HOUSTON -- Jose Abreu left in the seventh inning of the White Sox 6-5 loss to the Astros on Saturday at Minute Maid Park when Paul Konerko pinch-hit for the slugger.
Abreu has been bothered by ongoing left ankle soreness, leading manager Robin Ventura to use him at designated hitter for the past eight games. But it was a particular swing during an Abreu at-bat in the fifth that truly raised the red flag for Ventura.
"He took a swing there in the middle before we took him out, and it just looked awkward," Ventura said. "We talked to him, it's sore. It's like he takes a couple of steps forward, a couple steps back. We took him out and we'll re-evaluate him after today. It just looked like he might do something else that might injure something else. We just took him out as a precaution right now."
Abreu has tried to avoid taking a day or two off, aside from Thursday's scheduled off-day for the team. But Abreu was noticeably limping for most of Saturday and moved slowly back to the dugout after hitting into an inning-ending double play in the first.
After Saturday's setback, both for the team and Abreu, he seemed resigned to the fact that a physical health break was in order. Ventura added that Abreu almost certainly won't play Sunday.
"It definitely hurts more today than yesterday," Abreu said through interpreter and White Sox manager of cultural development Lino Diaz. "The most important thing is that I get to be healthy. If we have to take a break or whatever, then that's what it will be. The most important thing is to be in the field and be healthy."
When asked if a stint on the disabled list was possible, Abreu deferred to the doctors who will re-evaluate him on Sunday.
"That's something I don't know," Abreu said. "We'll let them check it up and then let me know what's going on. I'm sure we'll make the decision from there."
Despite leading the Majors with 15 homers, 27 extra-base hits and 103 total bases, Abreu is 4-for-26 over his last seven games.
Uncertainty surrounding Sale's next move
HOUSTON -- The only thing certain about Chris Sale's next start is that it won't completely be decided until the White Sox see how Sale responds to Friday's trip to the mound.
"Just talking to him right now, you want him to go to the ballpark and get his Day 1 (work) back in to see how he feels, and we'll make an adjustment from there," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura. "You're just trying to make sure he feels good and everything's normal when he goes back in and does his workout the day after throwing."
Ventura started the talk about Sale on Saturday by pointing out that he "threw great" on Friday for Triple-A Charlotte. The numbers from Sale's first injury rehab start in testing the flexor muscle strain of his left arm would back up that statement, as would the hitters from Durham.
Sale threw 68 pitches over four innings and recorded strikeouts for 11 of the 12 outs. He allowed one infield hit and walked two during the first game of a Friday doubleheader. He would be on target to pitch this Wednesday, with the White Sox finishing a nine-game, three-city road trip in Kansas City that night.
Based on Ventura's pregame comments on Saturday in Houston, a return to the Majors for Sale's next start doesn't seem likely.
"On Wednesday? No," said Ventura of Sale, who hasn't pitched in the big leagues since April 17 against Boston. "Before you make an exact date, you want to make sure he's doing well. I don't foresee him pitching then.
"He threw enough pitches to where you know he can go pitch in a game. I don't want him to come up here and pitch three innings in a game just to come up here and pitch three innings in a game. If he can extend it a little bit, and he feels like he can get his pitch count up higher to where he can go out and be in a game and it's not going to tax the bullpen to have him up here, you're going to go ahead and take a look at it."
Friday's start could be Sale's only rehab appearance, with the White Sox opting for a side session before a start next weekend at home against the Yankees. It's all speculation, though, until the White Sox officially hear how Sale responds.
"We are definitely looking at it and looking at dates, but it's all wishful thinking until we talk to him and hear how he feels today," Ventura said. "Once we hear from him and how he's doing, start making a more immediate plan on how we are going to go. A more definite date. But if he's feeling anything at all, then let him do another one and figure out how to go."
Gillaspie's younger brother a projected first-rounder
HOUSTON -- It won't be long before Major League Baseball becomes a Gillaspie family affair.
Conor Gillaspie currently anchors third base for the White Sox and has posted a robust .341 average over 88 at-bats entering Saturday. Casey Gillaspie, who is six years younger than Conor, plays first base at Wichita State. In Jonathan Mayo's latest Mock Draft for MLB.com, the younger Gillaspie is projected to be drafted by the Pirates at 24th overall in the first round of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft beginning on June 5.
"He can hit for average and power from both sides of the plate," Mayo wrote of the younger Gillaspie.
His proud brother knows of Casey's talent, with Casey possessing more pop than Conor. He also is looking forward to spending more time with Casey as part of their baseball craft.
"With college and stuff and school, the college season starting as early as it does, I'm more excited just to get to spend more time with him in the winter if he's on a similar schedule," Conor said. "It has been a few years since I really got to spend time with him.
"I can help him avoid some of the same stuff I had to go through. Just little things like going through the game, or he has the advantage of maybe getting a little bit of a head start on the little things. He's the real deal, he's a good player."
The older Gillaspie entered Saturday with five hits in his last eight at-bats. He has hit safely in 22 of his 24 games played. The sore left hand that sent him to the disabled list from April 22 to May 6 is a thing of the past.
"My hand feels a lot better," Gillaspie said. "So that was obviously like I was kind of battling my hand for a few weeks. I think just the fact that it doesn't hurt, it's a big advantage just going forward not having to deal with it anymore."
White Sox offense getting it done late
HOUSTON -- No team in baseball has scored more runs in the ninth inning (38 entering Saturday) than the White Sox. Three teams were tied for second at 23. The White Sox also ranked second in the American League with a .281 average with runners in scoring position.
About the only thing missing would be a consistent early burst of offensive firepower. Collin McHugh held the White Sox to one Alejandro De Aza single over 5 1/3 innings Friday before the visitors scored four in the sixth.
"I don't think we've jumped out on a team early yet," said White Sox first baseman Adam Dunn, who hit the game-deciding three-run homer on Friday. "I don't know why that it is, but at some point, we feel like it's going to happen."
Manager Robin Ventura agreed about his team not jumping out to early leads. But he also prefers the approach shown by his offense this season that allows for crooked numbers later in the game, as opposed to scoring single runs early and nothing more -- as was the case many times last season.
"There was nothing coming later," Ventura said of the offense in '13. "So, I think this is more of a professional approach that eventually wears down to where you feel like once you get a chance and get guys in scoring position, they feel like they are going to put some runs on the board and they put up crooked numbers.
"It just seemed like last year we were getting one early and didn't feel like we could come back at any point. This is just a by-product of good at-bats over the course of time."
Third to first
• Dunn, a Houston native, is hitting .308 with six home runs and 24 RBIs in his last 21 games vs. the Astros. Dunn's 14 career home runs at Minute Maid Park are the fourth-most by a visiting, active player, behind Albert Pujols (24), Aramis Ramirez (23) and Prince Fielder (15).
"It's good. It's refreshing," said Dunn, who stays at home with his family when the White Sox are in Houston. "You get a nice little break and can sleep in your own bed. It's nice when during the season you get a little home-cooked meal. You can be home and try to relax a little bit."
• The White Sox have a 96-81 record vs. the American League West since 2009, the third-best mark in the AL. They have gone 51-32 at home and 45-49 on the road during that span.
• Jose Abreu made his eighth straight start at designated hitter on Saturday, with Ventura keeping his bat in the lineup while still allowing his sore left ankle to get stronger.