Tony La Russa backs White Sox hitting coaches despite offensive struggles

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The White Sox aren’t walking, they’re chasing bad pitches and they’re not scoring runs.

Other than that, all is well for a team trying to get over the .500 mark with Memorial Day, a traditional first benchmark to the season, fast approaching. A team in the midst of the championship window it spent years building toward.

The Sox ranked fourth in walks, third in on-base percentage and seventh in runs in the majors when they won 93 games and the AL Central last season. They’re last in walks, 29th in on-base percentage and 26th in runs this season entering their game against the Royals Thursday with an 18-19 record.

What gives?

“Every year is different,” Sox outfielder Andrew Vaughn said Thursday. “We did what we did last year, and this year is different. Some guys are chasing. It gets to the point where there is a little press.”

Vaughn said he was pressing last season when he went hitless in his first three games.

“I wanted a hit so bad,” he said. “And finally it’s like, ‘screw it, let’s go out there and play the game.’ ”

A lineup featuring Tim Anderson (.338) at the top but with six batting averages of .215 or less (Yoan Moncada, Jose Abreu, AJ Pollock, Gavin Sheets, Reese McGuire, Josh Harrison) Thursday took on Carlos Hernandez (0-3, 9.11 ERA), who owns a 2.70 ERA in 20 innings against Sox. Sox hitters, like Hernandez, have experienced peaks and valleys.

Mostly valleys in 2022.

“It’s baseball, there are always ups and downs,” Vaughn said. “Right now a lot of guys are on that downfall. We’re not stringing together hits. Yesterday [Wednesday, a 6-2 loss] I had an opportunity with the bases loaded and didn’t get it done. It’s happened this year with a lot of guys.”

Luis Robert, one of the peaking Sox with a recent 14-game hitting streak, struck out three times Wednesday. With Tim Anderson on second and one out in the first Thursday, he struck out on an offspeed Hernandez pitch in the dirt.

A two-run homer by Hunter Dozier against Vince Velasquez in the first and an RBI single by Nicky Lopez in the second against Vince Velasquez put the Sox in a 3-0 hole Thursday as the Royals threatened to take the rubber match of a five-game series.

The Sox appeared to be proactive about taking pitches, and Anderson walked for the second time, stole two bases and scored on Robert’s single to make it 3-1 in the third. Abreu walked twice and Pollock also walked.

After the game Wednesday, manager Tony La Russa huddled with hitting coach Frank Menechino and assistant hitting coach Howie Clark. The Sox were 3-for-13 with runners in scoring position, which was no way to pass the struggling Royals for 25th in runs scored.

La Russa approves of the job the coaches are doing.

“I’m in the cage a lot,” La Russa said. “The players will tell you the messages they’re getting, whether it’s strategy or mechanical, with both those guys it’s sound. We’re just not executing.

“If you coach or manage in the big leagues and if somebody points a finger at you and that bothers you, you’re doing the wrong thing for a living.”

These are challenging times for La Russa, 78, the second-winningest manager ever with a Hall of Fame pedigree hired out of retirement by chairman Jerry Reinsdorf to guide the Sox in this championship window. But they’re not tougher times, he said.

“If we’re struggling, now I have another gear I can go to? That’s bull–,” he said. “All you do is make decisions, so you better give it your same all the time. No, I take every game like it’s the last game of my life.

“This script hasn’t been written. We are in charge of writing it ourselves to the extent that we can improve and play the best baseball we can.”

NOTE: Friday starter Dallas Keuchel, who opens a three-game series in New York, is 4-4 with a 2.06 ERA average over 10 career starts against the Yankees.

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