CHICAGO – Leury Garcia ran into the dugout from right field and bounded up the steps moments later into the on-deck circle. The White Sox’s 28-year-old super utility man hardly even watched Kansas City Royals pitcher Brad Keller throw his warmup tosses during a game last week.
After two or three cuts with a weight on his bat, Garcia dug his cleats into the batter’s box to lead off for the Sox in the first inning, something Garcia has grown accustomed to.
Garcia couldn’t help but laugh when asked if he thought he would be hitting leadoff so much this season.
“I love it,” Garcia said. “I was the leadoff hitter in spring training. I think it’s a great opportunity for me, and I just try to get on base.”
Garcia has hit leadoff in every Sox game he has started in 2019. A switch hitter, he has reached base in all but two of his 20 starts. Garcia is hitting .278 with a .316 on-base percentage. He has scored 17 runs and stolen four bases.
Last year, Garcia batted in just about every spot in the lineup. Manager Rick Renteria used him as the leadoff hitter only four times. Garcia said hitting leadoff hasn’t changed his approach.
“I did it a lot in the minor leagues, but the first three years in the big leagues I was hitting eight, nine,” Garcia said. “It’s a little different. I worked a lot on my offense. I keep working and try to stay healthy. That’s the great part for me, if I stay healthy, I can help the team.”
More than anything, injuries have kept Garcia from seeing the field consistently in recent years.
He has missed time because of minor injuries in each of the past two seasons, playing in 87 big-league games in 2017 and 82 last year.
Renteria called Garcia “invaluable” because of his versatility in the field. In a major league career that dates to 2013, Garcia has played every position except catcher and first base.
“His value is his flexibility,” Renteria said. “To be able to do what he does, and he does it extremely well. His at-bats, he does a lot of things that impact you in many different ways. He’s one of the best, I think in the game, at being able to move around and do what he does.”
Garcia mostly has played in center field and right field this season, although he played shortstop when Tim Anderson was suspended for a game.
“You see him taking ground balls there, and it’s like he’s never left the infield,” Renteria said.
Garcia’s athleticism helps on the base paths, too, where he is 4 of 4 stealing bases. The Sox are 20 of 24 stealing bases as a team.
Anderson and Yoan Moncada are off to hot offensive starts. Eloy Jimenez clubbed his third home run Thursday. Slugger Jose Abreu has struggled, but his capabilities are well-documented. Garcia has a chance to set the tone for an increasingly dangerous Sox lineup.
“I know I have great hitters behind me that can bring me in,” Garcia said. “So I try to get on base, steal some bases and score runs.”