CHICAGO -- Daniel Palka was not a household name before this season. He has never appeared on top prospect lists and was an offseason waiver claim from the Twins.But so far in 2018, Palka has forced his way into a regular role for the White Sox. Though the left-handed-hitting slugger
CHICAGO -- Daniel Palka was not a household name before this season. He has never appeared on top prospect lists and was an offseason waiver claim from the Twins.
But so far in 2018, Palka has forced his way into a regular role for the White Sox. Though the left-handed-hitting slugger wasn't in Sunday's starting lineup against Brewers southpaw Brent Suter, he made the difference in the South Siders' 6-1 victory over Milwaukee at Guaranteed Rate Field with a pinch-hit two-run homer off reliever Matt Albers to break a sixth-inning tie.
"I just took it as the first at-bat of the game," Palka said. "It's easy getting ready down here since we've got the cage right here in the tunnel. Same routine as starting a game."
The homer was Palka's sixth of the year and the first White Sox pinch-hit clout of 2018, and the win sealed a series victory over the National League Central-leading Brewers.
Adam Engel followed with a solo homer of his own for back-to-back homers, and he got an assist from Brewers center fielder Lorenzo Cain. The ball bounced off the top of the fence, off Cain's glove and over the fence. Jose Abreu and Engel each added an insurance run in the eighth inning through RBI doubles.
Palka has played in 31 games since his April 24 callup, hitting .283 with an .872 OPS. Though his outfield defense continues to be a project, with Palka admitting as much a few weeks ago, the White Sox rarely leave his bat on the bench, given they entered Sunday with the third-fewest runs scored in the Majors.
"We know if he can get into one, any opportunity he gets at the plate, there's a chance he can pop one out of the ballpark," White Sox manager Rick Renteria said. "I know he's going to continue to work and try to develop his defensive skill set and do everything he can to put himself in a position where he can play more. Certainly his bat brings a little something to the table."
Palka continues to work on his defense before most games, doing extra outfield drills with first base/outfield coach Daryl Boston.
Palka's home run also resulted in a quirky, chess-type win for manager Rick Renteria when he pinch-hit for designated hitter Jose Rondon. In the top of the sixth, Brewers skipper Craig Counsell subbed out his own DH, inserting Ryan Braun for Ji-Man Choi with a man on first. Braun lined out to Yoan Moncada, who quickly fired to Jose Abreu at first base to double off Domingo Santana.
On the mound, Dylan Covey turned in another solid start for the White Sox, throwing five-plus innings of one-run ball, though the run was unearned. Covey lowered his ERA to 2.82 through four starts and has made a case to remain in the rotation as Carlos Rodon nears a return from his left shoulder injury.
"The changeup was really working for me late in counts, kind of like my putaway pitch today," Covey said. "I was able to use my fastball up in the zone, and then if they didn't offer at that, you just go down late with the changeup and they weren't laying off it today."
Rodon completed his fourth rehab outing Sunday, pitching five innings for Triple-A Charlotte. He gave up two runs on six hits, striking out eight while walking three. Renteria would not indicate who Rodon would replace in the rotation or on the 40-man roster upon being activated from the 60-day disabled list.
"I certainly think that once whatever happens with the [Rodon] situation, we'll all talk and see how we want to move forward," Renteria said.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Welcome to the show: Rookie catcher Alfredo Gonzalez picked up his first MLB hit and RBI Sunday, and they came in a key situation. Gonzalez lined a single to left field in the fifth to drive home Yoan Moncada from second base. He reacted with a huge cheer on first base and yelled toward his teammates in the dugout.
"I was really excited. I was dreaming for that moment my whole career. For me, that was like living a dream," said Gonzalez through interpreter Billy Russo.
Chris Volstad earned the win Sunday despite not retiring a single hitter. The only out recorded with Volstad pitching was when Gonzalez threw out Jonathan Villar trying to steal second base.
HE SAID IT
"A couple were OK. There's still some work to be done. I think it's still the soft stuff down out of the zone a little bit. He'll continue to adjust. The looks when he comes into the dugout are more of a curiosity look, in terms of what he might do the next time. He's a work in progress." -- Renteria, on Moncada's right-handed at-bats Sunday. Moncada's second-inning triple was his fourth extra-base hit from the right side. He has 16 extra-base hits as a left-handed hitter.
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
With two outs in the top of the sixth, Villar attempted to steal second base off Volstad. Gonzalez, fresh off his first MLB hit and RBI in the fifth, popped up and threw a dart to Moncada at second base. Villar was called out on the field, but the Brewers challenged the call. After a review that lasted 1 minute and 2 seconds, the play stood as called, erasing a potential scoring threat for Milwaukee.
The White Sox have Monday off before beginning a four-game series in Minnesota with a doubleheader on Tuesday. Game 1 is scheduled to begin at 3:10 p.m. CT and will make up April's rained-out Jackie Robinson Day. Reynaldo Lopez takes the hill for the South Siders in Game 1 with Lucas Giolito pitching the nightcap.
Max Gelman is a reporter for MLB.com based in Chicago.