It must not be easy to be a rookie playing under White Sox manager Tony La Russa.
First, it was calling out rookie slugger Yermin Mercedes during a news conference. Now, he’s been caught yelling at rookie catcher Seby Zavala in the dugout for what appears to be a mistaken location on a pitch to Blue Jays star Vladimir Guerrero Jr. on Monday.
The pitch in question was a Lance Lynn fastball down and away that caught too much of the plate and resulted in a game-tying RBI single from Guerrero in the bottom of the sixth inning.
In the footage of the single, Zavala can be seen clearly setting up just outside of the zone, but the pitch missed and found its way into the strike zone. Here was the result:
First of all, it’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr. The guy would be the runaway AL MVP if it weren’t for Shohei Ohtani. In a deep Blue Jays lineup, Guerrero is probably the one guy who, with a base open in the bottom of the sixth inning, you don’t mind potentially giving a free pass, especially when the count had already been run to 3-0.
Second, the pitch is a case of mistaken location, and the 34-year-old veteran Lynn should be the one hearing it from La Russa, if anyone — and, to be clear, that still wouldn’t be right either, as it was clearly not where he wanted to throw it. The call for the spot was a good one. According to Baseball Savant, Guerrero doesn’t have a hit on fastballs thrown where Zevala called for it. Where it ended up? Guerrero is hitting .310.
Lynn even said after the game that the missed location was his fault.
“It was stupid — there’s no other way to say it,” Lynn said, according to the Chicago Tribune. “I told Tony that when I got in [the dugout], that was all on me. I was trying to throw a ball, and it ran back over the plate.
“When you go back and look at it, it’s not in a terrible location, but you don’t throw a 3-0 strike. There was never any intention to throw a strike.”
Lastly, Zevala has caught 29 games at the big league level. He’s been working his way up through the minors since he was drafted at 2015, and now at 27 years old he’s finally getting his first shot at big league action. If there’s a discussion to be had, it can be done in the manager’s office or somewhere else behind closed doors, not in between innings in the dugout with, ahem, cameras everywhere.
This is just the latest of La Russa taking a poor approach to handling a rookie. Mercedes was carrying the White Sox offense early in the season, and in a blowout against the Twins, Minnesota opted to use a position player on the mound. Mercedes hammered a 3-0 pitch for a no-doubt home run, leading to La Russa calling him out publicly. Mercedes nearly retired midseason, citing “immaturity” and “failing people” before ultimately deciding to come back.
La Russa hasn’t been known for having great relationships with younger players, which made his hiring at the time a bit puzzling, considering the plethora of young talent on the 2021 White Sox. After calling out Mercedes and berating Zavala, it’s not hard to see why some were concerned with his hiring. Still, Chicago is running away with the AL Central and has the third-best odds by Fangraphs to win the World Series.
But as the team gets closer to the postseason, La Russa might want to let up a bit on his team as the pressure mounts.