Is David Robertson's absence a preview of what's to come for White Sox?

Is David Robertson's absence a preview of what's to come for White Sox?

OAKLAND, Calif. -- In what could be a preview of the near future for the White Sox, David Robertson is off three days to attend the birth of his second child.

One of the team’s most sought after assets, the veteran closer was placed on the paternity list before Monday's 7-2 win over the Oakland A's and isn’t likely to rejoin until the White Sox reach Denver on Friday.

For now, the White Sox coaching staff must determine how to survive for three games without Robertson, who has provided stability to the back end of the bullpen. But if all goes according to plan, the White Sox could be in search of a new closer sometime later this month when Robertson is dealt to the highest bidder.

While the White Sox have several interesting internal options to fill the void -- and having a bonafide closer shouldn’t be a priority for a rebuilding club -- the lack of an anchor could leave the rest of the team’s bullpen in disarray. That’s a position the team has been in twice in the last decade, most recently in 2014, which led to Robertson signing a four-year, $46-million deal the following offseason.

“It’s no fun,” pitching coach Don Cooper said. “When you lose a guy or two or when a guy can’t handle his job there’s more asked of others, there’s more put on another guy’s plate.”

You don’t have to look very far back to recall a similar predicament.

After Addison Reed was traded, the White Sox went into 2014 with Matt Lindstrom as their closer with the hope that either Nate Jones, Daniel Webb or another young arm would emerge as the eventual replacement.

Lindstrom got the first shot and kept his head above water until he suffered a devastating ankle injury in May. That’s when the job went to Ronald Belisario, who excelled in the eighth inning but couldn’t handle the ninth.

Meanwhile, what began as a sore gluteal muscle injury for Jones eventually resulted in back surgery. During his recovery, Jones’ elbow blew out and he required Tommy John surgery. Webb never panned out and the position remained unstable until Jake Petricka and Zach Putnam -- both of whom are now injured -- pitched well over the final two months. By then it was too late for the White Sox, who briefly flirted with a run at the second wild card spot before the bullpen collapsed around the same time Frank Thomas was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

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“It was a crazy year,” Petricka said. “It was a fun year. It’s what you always dream of and normally it takes years to get there. I was kind of in the right place at the wrong time. You don’t want injuries, but when injuries happen there’s an opportunity for somebody else and me and Putnam obviously were the beneficiaries of the opportunities. We both did real well, but now we’re fighting through our own injuries.”

Without Robertson, the 2017 bullpen could suffer a similar fate. Having suffered a rash of injuries and a heavy workload, the current unit has hung on by a thread in the first half only because of the performances of Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and Anthony Swarzak, who also could be dealt to a contender in July.

If he’s healthy, some scouts thought in late 2016 that Jones and his nasty fastball/slider combo had the potential makings of a lower-tier closer. Though he’s made enough progress to travel with the club for the first time in three road trips, Jones hasn’t thrown off a mound in more than a month. Meanwhile, Putnam is out for the season and Petricka was placed on the disabled list again only last week with a right elbow strain.

In the midst of a breakout season, Kahnle has some experience as a closer having temporarily handled the role with the Rockies in 2014 and 2015. Kahnle entered Monday having struck out 55 batters and walked seven in 32 2/3 innings with a 2.20 ERA.

“It would be easy to slot Kahnle into the ninth inning if we wanted to,” manager Rick Renteria said. “As the game progresses we might have to match up. We’ll see how it goes as we move forward.

“Great opportunity. Absolutely. There’s no apprehension on our part to use him in that role. None whatsoever.”

But if Kahnle’s promoted, the White Sox would then be in need of a setup man. The White Sox also are trying to manage the right-hander’s workload

Zack Burdi, the team’s 2016 first-rounder, is as good of an option as any within the organization to step up and fill the void. But, his promotion would come with a learning curve.

Either way it would seem the White Sox could have some trying times ahead.

“(In 2014) we had to try and shuffle the deck and go with Belisario,” Cooper said. “I thought he was doing a good job where he was in the eighth and it goes to show you in the ninth he couldn’t handle it.

“As far as the future goes, I don’t know what people are thinking about who’s in the cards for us, who’s here or not. But we’re trying to win games.” 

Why Adam Engel came up with his unique batting stance, and how he's tweaked it since

Why Adam Engel came up with his unique batting stance, and how he's tweaked it since

Adam Engel stepped into the batter’s box for his first major league at-bat in May armed with a batting stance that, to say the least, wasn’t conventional. 

Engel’s hands were pushed far away from his body and were level with his head. His bat pointed straight up in the air, and his right (back) arm was raised above his left (front) one. On first glance, you had to wonder — how can that be comfortable? 

“That’s something that I probably wouldn’t coach a little kid to do,” Engel said. 

But there was a well-thought-out method to Engel’s stance. He used the word “tension” in describing what he was trying to avoid by thrusting his hands high and away from his body. And as White Sox hitting coach Todd Steverson noted, nobody does anything well when they’re tight. 

“The closer I get my hands to my body, I tend to grab the bat a little harder, which causes a chain reaction I don’t want,” Engel said. “As long as my hands get to where I want them before I start swinging, that’s the goal.”

