ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — When he batted .250/.324/.506 with 11 homers in 54 games as a rookie last season, Gavin Sheets made an impression, enough of one for White Sox management to trust him as a needed left-handed power hitting piece in their 2022 lineup.
Sheets was supposed to blend in with the Sox lineup core of Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Luis Robert, Jose Abreu, Yasmani Grandal and Eloy Jimenez, but the struggles or absence of four of them has cast a brighter glare on the .209/.277/.333. hitting line Sheets took into the Sox’ game against the Rays Saturday.
“I need to put some consistent at-bats together,” Sheets told the Sun-Times Saturday.
Sheets said made recent adjustments working in the hitting cage, studied video from last year when he was more productive and has detected a couple of differences in his setup and moves he was making. But the bottom line, he said, is how pitchers adjusted with expanded scouting reports on him this season.
“It’s tough, they’re pitching me a little differently, I have to adjust to that,” he said. “It’s a game of adjustments.”
The Sox were questioned for not going outside the organization for an impact left-handed bat in the offseason, and as the team slogs through a hitting drought, the questions still stand. Sheets’ showing in 2021, the depth of the Sox lineup around him and not impeding Sheets’ development were stated reasons why they didn’t.
Sheets’ .610 OPS is .220 points lower than last season.
“I proved I can do damage on the fastball last year,” he said. “Not getting as many fastballs, so it’s about picking out offspeed pitches you can do damage with. Just trying to be aggressive in the zone. I can get stuck sometimes when I get too passive.”
A first baseman by trade, Sheets played his 16th game in right field Saturday. He has played three in left field and nine at first base and DH’d 13 times.
Sheets popped up and struck out his first two at-bats Saturday. The Sox trailed the Rays 2-0 in the seventh, trying to avoid their fifth straight loss.
Velasquez injury is mild
Right-hander Vince Velasquez’ groin strain that landed him on the 15-day injured list Friday wasn’t bad enough to prevent him from playing catch the same day, and he expects to throw a bullpen “in a couple days.”
Velasquez (5.30 ERA in eight appearances including seven starts) was scheduled to start against the Rays Friday but was replaced by callup Davis Martin. He was hurt shagging fly balls in Toronto.
“Feeling good,” Velasquez said. “A little freak accident. I guess I kind of stepped in the wrong direction and kind of grabbed on. I had to make a decision for myself and for the team, do I want to go out with something that would probably linger all game and cause some compensation and put myself in a bad situation.”
Banks down, Crick up
Right-hander Kyle Crick was recalled from Triple-A Charlotte and lefty Tanner Banks was optioned to Charlotte. Crick, who pitched three scoreless innings over two appearances in Toronto, stayed with the team even though he was optioned to Charlotte Friday as room was made to reinstate Dylan Cease and Kendall Graveman to the roster.
He entered in the sixth inning against the Rays Saturday.
“He’s got stuff,” La Russa said. “I mean, he’s got playable, major league stuff. More than just a nice slider. He’s got movement in his fastball, nice pop to it.”