SAN FRANCISCO — Catcher Reese McGuire’s overhand-cross fist pumps after big strikeouts have evolved into a bigger part of his game since he came to the White Sox in a trade at the end of spring training.
“This team brings that out in me,” McGuire said.
The Sox have lost six of eight games going into the opener of a three-game series against the Giants, but they’re still functioning like a team that views itself as a postseason contender.
McGuire, surrounded by proven leaders such as Jose Abreu, Tim Anderson, Lance Lynn and Liam Hendriks, sensed it as soon as he came over from the Blue Jays. After the Sox fell to 35-39 with a 4-1 loss to the Angels on Wednesday, right-hander Michael Kopech said there’s no panic in the clubhouse.
“We haven’t even reached the All-Star break yet,” said Kopech, who took the loss against the Angels and starter/designated hitter Shohei Ohtani. “So I don’t think anyone has a real worried state or sense of urgency. The urgency is always there as far as being the first ones to score and to have the first 1-2-3 inning. We want to set the tone of the game — that’s where the urgency is. But it doesn’t change from day to day. We know the process and know it’s going to catch back up to us.”
On a team hampered by defensive mistakes, McGuire’s athleticism and throwing ability behind the plate are sorely needed — and his energy is appreciated. Sox pitchers say they like it when his first step to the dugout after an inning-ending strikeout is accompanied by an overhand right.
“Nowadays, those high-leverage situations come earlier in the game, and it’s a moment for me,” McGuire said. “I’m super passionate and super happy for the guy on the mound for striking a guy out. It’s a momentum swing where his back is against the wall and we make our pitch and get out of it. It’s like, ‘All right, that was a moment.’ ”
McGuire, traded for Zack Collins on April 3, instantly became the Sox’ best pitch-blocker and thrower.
“He works very well with the pitchers, he’s very athletic behind the plate, throws extremely well, and clubs aren’t going to be able to come in and run wild,” coach Jerry Narron said. “He has a passion for the game, and it shows. That’s what you want to see. It’s not fake.”
With Yasmani Grandal out with a lower-back injury, McGuire’s value is even higher, although Seby Zavala, called up June 12, looks improved since last season.
“Seby is much more relaxed than a year ago — he looks like a major-league catcher right now,” Narron said. “He knows he can play here. Last year, there was a little question that he could play at this level, but he knows now that he can. His framing numbers are off the charts for the number of games he caught.
“He’s always had a good head for the game. And he’s had really good at-bats, he’s not chasing pitches, he’s seeing the ball well and had some big hits for us.”
McGuire hitting .300/.358/.400 in his last 26 games and Zavala .282/.310/.462 in 14 games softened the blow of losing Grandal, whose offense (.185/.294/.237 in 50 games) had been missing.
“It could happen in the fifth inning or seventh or whenever,” McGuire said of his fist pump. “As a catcher, you’re the one everyone sees on the field, so the energy can feed off each other. And pitchers have made comments — they love it. So all around, it shows energy and passion for the game.”
NOTE: Shortstop Tim Anderson is a finalist for the American League All-Star team. He edged the Red Sox’ Xander Bogaerts for second in votes behind the Blue Jays’ Bo Bichette. Phase 2 voting is next Tuesday through Friday.