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Luis Robert Jr.’s benching, communication breakdown heap even more yuck on White Sox’ losing streak

Vinnie Duber Avatar
April 30, 2023

At the moment, there is seemingly not one thing the White Sox can do right.

You don’t need to build an airtight case for such a suggestion after Saturday night, the White Sox watching their miserable losing streak reach previously undreamt of depths in a jaw-dropping 12-3 loss to the Rays. The skid was extended to 10 games, their record crashing to 7-21, on a night where Lance Lynn took a no-hitter into the seventh, only for Lynn and two relievers to cough up a 3-0 lead and 10 runs in that very inning.

But forget for a moment about the bad pitching and the lifeless offense and the defensive lapses and listen to what happened to Luis Robert Jr., perhaps the team’s highest profile position player not currently on the injured list.

Already in a deep personal slump, he was benched in the second inning after his leadoff at-bat ended in him getting thrown out at first on a tapper back to the pitcher. Robert pulled up in the middle of his run down the first-base line and ended the play in a jog. By the next time his spot in the order came up, he was lifted for a pinch-hitter, Pedro Grifol making a move reminiscent of former White Sox manager Rick Renteria benching players for not running out fly balls.

In the thick of this disastrous start to what was supposed to be a bounce-back season, the move was cheered by fans, who have begged for someone to do something to try to rouse this sleepy squad.

But in the aftermath, things only got worse.

“He might have had a mental lapse,” Grifol said, explaining his reasoning. “And our expectations are we’ve got to run hard down the line. This is not a common occurrence with Luis. As a matter of fact, I’ve talked to him about slowing down a little bit in practices and saving some of it because he’s a hard worker.

“But our expectations are you run hard down the line, and he might have had a mental lapse on that. I’m not sure.

“I just spoke to him and said we’ve got to run hard down the line. That’s it.”

Then Robert spoke, through team interpreter Billy Russo, and revealed a sore hamstring he refused to tell Grifol and the White Sox’ coaching staff about lest he be removed from the game, which of course he was anyway for seemingly dogging it down the line.

“Since I woke up this morning, my hamstring was tight,” Robert said. “Before the game, my mind was made up: I wouldn’t try to push too hard unless it was something that was game-ending or something because I wasn’t feeling like I was 100 percent. I tried to play safe.

“Before the game, I just told Eloy (Jiménez) and (Elvis) Andrus, ‘Hey guys, I will need your help today running down fly balls, if you could help me.’

“After the play happened, (bench coach Charlie) Montoyo came to me and asked me, ‘Hey, are you OK?’ I didn’t say anything. And then Pedro came and asked me, too, ‘Hey, everything OK?’ I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to say anything. I wanted to stay in the game. But I think afterwards, one of the guys told them, and that is when they knew.”

So on top of everything troubling the White Sox right now, there’s a communication breakdown that ends with a star player being benched in the second inning of a game.

If there was one thing that Grifol talked about more than anything during his introductory press conference way back in November, it was communication, and he was lauded by the front office, players and seemingly anyone who ever met him as a great communicator.

But it takes two to communicate. And what does it say about the state of White Sox communication that Robert is afraid to tell his manager that his hamstring hurts?

Robert’s mentor José Abreu was praised for playing through what ailed him, and certainly Robert has a history of doing the same as recently as last season, when he was playing with blurred vision brought on by a vitamin deficiency and spent the final months taking one-handed swings thanks to an injured wrist.

But there’s a difference between posting and refusing to tell your manager what’s going on.

Yes, this is a whole new heaping helping of yuck for a White Sox team slogging through a miserable start to a season that started with talk of players proving themselves to the fan base and showing they weren’t squandering the opportunity their talent provided.

Instead, they’re more than a dozen games below .500 before the close of April, on pace for — seriously, get this — more than 120 losses.

And you thought that 81-81 finish a year ago was bad?

Saturday night might have been the worst loss yet, considering how Lynn cruised through six innings before things went kablooey. Wander Franco opened the seventh inning with a home run to end the no-hit bid, and the best-in-baseball Rays exploded against Lynn, Aaron Bummer and Jimmy Lambert to hang a 10 spot on the Guaranteed Rate Field scoreboard.

That inning alone saw three home runs, nine hits, two walks, a couple stolen bases and another handful of defensive blunders by the White Sox. Isaac Paredes smoked a double into the left-field corner, which bounced away from Gavin Sheets — only over there because of the rearranging that took place after Robert was benched — before a brilliant relay that turned sour when Yasmani Grandal dropped the ball on a play at the plate. Lynn added to the gaffes by tossing the ball at a turned-around Grandal, the failed connection there allowing the tying run to move to third base.

If only they knew that run, which eventually did score to tie the game, would be just the third of 10 in that frame.

Lynn’s ERA is now a sky-high 7.16 after he was charged with four of those 10 runs. Bummer’s is at 8.64 after he was on the hook for three more. And the three Lambert gave up jacked his ERA to 6.92. The Rays didn’t even stop there, adding two more home runs off Keynan Middleton and Jake Diekman in the eighth and ninth innings, respectively.

Meanwhile, the White Sox’ offense scored three runs on only four hits, getting fewer hits than the Rays had homers. They’ve been outscored in this series, which still has one more game left, 29-10.

How’s that for all-around ugly?

“It hasn’t been good so far,” Lynn said. “We haven’t played good baseball. We’re losing a lot of games. We’ve lost a lot in a row here, so we better figure something out here quick.”

That’s what Grifol is tasked with doing, but it’s hard to plug the leaks when there are so many cracks in the dam, Robert’s communication breakdown just adding to the rushing water.

“I wake up every morning and my feeling is today is going to be the day we start something really good. That’s my feeling,” Grifol said, sticking to his guns that the White Sox are destined for a turnaround. “That’s how we prepare, that’s how we work, address things. That’s what we do. My feelings of that don’t change. We’re 20-something games into it, it doesn’t change.

“I don’t go back and look at history and look at what teams have done. I don’t do that kind of stuff. But I’m sure it’s been done before. Teams feel like the sky is falling on top of them, and all of a sudden they catch a break here and there and they’re off and running.

“I don’t feel that this is over, by any means.”

The season isn’t over, that’s true. But neither is the losing streak that is dragging the White Sox down a hole that might eventually be inescapable.

It’s only April, sure. But this is a lot of losing, a lot of ugly and a complete dearth of evidence to suggest things will vastly improve at the drop of a hat.

In fact, things only seem to be getting worse.

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