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Jose Abreu returns from DL; White Sox return to awkward roster

As series with Dodgers begins, National League rules could punish a team that carries three first basemen

David Banks

Normally, the return of Jose Abreu would be cause for unrestrained celebration.

For the next three days, though, it's going to be a little complicated. Abreu is back from the disabled list just in time for a series against the Dodgers in Los Angeles, which means the Sox are back to carrying three first basemen without the ability to stow one of them in the DH spot.

In an ideal situation, the Sox would ease Abreu's ankle back into the grind by keeping him off the infield. Alas, Robin Ventura will either have to use Abreu at first base and Adam Dunn in left field, or use Dunn at first and have a bench with pretty much one option for pinch running, defensive upgrades and/or double switches.

At least Paul Konerko had the courtesy of putting together a good game before the Sox optioned Marcus Semien to make room on the roster. Konerko was a non-entity in May, hitting .148/.203/.315 even while receiving regular playing time in Abreu's absence. Back issues seem to be the excuse, but that comes with the territory these days.

Semien's demotion isn't bad news in and of itself. His numbers tell the story, with the .218/.287/.327 line and the 31 percent strikeout rate chief among them. He didn't show measurable progress from April to May, from everyday play to strategic deployment. It's not particularly disappointing for a 23-year-old to need more time in Triple-A, so there's nothing odd about this decision in particular.

While he didn't make a compelling argument to stick, it's hard to call it a failure, because he contributed to an awful lot of wins for a guy with that overall production. He somehow saved his best work for the most useful situations:

  • Runners on: .278/.381/.417
  • RISP: .286/.423/.500
  • RISP/2 outs: .400/.478/.800

That's the kind of performance that allowed him to lead the team in FanGraphs' clutch stat.

There's only so much you can extrapolate from such a weird division of numbers, but it remains heartening that it happened at all. A guy with similar production -- Brent Morel and friends -- can come to the plate in a big situation, and you'd think, "Anybody but him." Semien had enough big hits where his at-bat warranted a, "Hey, maybe...". We've seen plenty of new White Sox hitters wrestle with the .6something OPS line, so there's something to be said about Semien making his struggle watchable.

Semien kept his head up despite some rough patches and fluctuations in responsibilities, so of course he took the bad news well:

"I never complain playing this game. A lot of stuff can happen. I'll be ready to work in Charlotte," said Semien, who has 28 at-bats since May 7. "I know I did some good things. I also have some things to work on.

"You always have stuff to work on in this game. It's never going to be an easy game. You never have it figured out. I realize that and I'm glad I have the right work ethic and I work hard everywhere I'm at. I'll try to make the most of this new opportunity."

That does sound a lot like Konerko speaking. Maybe that's a sign of influence in some way? On the other hand, Semien was demoted even while outpacing the captain in both production and utility, so Konerko's presence doesn't really help a young man here. It also doesn't help Carlos Sanchez, who would be worth a look in Semien's place.

(And really, it doesn't do much for Leury Garcia, either. When Ventura is down to one infielder on the bench, that infielder doesn't play much. Ventura's reluctance is reasonable, because Garcia is the only line of defense between sensible substitutions and lineup card chaos.)

I know this is beating a dead horse, but it's pretty much impossible to isolate the virtues of a victory lap from the constraints it places on a team that's actually holding its own in a tighter-than-expected American League. We've seen the Sox willingly handcuff themselves in past seasons by pursuing ideas instead of production -- bypassing Jim Thome's services in 2010, playing Dunn and Alex Rios while carrying Omar Vizquel in 2011 -- and they've never been talented enough to overcome it. Konerko may be in a different class, but the underlying issue is the same, which makes it difficult to take the idea of contending seriously.