Tyler Saladino has taken hold of a surprise opportunity afforded by the Chicago White Sox and has clutched it tight with an all-around game that hasn’t been seen much from anybody on his club all year.
Known for adept fielding and a strong throwing arm, not to mention an ability to play both the infield and outfield, Saladino is also showing some flare with the bat after a week in the major leagues. He went hitless in his major league debut on July 10 against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, and since then he has delivered a base hit in six consecutive games.
His hit Sunday was his first major league home run, a shot to deep left that prevented Royals starter Danny Duffy from throwing a shutout in a 4-1 Kansas City victory. It also prevented him from finishing off a complete game since he was removed after the long ball.
“It's always special when a guy hits his first home run or first hit,” manager Robin Ventura said. “He just continues to play. He's going to check that off the list, but he's just playing to win games. He's not into the meaning of all that. He thinks it's cool and everything but he's trying as hard as he can to help us win games. He's just a good player.”
To prove Ventura’s point, Saladino not only refused to celebrate the home run postgame, he didn’t even know where the ball was, although he knew the team tracked it down in the left-field stands.
“The home run’s nice, especially the first one, but at the end of the day, if we don’t win, that’s all that matters,” Saladino said Sunday. “The home run is just a moment. The win, at the end of the day, we didn’t get it, so come back Tuesday.”
On Tuesday the White Sox face the St. Louis Cardinals. Saladino will be starting at third base again, trying to extend his hitting streak to seven games.
“I’ve still got to do the same thing, same routine every day,” Saladino said. “That’s why I was late getting here [for a postgame interview], taking care of all the shoulder stuff that I’ve got to do after the game. So just the same preparation, same homework every day trying to get ready, play some good baseball.”
Saladino has become a quick study. When he arrived on July 10 it was to give the White Sox lineup flexibility as they played in a National League ballpark. The White Sox aren’t built well for National League baseball, losing either Adam LaRoche or Jose Abreu for each of those games.
Saladino not only helped the cause in the series against the Cubs, he continued to deliver in the series against the Royals, even if the rest of the team struggled.
Not only did Saladino quickly convince the White Sox that he was worth keeping, they decided that Conor Gillaspie would be designated for assignment to open him a permanent roster spot.
It also gave the White Sox something of a rare occurrence in recent years: An actual homegrown drafted position player they can utilize on the major league roster. The San Diego-area native was a seventh-round draft pick by the White Sox in 2010 out of Oral Roberts University.
There were some definite speed bumps along the way. He blew out his elbow last season at Triple-A Charlotte while making a throw from the outfield and needed Tommy John surgery. In a sign of his determination, Saladino not only was ready to go in spring training seven months later, he made it to the major leagues three days before the one-year anniversary of his surgery.
His first home run Sunday, came a day before his 26th birthday. It’s all starting to come together for him in a hurry. He even has a baseball-centric nickname now, with Ventura referring to him as “Sally.”
“It’s awesome,” Saladino said about taking advantage of his opportunity. “You don’t know what to expect coming up here. Preparation is everything for me, just working hard, treating every day like it’s as important as any other. That’s just all I try to do, so being able to have some results out of all that, it’s gratifying. But I’m still trying to treat each day as important as the other and be ready for Tuesday.”