Since arriving in the majors two months ago, though, Engel has lowered his hands and dropped his back elbow. Here’s the difference in his stances between his first career hit (May 27) and his first career home run (June 25)

And almost a month later, Engel's gradually brought his hands lower:

For a rookie, tinkering with hand placement can be hazardous. But Engel’s batting stance has been a work in progress for a while now, as evidenced by what it was back in spring training of 2016:

Even during spring training in 2017, Engel’s stance was closer to what it was in 2016 than what it was when he made his major league debut:

But here’s the point Steverson made about all those tweaks and changes: As long as it helps Engel get the barrel of his bat to the point of contact, who cares how it looks before the swing?

“At the point of contact, 99.9 percent of every hitter looks the same,” Steverson said. “… How you get it done is based upon timing and your inner functions. But can I get it to here on time is what it’s all about. There’s many myriad ways of doing that. You’re not going to teach somebody to do that because there’s not their functions. 

“… You got guys (in basketball) taking free throws different — did it go in the bucket or did it not go in the bucket? It’s kind of the same way with hitting. Can I get the barrel to the point of contact or can I not get the barrel to the point. And that’s the end of the story.”

The 25-year-old Engel is still trying to find his way through his first major league season, hitting .233 with a .317 on-base percentage and a below-average .650 OPS.  But he’s had some sporadic positive results, like his four-hit game against the Minnesota Twins June 22. 

There’s a fine line between finding a batting stance and hand placement that you’re comfortable with and tinkering too much, especially for a player as green as Engel. But he’ll continue to put in the work trying to find something that will yield consistent success — and that may mean another batting stance that sticks out. 

“it’s just pregame work, watch a lot of video on the starter before the games and then try to work all my work pregame, batting practice, swings in the cage, try to have a mindset that I’m going to have in the game,” Engel said. “Work on the mindset, and then when I step in the box, it’s as close to practice as it can be.” 

Yoan Moncada's first White Sox game had same 'special' feeling as MLB debut

Yoan Moncada's first White Sox game had same 'special' feeling as MLB debut

First came the roar from the home crowd. Then a bunch of fans in the first deck beyond third base stood to watch Yoan Moncada. The patient approach surfaced next.

Moncada made his White Sox debut on Wednesday night and although it didn’t feature any highlight reel moments, there were plenty of good signs. Moncada drew a walk in his first plate appearance and also lined out hard to center field in his last. The rookie second baseman went 0-for-2 as the White Sox lost 9-1 to the Los Angeles Dodgers at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“It was fun to watch him come in,” pitcher Carlos Rodon said. “I saw him in Triple-A for a while, he’s a great talent. It’s good to have some good defense. That first at-bat was obviously really good. Fought it back to 3-2, got that walk. Two good swings.”

“It was cool. It got very loud when he came up to the plate, as we expected. That was fun to watch.”

The hype and energy surrounding the arrival of baseball’s top prospect was easy to detect.

The amount of media members on hand to document Moncada’s first game was akin to an Opening Day crowd. Every camera was aimed on Moncada, who flew in from Rochester, N.Y. earlier in the day to join the White Sox.

News of Moncada’s promotion at 11 p.m. Tuesday boosted the announced crowd of 24,907 by 5,000 fans, according to the team. Fans arrived early, some in Moncada White Sox No. 10 jerseys direct from China, while others brought Twinkies, the second baseman’s favorite snack food. Moncada spotted some of those bearing the sugary snacks when he stepped out of the home dugout and onto the field about 45 minutes before first pitch. Moncada, a former teammate of Jose Abreu’s in Cuba, received a loud ovation as he started to stretch.

“I was excited with the way the fans treated me and how they were cheering me,” Moncada said through an interpreter. “I was really happy in that at-bat and excited because all that atmosphere and the excitement in the ballpark.”

The rumble was even louder when Moncada stepped in for his first Major League plate appearance since he played for the Boston Red Sox last September. Though he quickly fell behind in the count 0-2 against Dodgers starter Kenta Maeda, Moncada never wavered. He took several closes pitches, fouled off two more, and drew a nine-pitch walk.

“He had some nice at-bats,” manager Rick Renteria said. “Obviously worked a walk. Hit two balls well. He looked very comfortable. Turned a nice double play. I think he didn’t look overwhelmed. I think he ended his first day here with us as well as you could have it be. I know he didn’t get any hits but I thought he had some pretty good at-bats.”

Moncada’s second trip resulted in a groundout to first base. He fell behind 0-2 once again before working the count even. Moncada then ripped an 88-mph from Maeda down the right-field line only to have it go foul by several feet before grounding out on the next pitch.

Moncada got ahead 2-0 in the count in his final plate appearance as he faced reliever Ross Strippling. He produced an easy, fluid swing on the 2-0 pitch and ripped a 93-mph fastball for a line drive but it found the glove of center fielder Joc Pederson. The ball exited Moncada’s bat at 102.5 mph, which normally results in a hit 62.5 percent of the time, according to baseballsavant.com.

“I felt good,” Moncada said. “I think that I executed my plan. I didn't get any hits but I hit the ball hard and I executed my plan.”

“I made my debut last year but this one was special, it had kind of the same feeling for me.”