Yoán Moncada felt “on time” at the plate while rehabbing with Triple-A Charlotte as he recovered from a right oblique strain.
That preparation was on display Thursday when Moncada hit his first home run of the season at an ideal time for the Chicago White Sox.
The Sox trailed the New York Yankees by three runs in the seventh inning at Guaranteed Rate Field but had two runners on and Moncada at the plate. The third baseman hit an 0-1 sinker from reliever Jonathan Loáisiga over the center-field wall for a tying home run in an eventual 15-7 loss.
“I went over there (to Charlotte) to take a good approach, the same approach that I have been doing,” Moncada said through an interpreter before Friday’s game. “I went over there to see a good pitch to hit and put a good swing and hit the ball hard somewhere.”
Moncada made his season debut with the Sox on Monday. He had four hits in his first 17 at-bats leading into his fifth game of the year Saturday against the Yankees.
Moncada, 26, entered Saturday slashing .235/.316/.412 with the home run, three RBIs, two runs and a walk. He had one hit in each of his first four games, including going 1-for-4 in Friday’s 10-4 loss to the Yankees.
“I felt really good and I’m still feeling good,” Moncada said. “The most important thing for me is continuing working hard and continuing with my approach at the plate.”
Moncada suffered the injury during the final day of spring training in Glendale, Ariz. The Sox placed him on the injured list April 5.
“I thought it was going to be less time (away), but it was more than that,” Moncada told reporters Monday. “But I’m just really happy to be back with the team.”
Moncada added that he was “100%. I don’t feel anything. I’m ready to go.”
The time in Charlotte helped with the preparation. He slashed .318/.360/.636 with a double, two homers and five RBIs in six games with the Knights from April 30-May 7.
“I’ve said it before, I’ve come to really trust and respect what happens in Charlotte with (manager) Wes (Helms) and (hitting coach) Chris (Johnson), they’ve been right on every time last year and this year,” Sox manager Tony La Russa said Saturday. “(Friday’s Yankees starter Gerrit) Cole comes out there and punches (Moncada) out, he punched out other guys who have been here. He’s throwing the ball well. (Moncada) got a base hit (against Cole in the fifth). I’m confident that he’s going to help us.”
The Sox regained another bat to lengthen the lineup this weekend with outfielder Andrew Vaughn returning from the injured list. Vaughn suffered a bruised right hand April 29. The Sox reinstated him from the IL on Friday and he started Saturday, batting fifth while serving as the designated hitter.
“Depth,” La Russa said of having Vaughn and Moncada back. “And if you watch (left fielder) Eloy (Jiménez) moving around, he’s going to be around soon too.”
Jiménez is recovering after suffering an injury on April 23 that required surgery to repair a torn hamstring tendon behind his right knee. His estimated recovery at the time of the injury was six to eight weeks.
“I try to be careful what I ask because it sounds like I’m pushing, so I just say how’s he running, how are his legs,” La Russa said. “Everybody believes his progress is really impressive. But there is a certain buildup in the muscle that has to happen, and you just can’t fast-forward that.”
The Sox are envisioning a roster at full strength. They took a step closer with Moncada in the mix.
“We’re glad to get him back,” La Russa said after Thursday’s 15-7 loss. “He’s already taking good swings. That (home run) was clutch.”
Moncada finished third in the American League with a .375 on-base percentage in 2021 and led the Sox with 33 doubles. After missing all of April, he’s ready to contribute.
“The way I’ve been taking my approach, that’s what I’ve been trying to do and get good pitches to swing,” Moncada said Friday. “Just be ready to hit the fastballs.
“My real focus right now is to make sure I’m swinging to hit the ball hard somewhere and swinging at strikes.”