SEATTLE -- Though he has never been hotter at the plate for a longer period than right now, Avisail Garcia strives to remain level-headed.
Acquired in July 2013 from the Detroit Tigers, Garcia has easily been the best White Sox hitter throughout the seven-week old 2017 campaign.
Not only has his production been outstanding, Garcia -- hitting .352/.397/.566 in 155 plate appearances -- has had few off nights through the team’s first 39 games. He went 2-for-4 in a 5-4 White Sox loss at the Seattle Mariners, his 15th multi-hit effort of the season.
But through his experience and discussions with peers and coaches, Garcia has determined the way he operates best is if he can stay right down the middle. He wants to avoid getting too high or low and just focus. Garcia hopes his mental approach can help him sustain what could be a breakthrough season.
“You’ve got to forget everything quick,” Garcia said. “To stay in this game, forget about everything quick. Doing good, forget about it. Doing bad, forget about it because tomorrow’s another game. You’re doing good today, but maybe not tomorrow.”
Garcia has dealt with several ups and many downs to reach this point. His two full seasons in the majors have been marred by bursts of hot stretches followed by lengthy cold spells.
In that period, Garcia hit .252/.308/.374 with 25 home runs and 110 RBIs in 1,054 plate appearances -- good for a wRC+ of 85, according to fangraphs.com. The league average baseline for wRC+ is 100.
But Garcia has found something this season. He’s staying focused in each plate appearance and trying to carry over the approach he used with runners in scoring position in 2016 when he hit .355.
The mental shift has helped lead to a four percent reduction in strikeout-rate and a strong run through nearly two months of play. Garcia entered Thursday third in the American League in average and seventh in OPS (.948), slugging percentage (.553) and RBIs (28). He’s also second on the team with six home runs.
“He has been giving us really good at-bats, just trying to focus on getting pitches he can handle and not giving at-bats away,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He’s been doing a very nice job.
“His at-bats in general overall have been much better, more consistent. His approaches have been solid. I think he’s taking the idea of what he wants to do at the plate and maintaining a consistent approach. That’s as easily as I can explain. It’s been very consistent.”
Hitting coach Todd Steverson has had a lively, ongoing discussion with Garcia dating back to 2014.
He’s more the psychologist than the fix-it guy. Most hitting coaches are mental gurus rather than technicians. Steverson’s role is to be the “little guy that sits on (Garcia’s) shoulder” and ask if what he’s doing is the right thing.
What Steverson has seen from Garcia this season is a significant boost in confidence. But that belief isn’t only based on all the success Garcia has experienced, Steverson said. It’s just as critical that Garcia understands his failures. His understanding of the down times has helped Garcia make quicker fixes when failure has returned and he hopes they can help him avoid a lengthy slump.
“The only way to be sustainable is to learn both sides and how that applies to you,” Steverson said. “I think that’s where we are with him. You can’t control what a guy throws, but you can control your brain and what you do when you’re in there. What do I want to do? Is he controlling my at-bat or am I controlling my at-bat?
“It’s necessary. If you don’t learn from it, you can’t move forward. You take this game for granted or the good times for granted, and you don’t understand what you’re doing during that time, or even when you’re not going well, then that’s where the game will bring you back to your knees and say, ‘You need to work on you again.’ It’s all a process of who you are. To change something, you have to know what you’re changing.”
Garcia thinks his ability to handle the ups and downs is the key to his consistency. He knows that even former teammate Miguel Cabrera has days with rough at-bats. Though his previous seasons have been a struggle, Garcia looks at it all as a positive because of the knowledge he has gained. Garcia has learned to take or leave all the different advice he’s gathered over the years and stick with what’s best for his individual game.
He thinks that experience has helped him stay more focused. He’s pleased with how he battles during each plate appearance and how even the outs are hard right now. And that has helped him stay as grounded as he’s been in his career.
“Always when you have tough situations, like those years, you’re learning,” Garcia said. “You’ve just got to be the same. Don’t try to be too high or try to be down, try to be in the middle. This game is like that. You go up and down, up and down, up and down. You’ve got to stay in the middle and never change.
“Think about it a little bit and then throw it away.”