Mom's words, first home runs help Abreu relax
White Sox slugger releases pressure of expectations with pair of homers
DENVER -- Twenty-nine at-bats into his big league career and Jose Abreu was still looking for a home run.
He handled it calmly. But it was eating at him.
A Cuban defector who set national home run records in his homeland isn't naïve. Abreu knows why the Chicago White Sox gave him the biggest financial commitment in franchise history -- six years and $68 million -- last October.
They wanted power for the middle of the lineup, and they were looking for a way to jump-start the resurgence of a franchise that has struggled more than desired in the nine years since winning a World Series championship.
Finally, Abreu gave them a glimpse of what he has to offer. He homered in back-to-back at-bats in the seventh and eighth innings of Tuesday night's 15-3 victory against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field.
"I don't know that he'd say it," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said, "but you can sense it. As big a guy as he is and a power hitter, and to have seen guys hitting the ball all over the place [at Coors Field] … You want to be part of it."
Abreu, after all, arrived last fall from Cuba, having set single-season home run records at the highest level of baseball in his native country.
The White Sox gave him that sizable contract because they were looking for him to provide the much needed middle-of-the-lineup power.
Abreu knew it. So did his mother, Daisys Correa Diaz, who called her son Tuesday morning. She was the one who gave him the encouragement to chase his dream and defect from Cuba last August, and she continues to provide encouragement from afar as she works to eventually reunite with her son in the United States.
"Today was a very special day," Abreu said through an interpreter. "She called me very early in the morning. She said, 'Hey, take it easy. One day at a time.' That gave me a lot of strength and confidence to go through the day. I'm very happy, and mom should be very happy with our two home runs."
Rest assured, the White Sox are very happy, too. It wasn't just that Abreu hit two home runs, but how he hit them.
There was that three-run shot in the seventh, giving the White Sox a 7-2 lead, which, as Ventura said, "broke it open for us."
Reliever Chad Bettis came into the game to face Abreu and quickly had him 0-2 in the count. Ten pitches later, Abreu drove Bettis' 12th pitch of the at-bat into the tunnel behind the left-field fence.
"That at-bat was very, very important to me," said Abreu. "I feel like I fought for that and it gave me a lot of confidence. … It kind of gets you in the right set of mind, the right momentum."
The momentum carried over to the eighth, when Abreu unloaded a two-run shot to right-center field in the midst of a six-run White Sox outburst against veteran reliever Wilton Lopez.
"He is more than just a slugger," said Ventura. "His approach to hitting is a little more middle and other way, stuff that comes with being a professional hitter. He doesn't just go up and swing. He has the power to go that way, which makes him one of the special few."
Or as Abreu put it: "The pitch took me that way. That is something I'm going to have to do to face all the pitching. They're going to pitch me in different places, so I have to be able to hit the ball to all parts of the field."
That's what the White Sox are counting on. And that's what Ventura, after watching Abreu's approach during the spring and opening week of the season, is convinced Abreu can deliver.
That's why even though Abreu was in a bit of a funk Ventura still had him playing first base, hitting third, and sat Paul Konerko with lefty Franklin Morales starting for the Rockies.
"Guys were getting him swinging at a lot of first pitches," said Ventura. "He was probably anxious to try and hit that home run. He was angry with himself he had not done it, and then he popped up in the at-bat before [the first home run]."
Abreu wasn't hitting many balls in the air, much less over fences. In the 12 at-bats prior to his first big league home run, he had grounded out eight times, popped up once, struck out once and flied out twice.
"It was hard on him," admitted Ventura. "He understands what it mean for us to sign him."
And Abreu gave the White Sox a good look at that ability on Tuesday night.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.