Avisail Garcia shrugs off his critics through torrid start

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MINNEAPOLIS, MN - APRIL 16: Avisail Garcia #26 of the Chicago White Sox celebrates a two-run home run against the Minnesota Twins during the tenth inning of the game on April 16, 2017 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The White Sox defeated the Twins 3-1 in ten innings. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

MINNEAPOLIS — If Avisail Garcia’s hot start is a sign he is taking a step forward from the lukewarm performances that have marked the first few seasons of his career, he probably won’t be one to gloat.

Garcia, who had underachieved since the Sox acquired him as a notable prospect in a three-team trade for Jake Peavy in 2013, said he doesn’t have rabbit ears when it comes to what others have said about him.

‘‘I don’t pay attention to what everybody says,’’ Garcia said Sunday. ‘‘I control what I can control. What people say about me, I don’t pay attention. I know who I am, so just keep working hard and do what I can do for my team.’’

All he has done for the Sox this season is hit a major-league-best .465. That was enhanced by a 4-for-5 performance, including a tiebreaking two-run home run to the opposite field against Ryan Pressly in the 10th inning, that helped the Sox earn a 3-1 victory against the Minnesota Twins.

Garcia has improved his diet and is playing about 15 pounds lighter than he did last season, which he says helps him come to the park more energized than before. That’s nice, manager Rick Renteria said, but the key to Garcia’s hot start is a better approach at the plate.

‘‘He’s simplifying it and keeping his approach in a particular way where he’s not trying to do too much,’’ Renteria said. ‘‘He’s focusing on making good contact. I can guarantee you he didn’t go up there [in the 10th] thinking he was going to hit a homer. With a man that strong, you put a good swing on a ball, you attack it and you click it, it has a chance to go.’’

‘‘I’m just trying to stay inside the ball,’’ Garcia said. ‘‘The good hitters hit to the other part of the field. That’s what [Detroit Tigers star Miguel] Cabrera does. That’s what I’m trying to do.’’

Garcia said he swung too hard at Pressly’s first strike, then told himself to reel it in.

‘‘Just put the barrel on the ball,’’ he said to himself.

Garcia hit 13 homers in 2015 and 12 in 2016, but he has tape-measure strength to compete with anyone.

‘‘When you don’t try to do too much, good things happen,’’ he said.

This is a crossroads season for Garcia, who has to produce at the plate to offset his unfavorable defensive metrics in right field.

Hitting coach Todd Steverson said Garcia still will swing at balls out of the zone, as all hitters do.

‘‘But the approach has been there, the mindset has been there,’’ Steverson said. ‘‘At the end of the day, you want to see the consistency of it over a full season.

‘‘When he’s going well, he’s balanced, swinging at good pitches and using the whole field. I mean, he’s very strong to the opposite field and center field.’’

The Sox ended a run of 18 scoreless innings after Garcia bounced a hard single off the right-field wall in the eighth, sending Jose Abreu to third. Matt Davidson tied the score with a sacrifice fly.

Abreu, Tim Anderson, Jacob May, Todd Frazier and Cody Asche all are hitting below .200, but Garcia has kept the Sox’ lineup afloat and their pitchers have posted a 2.71 ERA. Closer David Robertson, who earned his third save, has retired 15 of 16 batters with 10 strikeouts for a bullpen that boasts a 1.43 ERA.

And this is supposed to be a rebuilding season.

‘‘I don’t think they’re thinking about what we are or are not in terms of titles we’re given,’’ Renteria said. ‘‘The truth is, everybody just has to play the game of baseball. They’re trying to do things that are baseball-driven, fundamentally doing things that keep them in ballgames.

‘‘It doesn’t hurt that the relief we’ve had and the starts we’ve had have been really, really good. So hopefully that continues.’’

Follow me on Twitter @CST_soxvan.

Email: dvanschouwen@suntimes.com


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