As struggling lineup deals with ‘downfall,’ La Russa backs White Sox hitting coaches

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

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

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 are last in walks, 29th in on-base percentage and 26th in runs this season heading into their game against the Royals on 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’s a little bit of 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 with Tim Anderson (.338) at the top but with six batting averages of .215 or below (Yoan Moncada, José Abreu, AJ Pollock, Gavin Sheets, Reese McGuire, Josh Harrison) on Thursday squared off with Carlos Hernández. (0-3, 9.11 ERA), who has a 2.70 ERA in 20 innings against the 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 in that slump. We are not chaining successes. Yesterday [Wednesday, a 6-2 loss] I had a chance with the bases loaded and I didn’t get it. It’s happened this year with a lot of guys.”

Luis Robert, one of the White Sox with a recent 14-game hitting streak, struck out three times Wednesday. With Tim Anderson on second and one out on the first Thursday, he struck out on Hernandez’s off-speed pitch on the ground.

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

La Russa approves of the coaches’ work.

“I spend a lot of time in the cage,” La Russa said. “Players will tell you the messages they’re getting, whether it’s strategy or mechanics, with both guys it’s solid. We’re just not executing.

“If you coach or manage in the big leagues and if someone points a finger at you and it annoys you, you’re doing the wrong thing to make a living.”

These are tough times for La Russa, 78, the second-winningest manager in history with a Hall of Fame pedigree hired by chairman Jerry Reinsdorf to guide the Sox through this championship window. But these are not more difficult times, he said.

“If we are fighting, now do I have another march that I can go to? That’s nonsense,” he said. “All you do is make decisions, so you better give him the same thing all the time. No, I take every game like it’s the last game of my life.

“This script has not been written. We’re in charge of writing it ourselves to the extent that we can get better and play the best baseball that we can.”

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

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