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White Sox Wed Apr 10 2013
Alex Rios stepped to the plate Tuesday with two outs and a man on base in the ninth inning, the White Sox trailing by three runs in Washington. Though the right fielder was 2-for-4, two innings earlier, in another spot where a homer would put Chicago down one, Rios softly popped out. Here was a chance for a small redemption in the ninth.
Closer Rafael Soriano hurled a weak breaking ball over the heart of the plate, and Rios connected. It was a typical Rios swing: he started with a mostly upright stance with his knees slightly bent, then when the pitch was thrown he shifted his front leg back, touching his knees together. As the pitch neared, Rios uncoiled a smooth, easy-looking swing. The ball jumped off his bat, instantly appearing to be a home run. It's tough to describe what Rios' swing looks like when he has it going. It really is a beautiful thing to watch.
Well, he's been swinging like that a lot lately. Rios has been on a hot streak to start the season: a hit in each game, a .467 OBP and 1.319 OPS, and a home run in each of his last four games. He's been the Sox best hitter by far.
The only other players hitting over .300 are the guys who round out the bottom of the order, Jeff Keppinger has been dreadful, and Dayan Viciedo, Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn have shown flashes but mostly have been in a slump.
Rios has gotten hits in big spots so far. On Friday against Seattle, he hit a home run to pull the Sox within a run, then grounded out for an RBI to tie the game a few innings later. On Saturday he tagged King Felix for the go-ahead home run, and Sunday he tied the game in the seventh with a solo blast. Add Tuesday's game to the list, even though the Sox lost a heartbreaker.
In total, Rios is batting 4-for-10 with two home runs and five RBIs with men on base this year. He also has three stolen bases and six runs scored. It's been a very good start.
How is he doing so well? With only a seven game sample size, no particular splits are jumping out, nor are any of his hot zone charts. A quick eyeball test reveals that all of his homers have come off of breaking balls that were left over the middle of the plate, so Rios is punishing pitchers for their mistakes. Also, thanks to FanGraphs, while Rios is swinging at the same percentage of pitches he usually does, he's holding off on pitches outside the zone while swinging at more strikes. Simple, right?
Of course, the year is very, very young. Five and a half months of regular season baseball remains. At the very least, Rios is off to a good start, and that sweet swing is carrying the Sox in the early going.