White Sox must learn discipline to climb out of the hole they’ve dug for themselves

What the Sox showed in the series finale against Tampa Bay will need to continue to salvage a season that’s already teetering on the edge of a cliff.

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The White Sox’ Andrew Vaughn hits a single Sunday against the Tampa Bay Rays.

The White Sox’ Andrew Vaughn hits a single Sunday against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Nam Y. Huh/AP

Before the White Sox’ comeback victory Sunday against the Rays, hitting coach Jose Castro discussed the team’s woeful start at the plate. He mentioned the drills the players go through, the iPitch machine the team uses that simulates the stuff of opposing pitchers and the scouting reports everybody reads.

“They’re all-in; it’s just that things aren’t working out,” Castro said. “They’re trying to do a little bit more than they can. Just be yourself, take what they give you and trust your teammate behind you to get the job done. It’s easier said than done, but it’s what we need to be.”

Later that day, the Sox saw how useful that approach can be.

Trailing by four runs in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Sox’ lineup was patient when it needed to be and aggressive when the time was right. There were hitters going with pitches and serving the ball where fielders weren’t, setting up Andrew Vaughn’s three-run walk-off home run that snapped a 10-game losing streak and ended a dreadful month on a surprisingly positive note.

“I was just trying to put the ball in play,” Vaughn said. “We had great at-bats that inning, guys were getting on base, we were scoring runs and my sole purpose up there was to keep the line rolling.”

That effort in the series finale against Tampa Bay will need to continue to salvage a season that’s already teetering on the edge of a cliff. Through Sunday, the Sox were 28th in the majors in walks with 73, 25th in hard-hit rate (35.2%) and leading in ground-ball percentage (48.1%). In other words, the Sox are not working counts, hitting the ball hard or getting it into the air, three keys to offensive production and a reason the Sox ended Sunday 22nd in runs with 118.

Reversing those statistics will take disciplined aggression, something the Sox haven’t mastered. Getting a good pitch to hit won’t be easy because other teams know the Sox will swing at deliveries outside of the zone.

The goal for the Sox’ hitters is to still be themselves at the plate but limit some of the over-aggression. Breaking the cycle the Sox have built won’t be simple or quick, but it will be necessary.

“Aggressive hitters that we have, and you have to be aggressive to do anything at the big-league level or any baseball you’re playing at,” Castro said, “but at the same time, it’s knowing that you need a good pitch to take a swing at and not be afraid to fail. It’s one of those things. It’s a hard combination, a patiently aggressive-type thing. But I’m bringing what every hitting coach wants to bring to the table. Get a good pitch to hit and do some damage with it.”

On Sunday, especially in the ninth, the Sox looked capable of doing that damage. They went 5-for-12 with runners in scoring position and struck out only six times in the game. The ninth-inning rally was built on hits with two strikes: Adam Haseley tied the game with a run-scoring single, Lenyn Sosa and Elvis Andrus singled and Jake Burger doubled.

“That’s what it takes: You [have to] put the ball in play,” manager Pedro Grifol said. “You can’t strike out 15, 17 times and expect to win. Over the long haul, you aren’t going to win too many. [The game Sunday] showed that when you raise your level of focus and you create a little urgency for yourself and you concentrate on putting the ball in play, things can happen.”

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