Updated: August 26, 2014 6:45AM
MINNEAPOLIS — The “dog days” of August have arrived in July for Jose Abreu, who played in his 88th game in the White Sox’ 5-2 victory against the Minnesota Twins on Thursday at Target Field.
Abreu never played more than 94 games in Cuba, so these last two months of his first season will be a test for the major leagues’ home-run leader. The left ankle that put him on the disabled list is holding up, but like everyone else about now, various aches and pains are setting in. Manager Robin Ventura gave Abreu a day off Tuesday because his back was barking at him a little.
“His body is a little tired but he’s still getting in there, still fighting and still pushing,’’ Sox director of conditioning Allen Thomas said Thursday. “Is the experience new? Yes, he’d normally be done at this time. But he’s really mentally strong. He’s still getting in the weight room twice a week.’’
Sure, Abreu is beat up a little, Thomas said, but wear and tear was expected.
“He’s at freshman status but his body looks fine, his weight is where we like it,’’ Thomas said.
Abreu weighed 278 when the Sox signed him to a six-year, $68 million contract in October. He’s down to 252, and the Sox want to see him at 235.
“That’s very doable for him because he’s going to be stronger,’’ Thomas said. “Not just with diet, but with more training and cardio. it will be better for his legs and ankle strength in the end.’’
The Sox are doing all they can to protect their prized investment, who extended his hitting streak to 14 with a double off the right-center field wall. Abreu has hit safely in 32 of his last 33 games.
“In spring training he proved he could hit and hit with power,’’ Paul Konerko said, “but I didn’t know he would do both right off the bat. I thought he would do one or the other. He’s been driving balls all year but now you see the hits coming out and the average creeping up.’’
Abreu has answered doubts about how he would handle cold weather and pitchers he hadn’t faced.
“Even relievers who make you feel uncomfortable that you’ve faced 20 times, he goes up there the first time and hits a line drive up the middle and you say, ‘All right, I guess he wasn’t that uncomfortable.’ So you start seeing those barriers getting broken down early. Really, him getting hurt is the only down moment of the year and that’s not on him. Everything else has been aces.’’
For seven innings, Sox starter Hector Noesi was aces in the first game of a four-game series in Minnesota and a road trip that continues in Detroit. Before Chris Parmelee singled sharply to left and Danny Santana homered in the eighth, the only hit by the Twins was Trevor Plouffe’s soft-fly single to left that probably should have been caught by Alejandro De Aza, who got a late jump and barely missed getting his glove on the ball as he charged in and to his right.
Noesi exited after the homer. He gave up three hits and one walk while striking out three over 7 2/3 innings.
Adam Eaton had three hits, including a double and two-run single for the Sox. Adam Dunn’s smash single off Trevor Hughes’ right shin KO’d the Twins starter in the fourth inning.
That’s the kind of blow it might take to keep Abreu out of a game. When he rested Tuesday, it wasn’t a day he asked for.
“He’s a gamer, he wants to play,’’ Thomas said. “A guy of that size, you wonder if his body can hold it but I wouldn’t say he has slowed down by any means.’’