Gordon Beckham hit the first pitch he saw in the bottom of the 11th inning Sunday for a solo home run, lifting the South Siders to a 3-2 victory over the Texas Rangers in the rubber match of a three-game series.
Beckham entered the game in the 10th inning for defensive purposes and started a 5-2-3 double play in the top of the 11th inning that got the Sox out of a bases-loaded jam. The home run was his fourth of the season, and three of the four have come in games where Beckham has come off the bench.
There is little doubt Beckham is a more useful player in a reserve role. He can provide decent-to-excellent defense at third base, second base or shortstop, and it's clear his bat is better when he enters late in the game. His overall .220 batting average is not impressive, but check out his splits this season:
Beckham as a starter: .198/.263/.264, 1 home run
Beckham off the bench: .333/.375/.810, 3 home runs
Obviously, Sunday's home run won the game for the Sox. Beckham also came off the bench May 29 to hit a game-tying home run in the eighth inning of a game the Sox eventually won in extra innings. An eighth-inning home run on April 12 took a 4-2 Sox lead to a more comfortable 6-2 margin in an eventual victory.
With third baseman Conor Gillaspie's inconsistent performance both with the bat and the glove, Sox manager Robin Ventura has given in to the temptation of starting Beckham more often in June. It hasn't worked. Beckham has started 13 of the Sox's 19 June games, and he has hit .143 with just one extra-base hit and one RBI in those games. He gets exposed as a weak hitter playing every day. In a bench role, he can be spotted in matchups more favorable for him, and that's where he's been able to contribute to the team this year.
The Sox are having struggles at second base, as well, where Carlos Sanchez has made all the plays defensively, but has floundered to a .155 batting average. It would be easy for Ventura to be tempted to try Beckham at second base. He shouldn't give in to that one, either. For all of Sanchez's struggles, he's 22 years old and learning at the big-league level. He can still get better, and a little patience might pay dividends.
Beckham, however, is not a kid anymore. He turns 29 this year, and this is his seventh year in the big leagues. He is who he is at this point, and he's a utility player. He can do that role and do it well, so the Sox would be well-advised to leave him there.