The Chicago White Sox trailed by a run in the seventh inning Thursday in the series finale against the Royals in Kansas City, Mo.
Seby Zavala was on second base with one out, and the top of the lineup was coming up.
Luis Robert hit a grounder to second. After a couple of steps out of the box, Robert picked up his speed when Michael Massey didn’t field the ball cleanly. Massey recovered and his throw to first just beat Robert.
Instead of possibly having runners on the corners, the Sox settled for Zavala on third and two outs. They did not score in the inning in an eventual 5-3 loss.
When a team is fighting for runs like the Sox have been, moments like that one tends to stand out. The appearance of going all out while running to first has been a team issue at times throughout the season. Manager Tony La Russa addressed the topic Friday before the series opener against the Detroit Tigers at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“I thought last year we were not very good,” La Russa said Friday when asked if he was satisfied with the team’s overall hustle. “This year, we went through this (period) when we had at least four guys with leg injuries that were good enough to play — if we didn’t push it.
“I know all of a sudden it gets magnified (Thursday) when Robert (was thrown out at first base). I also see Robert in a position where he’s taking care of his legs. That was a routine ball and it looks bad, looks really bad, but you see him on the bases, when he’s got a chance, it’s hard to say he’s not hustling. I watch him in the outfield running balls down. I don’t think we’re perfect, but I think we’re doing well enough.”
Another example came in the ninth. With the Sox trailing by two, José Abreu attempted to check his swing, but upon appeal it was ruled he did not hold up. The ball popped out of catcher MJ Melendez’s glove and rolled to the grass just beyond the plate. Abreu made his way to the dugout instead of forcing a throw to first.
“I’m ready to fight anybody who says he’s not giving 100%,” La Russa said of Abreu. “The ball’s there. But if the ball gets dropped, yeah, you’re supposed to make them make a throw.”
La Russa said there will be a conversation if hustling becomes an issue.
“I just alert people,” he said. ” ‘Hey!’ Yell at ’em. ‘Let’s get down there. You’ve got to get to the base.’ The traditional way is you break out of the box, if you see the guy’s got the ball in his glove, then you break it down to a third. Because you don’t want to sprint to the end. In a long season, if you’re playing every day? You’re saving steps.
“Robert did it the opposite way (Thursday). It deserves to be mentioned, he did it. But if you take his body of work, that’s not how he plays. And he was one of the guys that during that period was warned, ‘You’ve got to play under control.’ There’s still times he’s not getting the green light.”
Andrew Vaughn and Eloy Jiménez are among the other players in the Sox continue to monitor to keep their legs fresh.
“We’re still being very careful with Vaughn because he’s playing outfield,” La Russa said. “And he runs most of the balls out, but he’s being told, ‘If you feel a day where you’re tight, be careful.’ Same thing with Eloy. Just gotta be careful.”
La Russa noted the comeback attempt Thursday as a sign of the team’s effort.
“We’ve done this a number of times where we’re making outs early and all of a sudden we have a late rally, like (Thursday),” he said. “First and second, nobody out, we got zero. Bases loaded, nobody out, we got zero. (Yasmani Grandal) hits a two-run homer (to cut the deficit to two in the eighth), and we were rallying there, we had a chance. And Robert comes to bat as the go-ahead run (later in that inning).
“How’d that happen if they’re lazy and not really into it? I’ve learned, most of the time, whatever you think, you start to explain it. ‘Hey, he’s making excuses.’ But if push comes to shove, I’ll point out stuff like that. That was a real difficult loss, that was an aggravating loss. It was easy, when they got those runs (to take a 4-0 lead after seven), to say, ‘Hey, let’s finish it off and catch a plane.’ They didn’t do it. And we’ve done that a lot this year.”