Avisail Garcia maintaining consistent approach in potential breakthrough season

Avisail Garcia maintaining consistent approach in potential breakthrough season

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.”

Miguel Gonzalez throws six perfect innings as White Sox take series against Tigers

Miguel Gonzalez throws six perfect innings as White Sox take series against Tigers

For six innings Sunday, Miguel Gonzalez was perfect.

The White Sox right-hander put the baseball world on perfect-game alert and conjured memories of Mark Buehrle and Philip Humber with his dazzling work through six innings. Gonzalez lost his bids for a perfect game, no hitter and shutout in the span of three batters to lead off the seventh inning, but that didn’t take away much from how good he was in a 7-3 win for the South Siders at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“He was dominant,” shortstop Tim Anderson said, providing an accurate if brief summation of the day’s proceedings.

Gonzalez, who entered with a 3-5 record and a 4.55 ERA in nine previous starts this season, set down the first 18 hitters he faced in order, with the visiting Detroit Tigers rarely even coming close to reaching base. That streak of 18 straight hitters retired to start the game was the longest by a White Sox starter since Chris Sale sat down the first 19 he faced back in May 2013.

Of course, whenever a performance nears no-hitter territory, players know it and stay away from the pitcher in the dugout, afraid of jinxing things. And the White Sox weren’t immune to that baseball tradition on Sunday.

“It was getting quiet,” Gonzalez said. “I was just trying to do my thing. Just go out there and make pitches, let them make the plays and that’s how things went.”

The Tigers — who trailed big after the White Sox gave Gonzalez a 7-0 lead — finally broke through to start the seventh. Austin Romine reached on an infield single, Alex Avila singled through the right side of the infield, and Miguel Cabrera dumped an RBI base hit into right field.

Detroit added two more runs on three extra-base hits in the eighth, but Gonzalez still finished with a great line, yielding just three runs on six hits in 7.2 innings of work.

Gonzalez’s gem snapped a streak of rough outings that started, coincidentally enough, against this Tigers team, when he was crushed for seven runs on 14 hits in an April 30 loss in Detroit. Entering Sunday’s game, Gonzalez was a nasty 0-5 with a 6.99 ERA in his previous five starts. He hadn’t made it out of the sixth inning in any of his previous three starts.

“I started off really good. I was struggling for a couple outings, and all you can do is keep working hard and things are going to happen,” Gonzalez said. “I think if you work hard in between your starts you have a pretty good chance of getting back on track and that’s how I felt today.”

[WHITE SOX TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

That seventh-inning blip by the Tigers ended the day’s only drama, as the White Sox offense put the result of the game out of question earlier, tagging opposing starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann for seven runs in his five innings of work.

Zimmermann entered the day struggling on the 2017 campaign, and that didn’t change Sunday. Willy Garcia tripled in Omar Narvaez for the game’s first run in the third and scored on the same play thanks to a throwing error. Two hitters later, Melky Cabrera hit a solo home run to make it 3-0.

Matt Davidson led off the bottom of the fourth with his 10th home run of the season, and Narvaez drove in Yolmer Sanchez to make it 5-0. Todd Frazier tacked on two more in the fifth with a two-run shot that also scored Jose Abreu.

“As an offense, we’re trying to give that (big cushion) every night. That’d be nice,” Davidson said. “And it really relaxes them. And you can see what happens when they’ve got a lead and you let them do their thing.”

The White Sox took three of four from the Tigers in this weekend series that featured a doubleheader split Saturday. It’s a positive start to this home stand — which continues with a three-game series against the Boston Red Sox — after going 3-7 on a recent 10-game road trip.

“I'm very happy with it, but again I'm not surprised by it, simply because I think they come out every single day to try to play good baseball and do what they need to help each other out and win ballgames,” manager Rick Renteria said. “It's just their character, the way they're put together. They keep battling.”

Jose Abreu relishing opportunity to help mentor Luis Robert, White Sox newest Cuban addition

Jose Abreu relishing opportunity to help mentor Luis Robert, White Sox newest Cuban addition

Call it the White Sox latest Cuban connection.

When news came out of the team pursuing 19-year-old Cuban outfielder Luis Robert, it was pretty easy to guess that Jose Abreu, the franchise’s previous big-time, free-agent signing from Cuba, would be involved.

But not only was Abreu involved in the White Sox courting of Robert, sending a personalized message as part of the team’s video pitch, he’s been a willing participant. And now that Robert is officially signed after Saturday’s much-hyped introduction, Abreu is ready to take on a mentorship role, much like he has with another one of the organization’s Cuban prospects, Yoan Moncada.

In the lead up to Saturday’s press conference, it was Abreu touring Robert around Guaranteed Rate Field, chatting with him in the dugout and taking pictures on the infield.

“I was very excited to have him here, and I’m very happy right now because he’s signing with the team,” Abreu said through a translator ahead of Sunday’s series finale with the visiting Detroit Tigers. “He’s a very good player. I just told him that he has to keep working hard and keep doing the things to get here as soon as he can. He’s a nice guy.

“I’m excited to have that opportunity (to be a mentor). That’s something that I like to do. I like to advise the guys and tell them what to do for their best like I am doing right now with Moncada. I’m just waiting for that opportunity to happen with (Robert).”

[WHITE SOX TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

While Abreu arrived on the South Side an older, more experienced player who was ready for the big leagues, Robert’s journey to the majors will be a much different, much longer one. Abreu recognizes that and talked about how tough the transition will be. He also has confidence Robert, who has received glowing scouting reports comparing him to perennial All Stars, can succeed.

“It’s not an easy thing to do to come here straight to play in the majors because this is a very high level and a tough one to play,” Abreu said. “I think the best for him is the decision that he’s making for him, to have some games in the minors and let him develop there. He’s had a long time without playing baseball. Baseball in Cuba is good, but it’s not as good as baseball here in the U.S. and you have to adjust. I think that process for him is going to be perfect in the minors.”

Saturday, Robert talked about the White Sox tradition of Cuban players, mentioning how it helped motivate him to sign with the team. Abreu has been one of the franchise’s most successful Cuban players, a list that includes the legendary Minnie Minoso as well as more recent players like Alexei Ramirez and Dayan Viciedo and Moncada in the minor leagues.

While that tradition might not be the entire or even main reason Robert is now a part of the organization, general manager Rick Hahn talked about how it’s created an environment that will help Robert develop. Banners featuring Minoso, Abreu, Ramirez and Moncada flanked the table where Robert signed his contract.

Abreu said it’s a tradition he’s very proud to be a part of.

“That made me feel happy and proud. Not just for this organization that I’m a part of, but also for my heritage because I know that this is a very good organization and they are trying to take care of the Cuban players,” Abreu said. “I also feel a huge respect for Minnie Minoso because he was the first one who opened this door here with the White Sox.”

Through his mentoring, Abreu could keep that tradition going into the future. Robert and Moncada are huge pieces of the White Sox rebuilding puzzle, and Abreu is helping put those pieces together for the White Sox.