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White Sox slugger Jose Abreu is swing and can’t-miss TV

Updated: May 16, 2014 10:12AM

Jose Abreu doesn’t want a day off, but he needs one. And if he gets it when the White Sox open a three-game series against the Astros this weekend, some kid whose dad is taking him to the game in Houston on Friday is going to be really disappointed.

More than a few adults probably will be, too.

In one remarkable month and a half, Abreu has become must-see baseball. His at-bats are a don’t-miss viewing and listening event wrapped into one, each a chance to see a 400-foot-plus home run to any part of the ballpark that is usually accompanied by a sound that’s unmistakably Abreu’s — an echoing crack of the bat when the big Cuban slugger gets into one.

The Sox stuck their necks out — just a little, probably — by signing the 27-year-old to a six-year, $68 million contract because, despite gaudy numbers posted in Cuba and obvious power, he hadn’t faced major-league pitching yet. But the calculated risk taken in November turned into the bargain of the month in April, when Abreu was named the American League’s best player.

It’s May, and Abreu hasn’t slowed down a bit, even though his sore left ankle is trying to. His three-run, go-ahead homer in the Sox’ 4-2 victory Wednesday in Oakland allowed the Sox to avoid a three-game sweep. He leads the majors with 15 homers and is second with 41 RBI. His homer against the A’s made him the fourth player to hit 15 in his first 42 games (Wally Berger, Kevin Maas, Wally Joyner).

Manager Robin Ventura had considered giving Abreu Wednesday off. It was the day after a night game, and the achy ankle would get consecutive days off with Thursday’s off day. The Sox needed that win Wednesday, so the other option to give him Friday against the struggling Astros made more sense.

Abreu says he wants no part of it.

“No, no, no,’’ he said Wednesday after the game. “The off day is the off day.’’

Abreu has never played more than 89 games in one season, so the second half will be uncharted territory. Everyone from Ventura to general manager Rick Hahn to senior vice president for sales and marketing Brooks Boyer is hoping Abreu holds up. One thing they’re sure of is what he has done so far is no fluke.

“We’re [42] games in,’’ Boyer said. ‘‘You don’t count it as a hot start anymore.’’

In that amount of time, Abreu’s No. 79 jersey became a top-10 seller, he was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated and, while attendance at U.S. Cellular has lagged, Boyer said TV ratings are ahead of where they were at this point last year. And Boyer expects attendance to pick up starting when the Yankees come to town next weekend and as the weather warms up and school gets out.

“You see what Rick has done and start to see some of these pieces that are put together and start to dream about what this is going to look like in the next couple of years,” Boyer said, “and you see a budding star who is featured on ESPN, USA Today and the cover of Sports Illustrated that can not only lead the team on the field but be one of the pieces to lead the marketing campaign as well.

“The last time we had somebody where literally the ballpark stops when he steps into the batter’s box — and my guess is that happens on the road, too — was [Hall of Famer] Frank [Thomas]. From personal experience, when Jose Abreu is coming up the next inning, I’m staying with the broadcast longer. That’s obviously a great thing for us.’’

NOTE: Left-hander Chris Sale’s rehab start for Class AAA Charlotte in Durham, North Carolina, was rained out Thursday. Sale (flexor muscle strain) likely will pitch the first game of a doubleheader at 5 p.m. Friday and likely will throw 75-80 pitches, pitching coach Don Cooper said. Outfielder Adam Eaton (hamstring) also was slated to begin a three-day rehab stint with Charlotte.


Twitter: @CST_soxvan

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