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The boys are back in town.
Chiefly, Yoán Moncada and Joe Kelly, who made their returns from the injured list before the start of this week’s series against the Cleveland Guardians.
It’s big doings for the White Sox, who are on a six-game winning streak and looking to keep the momentum rolling as they get closer to full strength. They’re all back in town, really, after extending that streak with a sweep of the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
Remember that eight-game losing streak? The White Sox sure don’t, and they’ll happily ride this current crest, even if the inevitabilities of a baseball season guarantee further ebbs and flows over the next several months.
“I think it comes down to we’re scoring more than the opposition,” Rick Hahn joked, taking advantage of being asked for the biggest difference between that losing stretch and the team’s current winning ways. “When we talked on Opening Day, I think I kind of laid out expectations that these first two months were going to be a little rocky. Just the nature of the offseason, the shortened spring, the steep schedule expectations early in the year were going to create some volatility in the roster and likely in performance.
“I didn’t quite foresee losing eight in a row followed by (winning) six in a row. But it’s not a total shock that we quite haven’t found our sealegs, or that this team hasn’t quite found its identity.”
“One of the beautiful things about this game is over the course of a long summer, the true talent and true ability of the team tends to prevail. We’re still very early in this season, but it’s nice to see more of the upside showing itself than in the first couple weeks.”
Hahn spent his customary first-day-of-homestand media session getting peppered with questions on various topics, including regular old roster moves and injury updates alongside his thoughts on player usage and some ways the roster could shape up down the line.
There’s far less panic than there was a week ago, when the White Sox had yet to entirely emerge from that ugly stretch. But that doesn’t mean there are pressing questions surrounding the club.
And so, a sampling of the GM’s answers.
When will Andrew Vaughn be back from the injured list?
Vaughn was one of the White Sox’ hottest hitters when he was drilled in the hand with a 95 mile an hour fastball during the Sunday-afternoon comeback attempt – a five-run ninth inning in a 6-5 loss to the Angels – that supposedly sparked the recent string of success.
After several days of seeing if the bruise would heal, Vaughn went on the IL. As for when he’ll be back?
“Andrew Vaughn had a good day today in the cages. He’s eligible to be activated Thursday. I don’t necessarily think we’re going to hit that right on the head,” Hahn said. “But at some point in the not too distant future, we’re going to have him back.”
“This is the most positive day we’ve had,” Tony La Russa added, “where he was able to get some work that more closely resembles real swings and not holding back. So it’s a step in the right direction. … You get hit with a 90-mph fastball in those areas, and a bruise will linger. We were really fortunate nothing was broken.”
Hahn said Vaughn might require a brief rehab assignment but that the team will wait and see how things progress over the next couple of days before making a final decision.
Why did Jake Burger go down instead of Gavin Sheets?
Burger made a nice impression while filling in for Moncada at third base, but it wasn’t too illogical that he would head to the minors with Moncada coming off the IL.
Still, there was plenty of head-scratching going on among Twitter users, wondering why Burger’s bat wasn’t deemed more worthy of continued big league action than that of the slumping Sheets.
Statistically, Burger hasn’t exactly torn the cover off the ball of late, and his season .239/.276/.352 slash line has been dragged down by a 4-for-his-last-28 stretch that featured 14 strikeouts. But Sheets has undoubtedly struggled to produce, with a woeful 57 OPS-plus in 21 games.
Burger, though, had nowhere left to play with Moncada back manning the hot corner. He played a small amount of second base in the minors last season but has never got a big league shot there. Sheets, meanwhile, not only sees regular time as the DH and in right field but can also step in and play first base when José Abreu gets a rare day off.
“It’s a little tough with 14 pitchers on a 26-man roster to have too many guys who are limited in their positional versatility,” Hahn said. “But Jake, obviously, filled in very well for us, showed that he belongs as a viable big leaguer. Pretty confident we’ll see him again contributing to us at some point here over the course of the summer. But he should be commended for how he handled the task.”
Hahn also addressed Sheets’ recent slump. Figured to supply plenty of lefty pop, Sheets has just one homer this season.
“He’s in that sophomore year where the league makes adjustments. They challenge you in different ways,” Hahn said. “It’s incumbent on him to make those adjustments back to show he can be sort of a long-term fit in the lineup.
