Relaxed White Sox hitters finally feeling good: ‘It’s contagious’

Before getting cooled off Sunday in a 10-3 loss to the Athletics preventing a sweep of the A’s in four games, the resurgent White Sox sported a refreshing new look.

They had energy, they had fun, they …. hit the ball.

While some want to attribute that to having a bouncier, younger voice in charge in bench coach 48-year-old Miguel Cairo replacing Tony La Russa as manager – the Sox are 9-4 since La Russa was sidelined due to a heart issue – the fact the Sox are hitting, finally, is bigger than anything else.

“It’s been good,” third baseman Yoan Moncada said through translator Billy Russo during the Sox’ just completed 5-2 road trip through Seattle and Oakland. “Different, I think. With this final stretch coming in, everybody’s trying their best. Everybody’s having fun. Everybody’s relaxed.”

In the 12 games before Sunday with Cairo managing, the Sox hit .301/.353/.492 with 21 homers, averaging 6.4 runs. They rank 23rd in the majors in homers, 13th in on-base percentage and 14th in slugging.

“Starting to feel good, is that good enough?” hitting coach Frank Menechino told the Sun-Times Sunday in Oakland. “Relaxing. It’s contagious, right?”

Newcomer Elvis Andrus stabilized the infield at shortstop and brought veteran leadership. A career .270/.326/.371 hitter, he’s batting .307 with five homers, five doubles, 20 RBI and 14 runs scored in 21 games for the Sox.

“Elvis brings that happy-go-lucky smile, play hard, and he’s the new guy,” Menechino said. “Everybody starts getting that same vibe, that same feel, and starting to hit a little bit. He really sparked us to where guys are like, ‘Hey, he’s doing it, I’m going to do it.’ It becomes contagious.”

Designated hitter Eloy Jimenez has five multihit games in his last six and six homers in his last 18 games. Jimenez broke up a no-hitter in the seventh against the A’s Friday and started a five-run ninth with a home run.

“Eloy gets the hit and it’s, Oh here we go,’ ” Menechino said. “There’s no panic in these guys. It’s like they know they’re good, and it’s contagious.”

Menechino said the hitters are focused more on themselves and not what the pitcher is trying to do.

“These guys are being offensive on offense, which means ‘I’m looking for what I want to do, what I want to hit, I’m looking for my cookie zone,” Menechino said. “That’s the stuff I tried to start when I first got here – we’re not going to worry about the pitcher. We’re going to worry about what we want to do and when we get strikes and good pitches to hit, we’re going to do damage. That’s basically what’s been happening.”

And it’s been fun. Good, relaxing fun.

“We’re having fun,” said Andrus, who felt surrounded by tension his first week during his first Sox road trip in Cleveland, Kansas City and Baltimore.

But now it’s “just let our talent go out there and compete,” Andrus said. “With the level of talent this team has, it’s going to be a lot of great things. Everybody’s a lot more relaxed. Everybody just goes out there having fun and let things happen.”

NOTE: Before Sunday’s loss in Oakland, manager Tony La Russa twice said he would drive to Chicago after the game and not fly with the team if the Sox lost, but he was, as expected, on the team charter after a 10-3 A’s win that snapped a four-game winning streak. La Russa, who had a pacemaker inserted in his heart and has missed the last 13 games, was cleared to attend Dave Stewart’s uniform ceremony in Oakland but wasn’t cleared to return to managing.

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