Watching Yoán Moncada collapse to his back knee after fouling back an Aaron Loup cutter in his final at-bat of the White Sox’s 7-3 victory over the Angels on Tuesday night brought to mind Eloy Jiménez’s first trip to the plate.
Jiménez had runners on second and third with nobody out, and Tyler Anderson didn’t seem especially interested in challenging him when his first pitch changeup tailed well off the plate.
The other three pitches of the plate appearance also weren’t close enough to be considered even borderline strikes, but Jiménez offered at all of them. He swung over another changeup off the plate to even the count, then fouled back a fastball above the zone. Anderson then tried for a putaway changeup off the plate, but he left it up, and Jiménez was able to elevate it to right field for a sac fly that tied the game at 1.
It’s hard to tell if Jiménez expanded the zone because he can succeed outside of it when he’s swinging the bat well, or if it was just another case of a White Sox hitter getting overanxious with runners in scoring position. You can’t tell it from the pitch chart alone.
Specific to this situation was a third option: Moncada was hitting behind Jiménez, and he’d been struggling.
Moncada came into the game 4-for-27 with nine strikeouts over his last eight games, and he had trouble getting his contact off the ground. He was also facing a lefty, and Moncada’s right-handed swing has been hampered for most of the year.
In this light, I wondered in real time whether Jiménez was trying to lure Anderson back within his hitting zone, knowing that a strikeout, popout or other form of useless contact would still allow Moncada to come to the plate and do it himself. But I was going to keep that thought to myself until I saw Moncada take a moment to regroup after a pained swing.
James Fegan relayed after the game that Pedro Grifol noticed Moncada’s discomfort but hadn’t talked to him about it. If Moncada sits today followed by the off day on Thursday, it might not be resolved until the weekend series against Detroit. Elvis Andrus looks like he’s ready to return from his oblique injury, but another guy can help the Sox bridge the gap.
Enter Romy González
If there’s any consolation, Romy González is suddenly one of the White Sox’s most dangerous hitters.
González homered for a third straight game, along with an RBI double that raised his line to .224/232/.463. The on-base percentage is the third-worst of anybody who’s been on the team for longer than a week, but the slugging percentage is the third-highest.
And he’s done just about all of that work over the last two weeks, because he’s hitting .323/.333/.774 since returning from shoulder inflammation on May 13.
It doesn’t seem like anything about González has changed physically, as his stance and approach to the pitch look the same. Fegan mentioned in a recent profile that González’s shoulder had been bothering him since a diving catch on April 18, and while I imagine that didn’t help matters, González’s April performances before and after that moment were basically identical.
This recent run stands out from anything he’s ever done on a major-league field, and when you look at the results underneath the results, he’s drastically reduced the whiffing on fastballs. You can hear the slide whistle when you look at his Statcast page:
This improvement has coincided with González seeing more fastballs because he’d been so awful at covering the pitch over his last two seasons. Perhaps he’s merely executing the longest of cons, and he’ll crash back to earth when opponents start spamming him with breaking stuff.
But it’s also a reminder that we can’t be anything close to positive about González’s finished form given the whiplash-inducing ups and downs. He went from being left out of all pandemic plans in 2020, to posting an out-of-nowhere 20-20 season in just 78 games at Birmingham in 2021, to losing most of 2022 to leg injuries and tonsillitis, and now he’s covered the entire spectrum over the first two months of 2023. I don’t really have a feel for the guy’s baseline, and even though it wouldn’t be surprising if he ended up a Quad-A utility guy when all is said and done, he shouldn’t have looked as overmatched as he did against simple fastballs, so at least the picture — including the White Sox’s preseason hype — is now starting to make a little more sense.
The way González puts it, he’s just having more fun out there:
“I was putting so much pressure on myself,” Gonzalez said. “I know what I’m capable of. I work extremely hard. I love this game. I love this team. I want to win.
“So I just said, ‘Screw it. Let’s go out there and have fun.’ At the end of the day, it is a game, and that added pressure is not going to help. … Just getting those at-bats every day, it’s huge. It’s vital. Any time you are in there and you can make a difference, it’s worthwhile.”
That’s unsatisfying in a technical sense, but it’s entirely possible that he’s uncluttered his brain enough to find his basic timing and respond to straightforward attacks, and now the actual development of a major-league hitter can begin in earnest.