Jake Burger could force White Sox to make tough decision

Burger has homered in each of the last three games for the White Sox.

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The White Sox’ Jake Burger watches his sacrifice fly against the Orioles on Saturday.

The White Sox’ Jake Burger watches his sacrifice fly against the Orioles on Saturday.

Paul Beaty/AP

Jake Burger hits the ball hard, hits it out of the park and always seems to be in the middle of big innings.

And then he gets returned to Triple-A Charlotte, only to come back to the White Sox and do his thing again.

When third baseman Yoan Moncada returns from the injured list — he’s eligible Friday, when the team opens a six-game trip against the Rays — the Sox might have to make another decision on Burger, the good-natured man of the people with the inspiring comeback story who happens to be the Sox’ exit-velocity prince.

Andrew Vaughn is the first baseman, which is Burger’s other spot on the field. Eloy Jimenez is the designated hitter, and it’s going to take more than 35 plate appearances at .161/.257/.226 to dislodge Jimenez, who shouldn’t be taking right-field time from Oscar Colas.

So where does that leave Burger, who did not make the Opening Day roster but is batting .350/.391/1.050 with four home runs and two doubles in 23 plate appearances after ranking ninth on the Sox with eight homers last season despite playing in only 51 games? Seven of his homers last season traveled 400-plus feet.

So it goes for the scuffling Sox, who sit at 6-10 after their scheduled game Monday against the Phillies at Guaranteed Rate Field was postponed because of wintry weather conditions. From Moncada’s injury came the reminder that Burger, drafted by the Sox as a third baseman with the 11th pick in the 2017 draft, can more than hold his own as a hitter. Moncada’s latest absence from the lineup, this one with a sore back since April 9, hasn’t been felt all that much. Not with Burger bashing three homers in his last three games.

“Jake’s a big part of this lineup right now,” manager Pedro Grifol said. “He can hit the ball out of the park.”

But Burger’s error Sunday led to two unearned runs for the Orioles and played a role in ace Dylan Cease getting extended to a career-high 113 pitches in a six-inning outing and an 8-4 loss that left the Sox without a series win in five tries. Moncada is a plus defender, and Burger aspires to be average. The Burger error in the same game as a Burger homer — as well as Gavin Sheets’ subpar outfield play mixed into Sheets’ body of work that included a three-run homer Sunday — was just another reminder that defense should not be overlooked.

Sox observers saw enough overlooked defense in 2022. They also want to see threatening power put to good use.

“It’s controlling what I can control and not trying to get too big [having a long-ball approach],” Burger said. “And it’s been fun. Hopefully, I just keep it up and keep it going.

“Wherever they need me, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to work as hard as I can and prepare myself as best as I can for every game, go out there and let the results do the talking.”

NOTES: The postponed game with the Phillies will be made up as part of a straight doubleheader Tuesday starting at 3:10 p.m. The second game will begin approximately 30 to 45 minutes after the opener, but not before 6:10 p.m. Parking lots and gates will open at 2:10.

† Phillies right-hander Zack Wheeler and Sox righty Lance Lynn are the scheduled starters for the first game. Sox righty Lucas Giolito will be opposed by left-hander Bailey Falter in Game 2.

† Fans with tickets to Tuesday’s originally scheduled game can attend both games of the doubleheader.

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