White Sox center fielder Luis Robert picking up where he left off

Robert is getting “MVP” chants from fans and respect from teammates.

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White Sox center fielder Luis Robert, left, celebrates with third base coach Joe McEwing after a home run against the Mariners on Tuesday.

White Sox center fielder Luis Robert, left, celebrates with third base coach Joe McEwing after a home run against the Mariners on Tuesday.

Nam Y. Huh/AP

The “MVP” chants were first heard during the White Sox’ home opener. Make a note of it.

Luis Robert already was considered something of a long-hot Most Valuable Player candidate going into the season, but there is reason to tap the brakes. The Sox center fielder is only 24 with 128 games and 538 major-league plate appearances under his belt.

But there is no getting around his five-tool talent, and it seemed to be only a matter of Robert figuring things out, learning on the job and adjusting at the plate before he took his game to another level.

His level Tuesday in a 3-2 Sox victory against the Mariners was a do-it-all display of what Robert brings to his team. He stole two bases in one sequence in the eighth inning, taking third with an alert walking lead with a left-handed hitter up and creating an insurance run without the benefit of a ball hit out of the infield. He homered to right-center on a slider from Matt Brash, whose whiz-kid stuff in his major-league debut was turning heads. And he made a running catch at the wall in right-center field. He also took a walk with a not-so-easy take and lined out to shortstop on a ball hit harder than his home run.

He hit a solo homer in the seventh inning of the Sox’6-4 victory Wednesday night, too.

What’s more, Robert is earning respect from teammates for more than his ability.

“He does everything well, and not only does he do it well, he actually shows up on the field early,” Sox closer Liam Hendriks said. “He does everything the right way and that, from a young guy, that’s incredible. He’s going to be a great veteran in here in the next couple of years when some of the young guys get up.

“That’s something you can’t teach and that’s something that he’s got, not only the talent, but all the off-the-field stuff.”

Robert has said throughout spring training that his primary goal in 2022 is to stay healthy and play a full season. He knows what that would mean: no roadblocks to producing All-Star numbers.

There is no stopping him from playing with vigor. In spring training and the first four games of the season, Robert already has aggressively engaged in numerous plays in the field and bases that could be deemed risky. Robert has had a history of hand, knee and hip injuries going back to the minor leagues, but sliding headfirst, diving and sliding for balls and banging into outfield walls is how the game is played. It’s how he plays it, and he’s not going to play at 80 percent.

The hip-flexor strain he suffered last season occurred while he was running out a grounder, so what is a budding star to do?

“When you’re on the field, you don’t think about that,” Robert said through translator Billy Russo. “You just think of doing your job. Injuries, that’s something that you can’t control. That’s part of the game. But when you’re on the field, you just think about the job you have to get done.”

Robert raced toward the wall in the right-center field gap to take extra bases and at least one RBI away from Jesse Winker on Tuesday. He banged into the wall after making the grab.

“Before the catch, I was aware of the wall,” he said. “When you know that, you’re able to adjust. It’s not going to take you by surprise. I was aware on the play. I feel good.”

And he’s playing good. Since returning from his hip injury Aug. 9 last season, Robert is hitting .352/.390/.622 with 13 homers, 14 doubles, 37 RBI and 36 runs scored in 47 games.

“You have talent like that, it’s going to click,” manager Tony La Russa said. “But when he came back last year after missing so much, his plate discipline was impressive. He has just picked up where he left off.”

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