Jose Abreu looked a little like Luke Skywalker after taking Jordan Zimmermann deep in the second inning on Thursday, although that was mostly because Melky Cabrera.
He looked more like his old self, back when we could count on things like home runs, or shots of a joyous dugout on even a semi-regular basis. It was his first homer since June 23, and based on his postgame comments, it sounds like he was feeling the weight of those 137 plate appearances:
"We were celebrating, especially for me because I was waiting for that for a long time," Abreu said through a team interpreter. "(The streak) was always in my mind. It was a tough time because I never had experienced something like that. I was in bad stretches when I didn't hit homers, but not like this."
I don't think we can extrapolate much from it, because the pitch was a 90-mph fastball thigh-high and down the middle on a fastball count from an injured Jordan Zimmermann , and the rest of the lineup enjoyed hitting him as well. When Zimmermann left, the runs dried up. For now, though, Abreu has regained a share of second place on the White Sox home run leaderboard.
Abreu walked after a 10-pitch battle with Zimmermann in his first plate appearance, and its extended nature allowed Hawk Harrelson to expound on Abreu's struggles. Abreu swung through a 2-1 pitch up and over the plate at 91 mph, and Steve Stone mentioned that it's a pitch he pounded in previous years.
"It looks to me like he's been looking in more this year than he has his first two years, and if you're looking in, you've got a problem." Harrelson started.
"If you're looking in, you can't cover the outside part of the plate," Stone said.
"You've got a big problem," Harrelson continued. "That plate, instead of 17 inches, goes to about 24, 25 inches."
They set the topic aside to talk about Tim Anderson's lead and how much Zimmermann was paying attention to him before Abreu fouled back another pitch.
"That's the worst feeling a hitter can have -- go to the plate and look in here, look inside. The best feeling he can have is to go the plate, not worry about inside and look for the ball out over the plate. That's when you can really do some hitting. That's what he's done his first two years. Last year, he was the best bad ball hitter in Major League Baseball because he had to be."
Stone and Harrelson then talked about how Abreu might be better served moving off the plate, as it might give him a better chance at knowing which inside pitches are balls. Stone pointed out that he's been getting jammed on inner-half stuff, not just pitches off the plate inside. That prompted Harrelson to dig deeper into Abreu's mechanics.
"When he's looking inside, and he's swinging at the inside pitch, he's extending, and you can't do that. The longer that left arm goes forward, the bigger the swing, the slower the swing, and that's what he's doing right now. He's got that big left arm of his going forward and it slows up the bat. That elbow and that forearm have got to fold right at the elbow to get the head of the bat out."
Harrelson prefaced his comments on Abreu's struggles with "just an observation," which isn't necessary since his broadcasts are rooted in observations and not pure play-by-play. It's possible it felt odd to discuss on-field events and White Sox players in detail, since Sox broadcasts had wandered away from live reactions and more into rehashing theories and truisms and dead horses (his repetitive rants about the White Sox schedule are the newest to become the oldest).
But Harrelson and Stone told Daryl Van Schouwen that they finally confronted the problem that crippled broadcasts, which is their lack of interaction. Harrelson sounded like a soundboard, and Stone sounded resigned to being ignored.
It's odd that it took this long, especially since both were aware that it was an issue. That it's been discussed before also reminds us that we shouldn't count on changes to stick. But it's possible that addressing the problem in-season is more effective than before it, because the natural excitement and energy is going to make everything about the game fresher in April. It's also possible that the home broadcasts with Jason Benetti provide a stark-enough contrast that even Harrelson can see, "Wow, we don't talk at all."
So far, it's been a marked improvement. There's still a lot of room to breathe because they still let action go undescribed -- they'll watch a pitch or a grounder without words, then resume talking afterward. That's always been kind of backwards, but at its best, it gives you the sense that you're watching the game with them. At its worst, there's nothing to prompt either guy into talking, and a broadcast will regularly slow down to three words a minute and sound sad as hell.
The Abreu discussion shows the potential if both broadcasters can commit to this, and Harrelson soldiering through a cold is heartening. It reminded me of the game a couple years ago where Harrelson and Stone figured out the catcher's signs, predicting pitches and telling us how they knew it, which is the best possible use of two ex-players who aren't tied to traditional play-by-play. Harrelson will still play his greatest hits -- the first job of the United States government is to protect the bullpen -- but it's far less noticeable and tiresome when he comes up with new material.