“I think one of the nice things is that not only is he a hard worker who gets it, he also knows we aren’t looking for him to hit 35 home runs. Does he have the ability to someday? Sure, absolutely. But that’s not why he’s here in this lineup right now. He provides some balance and gives us, ideally, quality at-bats and line drives around the ballpark like he was doing last year.
“The positive side is we’ve all seen it from him before and know it’s there and look forward to him continuing to do it.”
Why isn’t Yasmani Grandal catching more?
Grandal was signed to the richest free-agent deal in club history because he’s one of the best catchers in baseball.
But Grandal hasn’t been catching all that often in the season’s early going, at least nowhere near the amount that would be expected from a clear-cut No. 1 backstop at the top of the depth chart. Typically, such a player catches four out of every five days, obviously requiring a breather from playing such a demanding position but still the guy behind the plate the vast majority of the time.
Not so with Grandal in the early going this season, who has only caught back-to-back days twice this season: the first two games of the year and a day after a doubleheader in which he only caught one of the two games the White Sox played.
Grandal had knee surgery last year and specifically mentioned his knee as being the focus of some springtime work by the training staff. The team’s daily care for Grandal has continued into the regular season, and backup Reese McGuire has received far more catching assignments than perhaps many expected, even as the White Sox have often used Grandal as their DH to keep his usually effective bat in the lineup.
It’s all by design.
“We want Yasmani to be able to finish through the end of October strong, so we’re being judicious with how he’s used early,” Hahn said. “But still finding ways to get his bat in the lineup is part of the plan. We still view him as one of the premier catchers in the league.
“It’s a long season. It’s a demanding position. Like all of us, he’s a year older. We want to make sure he’s able to sprint through the finish line, ideally, in October. It’s part of the reason we brought in a guy with Reese, who is able to lighten some of that load. Again, we firmly believe in Yasmani’s ability and view him as one of the elite catchers in the league.”
Asked if Grandal will be expected to catch more frequently as the season goes along, Hahn said, “I would think so.”
Will Lance Lynn really be pitching for the White Sox this month?
Not so fast, my friends.
La Russa had taken a hopeful bent on assessing Lynn’s progress from March knee surgery, proclaiming the self-proclaimed “Big Bastard” could be back in the White Sox’ rotation before the close of May.
But Hahn readjusted those somewhat rose-colored expectations.
“I think that’s a little early,” Hahn said. “I think we originally said early June, and I think that’s probably a safer approximation for his return. Could he be on a rehab assignment by the end of this month? Sure. It’s not set in stone just yet. Still working on his progression.”
Without the guy who finished third in the AL Cy Young vote last year, the starting rotation has been terrific, entering play Monday with the fifth lowest starters’ ERA in the American League at 3.47. Particularly, the trio of Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech have been very strong, and even back-end arms Vince Velasquez and Dallas Keuchel have turned in positive outings of late.
But Lynn will add another top-of-the-line pitcher to an already strong rotation, making for the type of group that White Sox fans saw last year – one that carried the team to a division title.
Surviving Lynn’s absence has been mighty impressive. Getting him back will be essential to the White Sox reaching their World Series level goals.
When will AJ Pollock turn things around at the plate?
“We have some guys who aren’t quite performing at their career levels yet, and they’ll get there over time. There’s going to be a stretch, I suspect at some time, where AJ Pollock’s probably going to carry this team.”
Hahn’s comments might raise a few eyebrows after Pollock’s disappointing start to his tenure in a White Sox uniform, one that’s seen him slash just .176/.204/.216 in 14 games. That’s a ridiculously small sample size, of course, and his season was interrupted by an injured-list stay with a hamstring tweak that coincided with the birth of his second child.
But Pollock was the White Sox’ biggest offseason acquisition in the hitting department, and he’s yet to deliver.
Unsurprisingly, and justifiably, there’s no panic in the front office about Pollock’s to-this-point lack of production.
“It’s unfortunate he had the hamstring issue early in the year that caused him to miss those 10 or 12 days,” Hahn said. “But it’s just a matter of timing. He’s always been a professional hitter. He’ll come back around at some point. Not overly concerned.”
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