DH En­car­na­cion’s pres­ence length­ens lineup, pro­vides lead­er­ship for young Sox team­mates

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - DARYL VAN SCHOUWEN dvan­schouwen@sun­times.com | @CST_­sox­van

Ed­win En­car­na­cion is feel­ing much bet­ter now and, at age 37, still has some pop in his bat.

There’s al­ways room for more power in a lineup, es­pe­cially when you’re try­ing to match bombs with the slug­ging Twins in the Amer­i­can League Cen­tral. And En­car­na­cion’s ad­di­tion to the White Sox this sea­son also pro­vides an ex­am­ple for a blos­som­ing team loaded with young play­ers.

‘‘It gives us depth and length­ens an ex­tremely good lineup,’’ bench coach Joe McEwing said. ‘‘It was a good lineup be­fore. It makes it ex­tremely longer.

‘‘And the pro­fes­sion­al­ism, you can’t put a num­ber on it.’’

The Sox have swung and missed on sign­ing free-agent des­ig­nated hit­ters in the past

— Adam Dunn and Adam LaRoche fell short of ex­pec­ta­tions — but kept on swing­ing by sign­ing En­car­na­cion to a one-year, $10 mil­lion deal with a club op­tion for 2021. En­car­na­cion has clubbed 30 or more home runs in eight con­sec­u­tive sea­sons, and no­body in base­ball has hit more since 2012. En­car­na­cion has amassed 297 in that time with the Blue Jays, In­di­ans, Mariners and Yan­kees, in­clud­ing 34 for the Mariners and Yan­kees last sea­son.

‘‘When he steps in the box, it’s a model of con­sis­tency in what he has done through­out his ca­reer and what he’s ca­pa­ble of do­ing,’’ McEwing said. ‘‘It means so much to ev­ery in­di­vid­ual in that locker room, and ev­ery time we step on the field, it’s a dif­fer­ent pres­ence.’’

En­car­na­cion stepped in against left­hander Aaron Bum­mer — ar­guably the Sox’ tough­est re­liever to hit — and clubbed a homer into the third row of the cen­ter­field seats in the Sox’ first in­trasquad game Thurs­day. He punched a sin­gle through a va­cated right side of the in­field Tues­day, send­ing Tim An­der­son from first to third.

‘‘I’m just glad he’s on our side now,’’ Bum­mer said. ‘‘And I’m glad that he got one [against me] when it didn’t count. It’s just kind of fun to watch.’’

Bum­mer said he likes the look of the Sox’ lineup with Jose Abreu, En­car­na­cion, Yas­mani Gran­dal and Eloy Jimenez man­ning the mid­dle. And with An­der­son and Yoan Mon­cada (when he re­turns) at the top and No­mar Mazara, who was ac­quired in an off­sea­son trade, and Luis Robert prob­a­bly in the lower third. Un­less Robert forces his way higher up, that is, which he fig­ures to do even­tu­ally.

‘‘Go­ing out and throw­ing against your own guys, it’s kind of fun to be­gin with, just to see that,’’ Bum­mer said. ‘‘And then all of a sud­den you see the lineup we’re putting out there. I walked in, it was Abreu, En­car­na­cion, Eloy. It’s not go­ing to stop. I think the depth of that lineup has got­ten a whole lot longer, and I’m glad that they’re all on our side.’’

When spring train­ing was sus­pended by the coro­n­avirus March 12, En­car­na­cion was work­ing through a sore hip and back, which he says are fine now. He has played in ev­ery in­trasquad game since Thurs­day.

‘‘The break helped me just to get bet­ter from my sore­ness in the lower back,’’ En­car­na­cion said through a trans­la­tor. ‘‘I took ad­van­tage of [the time off], and I feel very good, strong phys­i­cally.’’

En­car­nia­cion made good use of his time while also heal­ing up dur­ing the break. He teamed with former and cur­rent MLB stars to raise more than $1 mil­lion to sup­port the Do­mini­can Repub­lic and the coun­try’s fight against the coro­n­avirus. More than 40 play­ers from the Do­mini­can, in­clud­ing Mazara and re­liever Kelvin Her­rera from the Sox, made do­na­tions and en­cour­aged oth­ers to give money for life-sav­ing sup­plies, in­clud­ing ven­ti­la­tors, masks, test kits, dis­pos­able suits, hand san­i­tizer, cleaning items and food. The ini­tia­tive was cre­ated through the Pe­dro Martinez Foun­da­tion.

‘‘This idea comes be­cause, in the Do­mini­can, ev­ery player does some­thing for the city where he is from,’’ En­car­na­cion said.

What he might do for the South Side, McEwing — for one — can’t wait to see.

‘‘You can’t mea­sure what he means to this ball­club,’’ McEwing said. ‘‘Not just in the club­house but on the field.’’

Slug­ger Ed­win En­car­na­cion has hit 297 home runs since 2012, more than any­one in the ma­jor leagues. NAM Y. HUH/AP

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