Moncada mashes with first multi-homer game

April 17th, 2019

CHICAGO -- Those who always believed in Yoan Moncada’s immense ability are puffing their chests out a little broader following the third baseman’s first career two-home run effort in a 5-1 White Sox victory over the Royals on Tuesday night at Guaranteed Rate Field.

And anyone who considered Moncada not as good as advertised after his first-year struggles might be reconsidering their position. Moncada, looking as confident and poised as a 10-year-veteran, seems to be taking a pragmatic approach where his April success is concerned.

“Let’s just wait and see what happens in a month or two,” Moncada said through interpreter Billy Russo. “Right now, I’m just focusing on attacking early in the count, and so far the results have been there.”

Moncada connected on solo shots against Royals starter Jorge Lopez in the third and fifth, giving him five for the season and 16 RBIs. He raised his average to .333, including six hits in his last 12 at-bats, and he has a 1.023 OPS.

It has been an overall adjustment in offensive approach leading to Moncada’s breakout, an alteration he discussed above. According to Statcast, Moncada is hitting .367 on balls in the zone this season compared to .265 last year.

He has a 69.5 percent swing rate at pitches in the zone, up from 62.3 percent last year. Moncada is swinging at 25.8 percent of first pitches, slightly up from 24.3 percent in 2018, and his overall swing rate is up to 47.9 percent from 41 percent. His 96.4 mph average exit velocity also has jumped from 90.6 last season.

The greatest difference can be seen in Moncada simply being more aggressive. He took 85 called third strikes in ‘18, by far the most -- Chris Davis was next at 56. Moncada has no called third strikes to date this season.

“Just a guy who's focused, a guy who comes in here with a mission, a guy who comes in here with a purpose,” said White Sox designated hitter Yonder Alonso, who had four hits, including his third home run. “It's fun to watch. It's even better to enjoy when you see him at 1 o'clock when nobody else sees him.”

“He was probably looking for [a curveball] because I was throwing a lot of curveballs to lefties. But I couldn’t get him to swing and miss on anything else,” Jorge Lopez said. “He was really locked in. Moncada can do damage. You have to be careful to him. I was impressed.”

Reynaldo Lopez turned in his best start of the season in this all-Lopez starting matchup -- entering Tuesday with a 12.15 ERA and exiting after allowing one run on five hits over six innings, while striking out five and walking two. Leury Garcia added a go-ahead two-run shot in the fifth to break a 1-1 tie, traveling a projected 428 feet with an exit velocity of 106.8 mph, according to Statcast.

All of these individual accomplishments, coupled with lockdown relief from Jace Fry, Nate Jones, Kelvin Herrera and Alex Colome, produced the White Sox third straight win -- their fourth in five games -- and a series victory. Taking the lead was Moncada, whose changes have produced All-Stars results even if it is only 16 games into the season.

“He’s attacking earlier and he’s also defending late,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He’s not necessarily chasing out of the zone late. He’s putting balls in play that normally he might just take. They are manageable hittable pitches. He’s now trusting he can do something with that pitch that might be borderline.”

“Last year was last year. I passed through many different things. It’s in the past,” Moncada said. “I learned from them. I learned from all the experiences I had last year. Now, I’m just enjoying this moment, and just enjoying this season and doing my best.”