Sox buoyed by two key players back at full strength

August 27th, 2023

CHICAGO -- Both and came off the injured list in late July. On Sunday afternoon, they proved that they are finally fully healthy.

In the White Sox 6-1 win over the Athletics at Guaranteed Rate Field, Moncada went 4-for-4 with a pair of doubles and two RBIs, and Clevinger flirted with a no-hitter. It was Moncada’s first four-hit game since Sept. 15 of last year and Clevinger’s second seven-inning start this month.

Over his last 15 games, Moncada owns an .869 OPS with two home runs. Take it as a sign that he is fully recovered from the back problems that plagued him for much of the season and landed him on the injured list in April and then again in June. 

If Moncada can finish the season fully healthy and go into the winter without having to focus on rehabbing, a healthy and normal offseason could mean good things for him in 2024.

“He had a tough injury when it comes to trying to keep your mechanics consistent,” manager Pedro Grifol said. “When you've got a back injury and you're trying to avoid pain, you start doing things mechanically that you probably don't even know you're doing, just to take a swing without any discomfort. And over time, you start creating some bad habits.”

After returning from his first IL stint in May, Moncada struggled. He hit one home run while fighting to keep his batting average above .200 across May and June before his back flared up again. 

But since his July 25 return from his second stint, Moncada has looked closer to the player who hit .315 with 25 homers and 34 doubles back in 2019. After pulling the ball from the right side of the plate for a home run in Saturday night’s win, Moncada sprayed the ball to all fields, but pulled the ball for hits twice on Sunday; his first-inning single to right field from the left side, and his two-run double from the right side to left field in the seventh.

This is notable because Moncada had been trying to go mostly to the opposite field while recovering from his back injury. It can take some time before players move from feeling good enough to play to feeling mentally free of the injury. Grifol said players often describe injuries as “tolerable,” meaning they feel good enough to go out and play while managing some discomfort.

Having Moncada now able to go to all fields and pull the ball for power means he is truly fully recovered, physically and mentally.

“It's a relief for sure,” Moncada said through team interpreter Billy Russo. “Now you can go to home plate without thinking about [the injury], and that was something that was bothering me before. That is definitely something that is better.”

The White Sox offense was clicking on Sunday. Moncada had four of the club’s 14 hits, and every spot in the lineup got on base at least once. Eloy Jiménez was the only starter who didn’t get a hit, but he reached on a walk in the first inning. And while they did damage via the home run Saturday night, the Sox scored all six runs Sunday without a homer.

Clevinger took a no-hitter through five innings before Esteury Ruiz led off the sixth with a single. Ruiz stole second and third, then scored on a sacrifice fly for Oakland’s lone run. In all, Clevinger went seven innings, allowing only Ruiz’s hit while walking two batters and striking out 10.

Like Moncada, Clevinger has thrived since returning from a hand injury on July 29, posting a 2.04 ERA in his last seven starts. Clevinger said he and pitching coach Ethan Katz worked on fixing small mechanical issues during his time on the injured list, changes that have helped since he returned. 

“It was really getting my sweeper back,” Clevinger said. “Stopped getting toe-heavy. Just getting more direct to the plate. Stuff I was honing in on in Spring Training. I had it and lost it a little bit. Recalibrated and got it back."

As a team, the White Sox are aiming to finish the season healthy so they can enter into the offseason with an eye toward improving for next year rather than spending part of the winter recovering from injury. 

Chicago has 31 games remaining this year, and just as Moncada and Clevinger have improved after recovering fully from injury, Grifol would like to see his team as a whole come into Spring Training in 2024 in a similar place.

“When you have to worry about rehabbing and then worry about how you’re feeling to start the season, it interrupts the offseason,” Grifol said. “And I’ve seen it over and over again with many different players; it’s important for these guys to finish strong both physically and mentally.”