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Another Alex Avila injury escalates White Sox catcher chaos

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Organizational turbulence began in late April after his first strained hamstring

Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

Just when it looked like the White Sox catching tandem started living up to the idea behind assembling it, Alex Avila has to go and get hurt again.

Avila strained his right hamstring during Tuesday’s rout by the Yankees, which threatens the stability the White Sox had so recently attained.

Avila had already hit the disabled list back in April for the same injury. At least the Sox have the benefit of the All-Star break soaking up a handful of those DL days this time.

They have to count their blessings wherever they can when it comes to their catchers. Even if you take Avila's tendencies as a given, he was in the crosshairs of not one, but two other trends that have wreaked havoc on the White Sox roster this year.

First, no position has suffered more. It’s not confirmed who will replace Avila, but the beat writers are leaning toward Omar Narvaez. He’s not on the 40-man roster, but he is the primary catcher at Charlotte.

The other (healthy) catcher on the 40-man, Alfredo Gonzalez, just got here, as the White Sox acquired him from the Astros with a cash transaction on Saturday. Gonzalez has only played 46 games at Double-A. They’re all this season, and he’s hitting .171 during this time.

I, too, assume it’s Narvaez (update: it is), which is just the latest step in the incredible turnover at that position. Piecing it together starting in late April, when...

  1. Alex Avila strained a hamstring, necessitating the call-up of ...
  2. Kevan Smith, whose back locked up on him before his debut, requiring him to go on the disabled list. He’s only played one game since.
  3. Hector Sanchez had to take his place. The Sox placed the out-of-options Sanchez on the 40-man for the rest of Avila’s injury, then had to try sneaking him back to Charlotte via DFA. It didn’t work, as the Padres claimed him on May 11.
  4. With both of Charlotte’s original catchers now out of the organization, the Triple-A work is left to Omar Narvaez, who spent all of three weeks at Birmingham before receiving a promotion, and utility man Vinny Rottino.
  5. The Sox are able to get Rottino out of regular work by buying former Royals backup Brett Hayes from the Diamondbacks in early June.
  6. Three weeks later, Hayes gets hurt and placed on the DL. It's back to Narvaez and Rottino at Charlotte.
  7. In comes Alfredo Gonzalez, whom the White Sox acquired from Houston for cash considerations on Saturday.

Unless Hayes or Smith are ready to go now, the Sox will be even shorter at catcher, which doesn’t seem possible.

Narvaez, 24, might have a future in backup work, but he doesn’t do anything particularly well at this point. His standout attribute is contact from both sides of the plate, and the Sox have given him positive reviews behind the plate, but he’s slugging .319 in Charlotte and can’t kill baserunners by himself.

Basically, the White Sox are back to the days of Tyler Flowers and Adrian Nieto, except 1) Dioner Navarro has yet to meet Flowers' standards, and 2) there isn’t a third catcher anywhere close to Josh Phegley.

The threat of an Avila injury has always been there, but it’s exacerbated in a time where White Sox catchers are an endangered species. I’d use the "Spinal Tap drummer" metaphor if one of them didn’t run the risk of requiring an actual spinal tap.

Perhaps this Calvin & Hobbes strip is more appropriate, especially since there's a third force at play. Avila just happened to pull up lame shortly after he and Navarro shared designated hitter duties in consecutive two-catcher lineups — lineups that looked good in victories, and even better after the DH for the next two games went 0-for-7 with three strikeouts and a double play.

We know what happens when the White Sox get an idea for increasing production from the DH spot. Avisail Garcia suggests the Sox stop getting these ideas.