Abreu on La Russa: 'We all play hard for him'

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CHICAGO -- José Abreu is the White Sox leader.

It’s a theme talked about frequently over the past two highly successful White Sox seasons, for certain, but really discussed for a good portion of his eight-year tenure in Chicago. It’s an understandable and warranted assessment, with the reigning American League Most Valuable Player Award winner setting the tone on the field and in the clubhouse through his work ethic and demeanor.

But in a talk with the media prior to Friday afternoon’s 8-6, 10-inning win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field, Abreu pointed more toward manager Tony La Russa as somewhat of the driving force for the AL Central leaders.

“He’s been there since Day 1 of Spring Training. He’s been our leader,” said Abreu through interpreter Billy Russo. “We know the kind of person he is and the kind of manager he is. We all play hard for him.”

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La Russa came up Friday when Abreu was asked about his manager’s strident defense of him one week ago, when Cleveland reliever James Karinchak hit Abreu in the side of the head with a 96 mph fastball. As Abreu slowly got to his feet, with his helmet luckily absorbing some of the shock, La Russa raced on to the field and pushed away catcher Roberto Pérez from Abreu.

Pérez was checking on Abreu’s condition, but La Russa’s move had a "he’s our guy, we’ll take care him” sort of feeling. La Russa and the rest of the White Sox were upset with Karinchak throwing high and inside when he clearly didn’t have good control that evening.

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As closer Liam Hendriks pointed out, that area of Abreu’s swing is one of the places to get him. Nonetheless, Abreu was hit twice on Friday, buzzed inside on Saturday and hit again last Sunday. There was no intent, but La Russa and the team still had seen enough in support of Abreu.

“That’s him. That’s how he’s been throughout his whole career,” Abreu said. “Just seeing him running out and trying to protect me, defend me, it meant a lot. That just reinforced what we already knew.

“He cares about the players. He protects the players. That’s one of the reasons why, for me, I feel like I need to be on the field every day for him and for the organization. It’s a good thing and definitely makes you feel very good and appreciate that kind of support.”

Abreu entered this weekend series against the gutted Cubs roster needing four home runs to pass Harold Baines for third place on the White Sox franchise list, with Baines at 221 and Abreu at 218. Based on Abreu's 2020 results, Wrigley Field seems to be a good place for him to increase those numbers.

Over three games on the North Side last season, Abreu finished 7-for-12 with six home runs and nine RBIs. On Friday, he went 2-for-5 with two runs scored. But that success doesn’t predict continued excellence as much as hard work.

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“Everybody knows what I did last year here, it was special, but that's in the past,” Abreu said. “The focus right now is just to play these three games here, try to help the team to win this series and do our best. This is a nice place to play, but our focus right now is winning.

“I’m feeling good. I'm working with my hitting coach, trying to get a good balance, good weight on my legs. That was an issue before, and we're working on that. We're going to keep working. You know I'm never comfortable with good results. I'm always looking for more, and I'm going to keep working to do better.”

Home runs in each of his past two games gave Abreu at least 20 home runs in seven of his eight years with the White Sox; the one season he missed that mark was '20, when he hit 19 in 60 games and was crowned the AL MVP. His offensive lot should gain assistance as the Sox push toward the division title, with Eloy Jiménez already back from injury and Luis Robert returning sometime this week.

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“That will be a big plus for us, because we all know the quality of players they are,” Abreu said. “This has been a really tough season for us as a team, especially in the offensive part.

“Having everybody healthy and playing the same time should be a very good thing for us. It’s something that should carry us to the finish line.”

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