December 5, 2022

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Sheets working to ignore 'outside elements' at the plate

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But the White Sox outfielder/first baseman had to laugh about the difference in tone of the messages he did see postgame after his first-inning action in Monday’s 12-9 loss to the Guardians. Sheets dropped a two-out fly ball in right field to give the Guardians an unearned run in the top of the opening frame, but he followed up that error with a three-run blast in the bottom of the first.

“It was ‘Go back to Charlotte,’ to ‘No, stay here, we need that bat,’” Sheets told MLB.com on Tuesday. “We have a passionate fan base and they want us to win as bad as we want to win.

“Comes with the positives and negatives. Honestly, we are trying our best and I understand. They want us to win, and when [Michael] Kopech is on the mound, you don’t want to give up any free runs.”

Sheets got off to a slower start this season, with a .203/.247/.275 slash line through his first 21 games. He emerged as a viable left-handed power bat for the 2021 American League Central champions with 11 home runs and eight doubles in 179 plate appearances, but had just one long ball in 2022 entering the COVID-19 abbreviated series with the Guardians.

Strangely enough, that power outage was more related to outside elements than pressing too much to clear the fences, according to Sheets.

“It was feeling like the elements were keeping you from really driving the baseball, and so it was almost like, ‘I just want to get my singles,’” Sheets said. “And then doing that, I was letting the ball get deeper, getting beat on fastballs I usually do damage on. It was almost like feeling like damage wasn’t possible in some of the elements we played in, so OK, let’s try to get the singles. When I did that, I became kind of passive.

“You saw some of the balls that were hit that didn’t get out that were getting caught: You have to get your singles right now. I think I let outside elements get into play.”

Part of the change for Sheets came from a pregame talk with manager Tony La Russa on Monday. Sheets has homered in two games since, driving in five.

“Just relax a little bit and do what you are capable of doing,” said Sheets of the message from La Russa. “Hit line drives all over the ballpark, and if homers come, they come. Get back to that and enjoy warm weather and get things going. I made some adjustments in terms of not being as tense in the batter’s box. I think that really paid off.”

“He’s trying to hit for power, and like a lot of hitters, he’s in between,” La Russa said. “The fact is, with as strong as he is, the closer he can hit to .300 or above it, the more RBIs, the more home runs, more everything. So it’s just the basic left-center, right-center approach that [hitting coach] Frank [Menechino] teaches. If the ball’s outside, hit it hard to the other side. Just don’t think you have to hit for power to help us.”

Sheets is confident in his ability to fight through other funks this season. He also won’t worry about social media perception when those times arrive.

“You try not to focus on it at all. You can’t hide from everything, so you see some of it,” Sheets said. “But it’s part of baseball. You gotta bounce back, and as soon as possible. Luckily for me it was within five minutes Monday. You just have to trust your teammates and rely on the guys around you.”

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