s doing it again. I’m sure you’ll see him in the lineup again this weekend.”
With Billy Hamilton reinstated from the injured list and Adam Engel getting set to go on a rehab assignment after the weekend, the Sox have numerous outfielders to choose from for the postseason. After Andrew Vaughn, Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez, there’s Hamilton, Engel, Brian Goodwin and Sheets.
Sheets is a first baseman by trade, and his defense is behind the others, but his bat from the left side, with power, will be considered.
“I’m not even going to think about that; it would obviously be incredible,” Sheets said. “Right now it’s about playing this next month, and whatever happens, happens. Our objective is getting the highest seed possible, clinching and getting there. If we have success with that, the end result will be rewarding.”
Shortstop Leury Garcia had a two-run double and made two good plays in the field on what La Russa called one of the team’s best defensive nights. Jimenez made a running catch in left, and Yoan Moncada made two nice plays, one running a long way to grab a foul pop.
Carlos Rodon pitched five innings of one run-ball in his second five-inning start since coming off the injured list with a sore shoulder. He allowed five hits and one walk and struck out five. He lowered his ERA to 2.41 and threw 77 pitches on a limited count.
“Slightly building back, getting ready for the next start, that’s it,” Rodon said. “It’s September. Just go out there and pitch.”
Rodon matched a career high with 168 strikeouts. He also did it in 2016 but has done it in 45„ fewer innings.
Reynaldo Lopez, slated to start Saturday against the Royals, worked a scoreless inning of relief that shouldn’t preclude him from making that start in Kansas City. Liam Hendriks relieved Ryan Tepera with two runners on in the eighth and got five outs for his 31st save. Craig Kimbrel was unavailable because of a physical issue not related to his arm, La Russa said, but should be good to go this weekend.
The Sox (78-56) swept a two-game set with the Pirates (48-85) and have won six of their last eight. Sheets was thrilled to be on a team destined for the postseason.
“The first time you’re trying to prove yourself every at-bat,” Sheets said. “The nice thing about coming back here now is about helping the team win. I feel like I’ve done enough to prove I can compete here. Now it’s about putting together great at-bats and winning ballgames. That’s the baseball I like to play.”