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White Sox have responded to Todd Steverson’s hitting style

Updated: August 11, 2014 10:43PM



SAN FRANCISCO — In his first season on the job, hitting coach Todd Steverson has overseen a White Sox lineup that ranks seventh among the 30 major-league teams in home runs, eighth in runs scored and OPS and 12th in on-base percentage.

Those are strikingly better numbers than the Sox posted last season, when they ranked second-to-last in runs scored and 27th in on-base percentage in Jeff Manto’s second and final season on the job. In Manto’s defense, he didn’t have Jose Abreu in the middle of the lineup or Adam Eaton at the top. For a hitting coach, sometimes it’s more about whom you have than what you know.

That said, the Sox like Steverson’s voice. And it’s not unusual for his ears to get a heavy workout.

‘‘Listening to [Sox hitters’] thoughts, what’s going through their head, trying to keep them focused on a task at hand,’’ Steverson said, sitting by the visitors’ indoor hitting cage last weekend at Safeco Field in Seattle. ‘‘Going up there with an idea of what he wants to do. Each guy is different on how he gets that accomplished in his own brain.

‘‘Players talk about themselves for a long time. It’s about understanding the pitfalls and ups and downs. Nothing really surprises me specifically, but you hear new things from year to year. It’s actually enlightening. It helps me grow as a hitting guy.’’

With only nine runs scored in their last six games, the Sox are going through one of their worst stretches in Steverson’s first season as a major-league hitting coach. Steverson, 42, spent the last 10 seasons in the Oakland Athletics’ system, including the last two as a roving hitting instructor in the minor leagues. Ask him to evaluate his performance, and you won’t get a lot of numbers.

‘‘I don’t look at too many statistics,’’ he said. ‘‘If you want to get a statistic for me, I would say I’m not a huge fan of how many times we have struck out. I don’t know what the number is right now [990], but I know it could be better with the type of hitters we’ve got.’’

The Sox rank fifth in the majors in strikeouts and 20th in walks.

‘‘It’s about a look for me more than statistics,’’ Steverson said. ‘‘How quality are our at-bats? How hard do we fight? How much do we understand what the at-bat entails for the game? It’s much more than what’s the ‘in’ statistic on the end of it. Are we giving away too many outs not being disciplined?

‘‘It’s a look for me. It’s not the strikeout itself. It’s, ‘How did you get there? What did you swing at to strike out?’ ’’

Some say a hitting coach has the most complicated job in baseball. That’s where Steverson’s listening skills come in.

‘‘It’s understanding whom you’re working with, and the tough part about that — if you want to relate it to the job — is really getting people to understand what they do,’’ he said. ‘‘And not in an elaborate, mind-blowing way but in a simplistic way that allows them to function still. Because if you cloud your mind with too much stuff, you go blind.’’

NOTES: Matt Lindstrom (left ankle) is expected to rejoin the bullpen Tuesday after an injury-rehab stint at Class AAA Charlotte. Eric Surkamp returned to Charlotte, leaving the Sox with no lefty relievers.

◆ Olympic speedskating medalist Eddy Alvarez, a former junior-college shortstop, was promoted to Class A Kannapolis.

◆ Charlotte catcher Josh Phegley was named International League player of the week after hitting .563 with three homers and 13 RBI. He is hitting .286 with 20 homers and 68 RBI overall.

Email: dvanschouwen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @CST_soxvan



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