Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Abreu welcomes return of power game
By Doug Padilla
CHICAGO -- The dog days have arrived, the Chicago White Sox are slipping even further in the standings, and the start of school has brought with it a hit in attendance for a team that was already having its issues drawing fans.
Through it all, Jose Abreu has remained a must-see attraction, even as a dip in power recently seemed to reduce him to a singles hitter who exchanged run-production numbers for batting average prowess.
Jose Abreu had not hit a home run since July 29 before he connected for one Tuesday in the White Sox's loss the Orioles.
On Tuesday, though, the power returned in the form of a 405-foot home run, Abreu's first since July 29 and first in 77 plate appearances. It ended up being the White Sox's only run in a 5-1 defeat in front of 13,307 fans that left the club 4-9 over its past 13 games.
"It's one of those things that's part of the game," Abreu said through an interpreter. "It happened to me in Cuba before, and I know it's one of those things you go through in a season. But today I was glad and thankful I was able to make good contact, and tomorrow I may have another one. As long as we're helping the team, that's a good thing."
Of all the impressive things Abreu has done this season, add navigating the waters of a home-run drought to the list.
The 27-year-old rookie could have handled the lack of power so much different. He could have started pressing to hit home runs, knowing that his team needed the runs as the struggles of the second half started to mount.
Instead, Abreu showed his professional side as the long balls started to wane. From July 30 (the day after his 31st home run) until Aug. 18 (the day before his 32nd home run), Abreu stayed focused by taking advantage of what pitchers gave him.
He batted .318 over that 18-game run with a .408 on-base percentage, and still managed to drive in six runs and score eight times even though the offense around him was falling flat.
"The power stuff will be there," a confident manager Robin Ventura said before the game. "Watching him take batting practice, you know he still has power. It's not like it disappeared. He might not hit a home run because people are pitching him different. There could be a few things going on there.
"I like him in our lineup, and I still want him on our team. Everyone is going to overanalyze it that he's never going to hit a homer again. It will happen. You just have to fight through it."
There might be a time when Abreu will have to sacrifice singles for run production, but as a player in his first season at the major league level, his ability to maintain an overall hitting approach as opposed to a power-oriented one has been impressive.
Now that Avisail Garcia has returned to the lineup, the willingness to simply get on base instead of forcing himself to carry the club, will offer even more advantages.
"I always come out to do the best I can to help the team," Abreu said. "If the home runs don't come out, I try to at least do something that is helping the team and is producing a run."
Despite the long wait between home runs, Abreu managed to move back into a tie for the major league lead with the Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton and the Orioles' Nelson Cruz. He easily leads all major league hitters in slugging percentage at .596 and is a lock for the American League Rookie of the Year award.
"He's been able to take his pitches, tougher pitches, fight them off, go the other way," Ventura said. "He is hitting for average. He's coming up with guys on base, hitting for average and adding on. Keep the line moving, and if he wants to sit there and try and hit homers, when he does that he's more of a swing-and-miss guy like he was early. And now he's combining a little bit of both of that."
He is only into his fifth month with the White Sox and Abreu has already adjusted his overall approach. But wouldn't a home run title be a nice way to cap a productive season?
"Right now, I don't even think about that," Abreu said. "We still have a while to go. To be honest with you, I didn't come here to win home run titles. I came here to try to help the White Sox win games."
And that mindset right there is why Abreu is worth watching, even as the team starts to fade all around him.