Monday was the first time all month that Andrew Vaughn didn’t appear in a game.
Everybody else had the day off as well, so that’s understandable.
Vaughn steamed into the off day by making nine consecutive starts. That doesn’t sound impressive, and even by Vaughn’s standards, it’s something he’s done before. He appeared on 19 consecutive lineup cards in June, including 12 without an off day.
The difference is that Vaughn started 11 of those 19 games at DH, which Tony La Russa has used to spare Vaughn’s legs. He also looked ragged at the end of that stretch. He finished the month 1-for-18 with six strikeouts, which is why he got a day off at the end of the month.
But since Eloy Jiménez returned to the lineup, Vaughn’s defensive responsibilities have increased. Jiménez is operating under his own limitations to manage his surgically repaired hamstring. He’s topped out at three consecutive starts in left field, and that’s only happened once. Generally speaking, he takes two starts in the field, then one at DH.
As long as the White Sox are governing the amount of unexpected sprinting Jiménez has to do, Vaughn’s reps at DH are limited. And as long as the White Sox are fighting for their postseason lives, Vaughn will have to wear a glove or mitt more than anybody would prefer to see, provided he’s producing at the plate.
And producing he is. Vaughn’s hitting .364/.432/.576 with a homer, triple and two doubles over this stretch of nine uninterrupted games. The White Sox and Vaughn have conditioned me to expect a slowdown whenever he doesn’t get off his feet, so my internal alarm rose when he went 0-for-6 with three strikeouts across Friday and Saturday, but he bounced back on Sunday by going 3-for-5 with a 421-foot homer to the deep left center alley at Globe Life Field.
To the extent that I’m a Vaughn skeptic, it mostly stems from the lack of training the White Sox afforded him. Instead of letting him achieve adequacy at one position, they keep throwing new defensive responsibilities at him. He also didn’t even get the benefit of surviving a five-month grind in the minors before the Sox demanded six from him. Their attempts to manage the workload surge on the fly comes off as treating a 24-year-old like he’s 42, and it’s hard to trust the White Sox training staff given all the problems elsewhere (more on that in a bit).
I want to believe in Vaughn at a personal level, but I also don’t want everybody believing in Vaughn to the extent that he’s expected to replace José Abreu’s production without skipping a beat. It feels like the White Sox have been managing Vaughn on a buy-now-pay-later plan, and all it takes is one misstep for usurious interest rates to kick in. At some point it’d be cool to let Vaughn prove something fully, and without major consequences hinging on the results. Nine consecutive starts in the field without a drop-off in production counts as progress here.
Regarding the management of conditions, that seems to be James Fegan’s beat nowadays. On Sunday, he wrote about Lucas Giolito and Michael Kopech soldiering through the season without their best stuff. On Monday, he covered Tim Anderson’s sagging production since his groin injury.
Giolito’s stuff hasn’t been the same since his bout of COVID in May, which may or may not be the underlying reason for his struggles over the last two-plus months. Ethan Katz’s response is “Who knows?” and Giolito’s is “Who cares?” Until the season is over, the priority is making sure that Giolito doesn’t become physically compromised in attempts to regain his power, whether between starts or during them.
Kopech’s stuff hasn’t been the same since his knee popped in his first start against the Rangers back in June. Katz says that Kopech is trusting his leg enough to regain the velocity and fastball movement, but the effectiveness of his slider has been more difficult to maintain in longer exposures.
All that checks out, but when it comes to the rhetoric around Anderson, I’m more skeptical. Fegan provides evidence that Anderson’s balance is off, and while he provides a Joe McEwing quote from last month acknowledging the groin injury sapping Anderson’s power, Frank Menechino describes his current struggles more as a mental battle.
This weekend, Menechino described Anderson as working his way through the frustration stage of his slump, trying to fix things by pressing more and swinging harder before he can slow down and start thinking about balance and approach again.
“That’s what sucks about baseball: until you get over being pissed, you get pissed, you get angry and you get frustrated, you stay in this longer,” Menechino said. “So now I’ve got to wait for him to calm down. And a lot of these guys they want to figure it out for themselves, because when they do, they don’t forget.”
Anderson is hitting .249/.287/.290 since returning from the injured list, including an 0-for-13, six-strikeout performance over three games in Texas before he started serving his two-game suspension. On top of whatever is lingering from his leg injury, he seemed to aggravate his hand during his penultimate swing of the weekend, and he spent the time during the challenge period examining it.
The White Sox added Lenyn Sosa to the roster to replace Anderson during his suspension. If Leury García weren’t the only natural shortstop on the roster, the recalling of Sosa would strike me as a waste. As it stands, the Sox have no other healthy shortstop support on the 40-man roster, and I support anything that encourages La Russa to pinch-hit for García when the games matter this much.
However, if Anderson’s fighting a two-front war with regards to his health, Sosa’s presence may be a lot more necessary. Thanks to today’s doubleheader, we’ll be able to find out a day earlier what kind of condition Anderson is in. He’ll serve the back half of his suspension for Game 1, but he’s eligible to return for the back half of the doubleheader.