Alejandro De Aza didn’t feel comfortable on Monday night for the first time in about a dozen games.
But the White Sox outfielder’s discomfort Monday had more to do with how U.S. Cellular Field was shrouded in fog and visibility was minimal compared with how he feels at the plate. Because when it comes to the latter, De Aza has been at ease in the batter’s box since the end of May.
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Entering Tuesday night -- when the White Sox face Toronto’s Chein-Ming Wang -- De Aza is on a tear.
Over his last 12 games, De Aza is hitting .388 with nine RBIs and seven runs scored, and he's also walked six times. In that time, De Aza has increased his on-base percentage from .281 to .317. But even his own encouraging play didn’t leave De Aza feeling very relaxed in the outfield on Monday night.
“Unbelievable,” De Aza said. “I have never been in a game like that. It was unbelievable. I was just trying to follow the ball off the bat because if I lost it for a second, I wouldn’t have known where the ball was. We were just following the ball, following the ball. It was a battle.”
De Aza’s struggles at the plate this season could be described in similar fashion. But after plenty of work, hitting coach Jeff Manto said De Aza is back to doing what he does best. De Aza hit seven home runs early in the season but Manto thinks the leadoff hitter had become too pull-happy.
Now, De Aza is using all fields and has again become the multi-faceted player he has the ability to be. Manto likes how De Aza’s game includes the ability to pull the ball, hit to the gaps for power, bunt and take a walk.
“He turned his field around, is getting the ball back up the middle and to left-center and things have been much better for him,” Manto said. “He brings a whole lot of stuff. … He’s such a versatile leadoff hitter. He’s one of the few true leadoff hitters. He’s able to hit with two strikes. He’s able to take walks. He’s able to get the pitch count up a little.”
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Prior to this stretch, De Aza has had more trouble hitting with two strikes this season than he did last season. He has struck out 67 times in 262 plate appearances, or once every 3.91 trips to the plate. Lately, however, De Aza has decreased the rate to once every 4.66 plate appearances through trying to replicate his “old style,” De Aza said.
Having the leadoff hitter on base more often has led to better overall plate appearances for fellow White Sox batters, manager Robin Ventura said.
“Once you set the table, it puts a little pressure on the pitcher to make the right pitches,” Ventura said. “It just becomes contagious at that point. The last few games, the contact he’s been making, he was striking out a lot earlier. It’s a big thing for our lineup when that guy gets on and starts putting pressure on the pitchers. A guy can’t just sit there and take his time and throw.”
As De Aza discovered on Tuesday, when a player is enveloped by fog he doesn’t have the luxury of taking a second off. Total concentration is needed from well before the pitch to track every fly ball hit because losing sight of the ball for even a second could lead to a game-changing play.
He also thinks he and his fellow outfielders caught a break because they didn’t have to run back on any balls hit.
“If it was above our head, we didn’t know what we were going to do,” De Aza said. “Because we’re going to have run back and look up. The only spot on the field that wasn’t that cloudy was the warning track.”