'It’s never easy to hit a homer', but Robert Jr. hits two

Slugger swats two-run jacks (combined 866 feet) in back-to-back ABs, but Sox drop to 0-2

March 30th, 2024

CHICAGO -- It’s not easy hitting home runs.

White Sox center fielder made that idea clear following his team’s 7-6 loss in 10 innings to the Tigers on Saturday afternoon at Guaranteed Rate Field, although his Statcast-projected 866 feet covered in two long balls against Detroit starter Kenta Maeda might go against that point.

But of greater significance toward the future excellence for Robert Jr. was the 29 pitches he witnessed over five plate appearances. The home runs came in the first and third innings as the culmination of 10-pitch and eight-pitch at-bats, respectively.

“What you guys saw today was part of the results of all the work I put in during the offseason,” Robert Jr. said through interpreter Billy Russo. “Hopefully, you guys can see that on a consistent basis this year. I really worked a lot on that this offseason.”

This offseason work centered on a specific drill where he focused in on one quadrant of the strike zone. If the pitch he’s looking for is not there, then he wouldn’t try to swing.

Robert Jr.’s plan was evident even during at-bats where he fell behind early and battled to get his pitch. Trailing, 3-0, in the first, Robert Jr. worked the count full against Maeda before fouling off four straight offerings around the zone. He connected on a center-cut 89 mph four-seamer, driving the ball 449 feet with an exit velocity of 111.9 mph, according to Statcast.

In the third, Robert Jr. worked the count full again, fouled off a splitter out of the zone and then drove out a cutter to give the White Sox a 5-3 lead.

“It would've been nice to get him out with an earlier count,” Maeda said through an interpreter. “It was unfortunate that I had to be in full-count situations. The homers that I gave up, that was a pitch that got a little bit too much of the plate."

“That guy right there can win MVP, that's for dang sure,” White Sox shortstop Braden Shewmake said. “Everybody in here knows that. I think he knows that, too. The greatest part about it is he doesn't go about his business that way. He's a great teammate. He's super fun to be around and he enjoys being in the clubhouse.

“Props to him. He's a great player, phenomenal talent and we're lucky to have him."

Shewmake made his White Sox debut with two hits, two runs scored and raced home on the back end of Nicky Lopez being thrown out trying to steal second with runners on first and third in the fourth. Shewmake connected on the first pitch he saw from Maeda in the second for his first career homer, which also happened to be his first career hit.

Zack Collins had been the last player to homer in his first White Sox at-bat, going deep against the Rangers on June 21, 2019, in Texas. Wil Cordero was previously the last player to homer on the first pitch he saw as a member of the White Sox, when he did so against Cleveland’s Jaret Wright on April 23, 1998, both according to MLB.com research.

“I'm not a home run hitter. That wasn't really my intent, but put a good swing on a pitch you can handle and good things tend to happen,” said Shewmake, who was focused more on the home run tying the game and not being his first career hit.

“It was awesome, it was great. It's hard to put into words.”

The White Sox built a 6-3 lead after erasing a three-run deficit, only to have the Tigers score one in the fifth and two in the seventh. Carson Kelly’s one-out single against Deivi García produced the game-winning run in the 10th, dropping the White Sox to 0-2.

Robert Jr. will be a highlight all season for this team, regardless of the crew’s overall record. But manager Pedro Grifol has seen some encouraging signs early on from this group.

“Overall, these guys battled their butts off and played a good baseball game,” Grifol said. “We’ve just got to find a way to win these things.”

Having Robert Jr. heightens the White Sox chances for success. But remember, it’s not easy hitting home runs even for someone who has 76 for his career and 40 since the start of the 2023 season.

“It’s never easy to hit a homer,” Robert Jr. said. “But when I’m locked in on the strike zone, it’s easier.”