BOSTON — Gavin Sheets got behind in the count during a fourth-inning at-bat Wednesday against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.
The White Sox left-handed hitter poked Kyle Hendricks’ 1-2 pitch between second and third — where a hole had opened because of a shift — for an RBI single.
“Obviously until two strikes, I’m not trying to do that,” Sheets told the Tribune before Friday’s series opener against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. “But it’s about trying to help the team out. Trying to get on base. Not striking out and putting the ball in play and letting the ball get deep.
“The one (Wednesday) night was huge, getting the RBI. But more importantly, if (the opponent is) going to try to take away hits on the pull side, I’ve got to be willing to do that with two strikes and combat it.”
It’s not the first time this season Sheets has beaten a shift.
He knocked a single to left in the fourth inning Tuesday against the Cubs, hitting a 2-1 pitch where the third baseman normally would be situated.
Another example came April 24 in Minnesota when he slapped the ball the other way for an infield hit on an 0-2 pitch. Twins third baseman Gio Urshela, the only player on that side of the infield, chased down the ball at deep shortstop.
Two days earlier in the series opener, Sheets collected an infield hit on a 3-2 pitch. He hit it in a similar spot, with Urshela diving to stop the ball.
“A couple of times he really was just staying on the ball and hitting it where it’s pitched,” Sox manager Tony La Russa said Friday. “Sometimes he spins off and gets it off the end of the bat and it squibs over there.
“He’s going to try to stay on the pitches and still hit a line drive to left-center or right-center. It has worked out well for us.”
Sheets singled to left April 21 in Cleveland, hitting a 3-2 pitch to the vacated third base spot.
“It’s about letting the ball get deep and really try not to strike out,” he said. “Try to be a tough out. And I’ve been able to squeak some through there.”
Sheets had a .226/.273/.306 slash line with one home run and three RBIs in 18 games entering Friday.
“I’ve been able to (take the ball the other way for a hit) a couple of times, which is nice,” he said. “Especially with two strikes. But hopefully I’m going to start driving the ball a little bit better now.”
Sheets knows it’s a game of adjustments. He slashed .250/.324/.506 with 11 home runs and 34 RBIs in 54 games in 2021, his first season in the big leagues.
“It’s getting used to scouting reports, getting used to the ways they are attacking you differently,” Sheets said of going from 2021 to ‘22. “Starting to face teams a couple of more times and obviously they change up the script a little bit. It’s all part of adjusting and adapting.
“It’s one thing to get to the big leagues. You want to stay and you want to have success. It’s about adapting.”
Friday marked a first for Sheets, who started in left field.
“First time out there this year, and more importantly first time out there with the Green Monster,” he said. “Just trying to get as much work as possible (pregame). Get used to it.
“It’s something different that you don’t have to face very often. Get a lot more reps in (batting practice) with it. Just know it’s there and try to make the best reads possible. Try to get as used to it as possible and see the way the ball comes off of it.
“It’s pretty firm, so it’s going to come off of it pretty hard. The best advice that (coach Daryl Boston) was telling us was get to the wall early and as soon as you see it there, get back and play it off the wall.”
Sheets called playing at Fenway Park “special.”
“A lot of baseball history,” he said. “It’s cool to play in places like this and obviously a ton of history inside of it. The people who have played here. It’s special to come out here and go out to the Green Monster and be a part of history.”