CHICAGO – White Sox outfielder Dayan Viciedo desperately wanted to get on base.
Viciedo, mirred in an ugly 2-for-18 hitting slump, let the first two pitches from Seattle Mariners reliever Kameron Loe sail by for balls. However, the next pitch, an 87-mph sinker over the heart of the plate, was too good to take.
With one swing, Viciedo partially atoned for the rough start. His walk-off home run, the first of his career, gave the Sox a 4-3 win in 10 innings against the Mariners.
“I’m going to take it one day at a time,” Viciedo said through a translator. “I started a little slow, but I feel real good mentally. I feel prepared and ready to go.”
The Sox (4-2) didn’t display much patience against Seattle starter Hisashi Iwakuma, which is a problem not limited to Sunday’s game. The right-hander only needed 89 pitches to get through eight innings, and he certainly wasn’t blowing them past Sox hitters, featuring a fastball that topped out at 92 mph. At one point, Iwakuma retired 16 consecutive hitters after allowing Adam Dunn’s two-run, game-tying homer in the first.
“[Iwakuma] wasn’t overpowering by any stretch of the imagination, but you don’t have to be,” Dunn said. “All you have to do is miss the barrel of the bat. For the most part, he did that.”
Going forward, Sox hitters need to take more pitches and grind out at-bats. More than half (18 of 33) of their at-bats against Iwakuma lasted three pitches or less, and the Sox didn’t draw a walk in the win.
“Once you start getting into the season, the walks will come,” Dunn said. “I hate to blame stuff on weather, but you try to get in, get a pitch and get out. I think that has a lot to do with it.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that are very aggressive hitters. There’s not a lot of guys that do walk on the team. Everything will even out. When the weather heats up, usually everyone else does, too.”
The Sox’s inability to draw walks isn’t a one-game anomaly. Their 10 walks this season are tied for 28th in the majors with the Cubs. Only the offensively inept Houston Astros have fewer (nine) while 10 teams have at recorded at least 20 walks. Getting men on base also will pay off if the Sox continue hitting home runs at their current rate. Of the 11 home runs they have hit, seven have come with nobody on base.
“Everyone’s fresh and everyone pretty much has their best stuff of the year at this point,” said catcher Tyler Flowers, who is one of only two Sox with more than one walk. “The important thing is when you’re selective and you get that pitch, don’t miss it. Take advantage of those – get your hits, get on base for the next guy. It’s early so everyone’s seeing how they’re being pitched to and making adjustments.”
Manager Robin Ventura isn’t overly concerned about the early season offensive struggles. That’s good news for four Sox starters – Alejandro De Aza, Paul Konerko, Jeff Keppinger and Viciedo – all of whom are batting under
170 through six games, hitting a combined 10 for 84. Ventura had held off overreacting to a small sample size when there still are 156 games left on the schedule. But Keppinger (1 for 21) became the first to get benched for his slump, partially because backup Conor Gillaspie has played well in his limited opportunities. Even with the lack of contributions from key players, the Sox begin a 10-game road trip confident the offense can develop consistency.
“[Slumps] are never good or fun to go through, but I think if it happens early and you get out of it, it goes away,” Ventura said. “When it happens in the middle [of the year], you kind of have something to base it on. You were swinging it good before.”
• Meghan Montemurro covers the White Sox and Cubs for Shaw Media. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Sox Insider and Inside the Cubs blogs at NWHerald.com and on Twitter @Sox_Insider and @InsideTheCubs.