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Luis Robert Jr. Show back with a bang — two of them, actually — as White Sox see their MVP get even better

Vinnie Duber Avatar
March 30, 2024
Luis Robert Jr.

Welcome back to another hit season of the Luis Robert Jr. Show.

The White Sox’ center fielder vaulted into baseball’s upper echelon last year, turning in an MVP-type season that featured 38 home runs.

Well, make way for the encore, which is off to a hell of a start.

Robert launched a pair of eye-popping home runs in Saturday’s extra-inning loss to the Tigers, finishing off a pair of lengthy at-bats with absolute rockets traveling more than 860 combined feet. They were pretty clutch, too, the first one helping to erase the three-run lead the Tigers built off Michael Soroka in the first inning and the second breaking a 3-all tie in the third.

White Sox fans have obviously seen this kind of thing before, just last season. But how Robert got to those two homers Saturday spoke plenty about his continued evolution as a hitter.

Robert saw 10 pitches in the first trip to the plate, then eight more in the second. Throwing in a single and a walk in his next two trips, he was on base four out of five times, seeing just shy of 30 pitches on the day.

It’s a far cry from the hitter he seemed at this time a year ago, someone who was not just swinging at pitches outside the zone but appeared to be downright flailing, making it look like a late-season wrist injury in 2022 wasn’t the only thing keeping him from reaching his incredible potential. An early-season adjustment paid off big time, producing the kind of year he had.

Saturday’s effort showed off Robert’s next step, and after the game, he attributed not just the types of at-bats that yielded homers, but also the one that produced a walk, to an offseason drill.

“What you guys saw today was part of the results of all the work I put in during the offseason,” Robert said through team interpreter Billy Russo. “Hopefully, you guys can see that on a consistent basis this year. I really worked a lot on that this offseason.

“I was doing a specific drill during the offseason just focusing on one quadrant of the strike zone. If the pitch is not there, don’t try to swing at pitches that aren’t there. I worked a lot on that.”

Robert, with all the power he flexed last year, might not be the guy that jumps to mind when you think about Pedro Grifol’s “play F.A.S.T.” mantra. But that’s an umbrella term that includes a lot of different ways to put pressure on the opposition, and it definitely covers taking pitches.

“He’s focusing on that,” Grifol said after Saturday’s game. “He’ll take the walk, just like he showed today. He had a 10-pitch at-bat, eight-pitch at-bat. I think he saw 29 pitches. But if you come in the strike zone, he’s got capabilities of hurting you. Everybody knows that.

“Not only did I like those at-bats, the way they ended up in homers, but his other at-bat, he ended up hitting a base hit to right field. That means he’s not trying to do too much. He’s staying within himself and letting the game come to him a little bit. He’s electric.”

“Playing F.A.S.T.” also includes the less subtle stuff that folks can point to pretty easily, like what goes on on the base paths. The White Sox’ showed plenty of that Saturday, Braden Shewmake going first to third on a hit and run and scoring when Nicky Lopez attempted to steal second shortly thereafter.

But Robert, too, is looking to get in on that action, unless you forgot that he was hyped as a “six-tool player” by former manager Tony La Russa.

“That’s always been a part of my game,” Robert said of stealing bases Thursday. “Last year, I was a little more cautious, especially during the first half. But then I took off with the stolen bases. This year, that’s going to be a big part of my game, too, but I’m going to be smarter, wiser on when and the kinds of situations that I can take advantage of.

”That’s going to be part of my game. I won’t hold back on that.”

Robert didn’t even have to actually swipe a base Saturday to pressure the Tigers into a mistake, heading from first to second when a pickoff attempt went awry.

“Every time I’m on base,” Robert said Saturday, “pitchers know I’m a threat. And then in their minds they are saying, ‘Oh, man. This guy is going to take off or not.’ It’s just a distraction for them.”

Throw in the Gold Glove type defense, and Robert is delivering on the promise that he can do everything on a baseball field and help this White Sox team win games in so many different ways.

It all points to it being a real possibility that there’s still more Robert can do, still higher he can fly. Springtime talk of his encore performance being even better than what he did in 2023 won’t seem silly at all if he can keep doing things like he did Saturday, when we got a glimpse of Robert’s next step.

So stay tuned. The next season of the Luis Robert Jr. Show might just be the best one yet.

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