‘Awesome’ Reese McGuire looks to give White Sox pitchers an edge

MINNEAPOLIS — Catcher Reese McGuire prides himself on throwing out would-be base stealers. And helping a pitcher stealing a pitch whenever he can.

McGuire helped right-hander Michael Kopech, who threw five scoreless innings in the White Sox’ game against the Twins Friday at Target Field, by catching Jorge Polanco trying to steal second, ending the first.

He also helped by hustling outside the first base line to make a sliding stop of second baseman Leury Garcia’s errant throw headed for the Twins dugout on what looked like a routine double play, keeping Miguel Sano out of scoring position in a one-run game.

McGuire also likes stealing a pitch for his pitchers, not only with good framing but having a sense for when a hitter might be taking all the way on the first pitch.

“I feel like I have a great game plan going into a game,” McGuire said, “and when hitters come into the box whether we know they’re aggressive or patient, I’ve developed over the years – call it baseball IQ — sensing a little tendency like, ‘OK this guy is aggressive but I think we can steal a strike right here, he’s taking the first pitch.’ ”

As McGuire says, the difference in hitting ahead or behind in the count is significant. Throwing the first pitch for a strike is first on any pitcher’s priority list.

It’s one small thing McGuire has added to the Sox catching tandem with No. 1 Yasmani Grandal, who rates among baseball’s best pitch framers per Statcast. McGuire ranks above average, and his acquisition in a trade with the Blue Jays for Zack Collins at the end of spring training significantly upgraded a spot that needed it.

“For me to add my value here in game calling and blocking balls and throwing guys out I definitely am excited to have a new start here,” said McGuire, who threw out a solid 11 of 31 with the Jays last season.

McGuire was 2-for-6 throwing out runners this season after he nailed Polanco. Kopech made his third start of the season, and McGuire has caught them all.

In this one, Kopech was excellent again, striking out seven, walking one and allowing three hits while lowering his ERA to 0.64 as the light-hitting Sox tried to snap a four-game losing streak. Andrew Vaughn hit his third homer against Bailey Ober leading off the fifth for a 1-0 lead. McGuire followed with a double but Jake Burger (strikeout), Tim Anderson (tap to the mound) and Garcia (0-for-4, three strikeouts) struck out, leaving McGuire stranded.

Manager Tony La Russa said Sox coach Shelley Duncan, who knew McGuire while he was a Blue Jays coach, described the catcher as “awesome” when the Sox looked into acquiring him. And coach Jerry Narron, who works with catchers, said similar things.

“And that’s what he is — awesome,” La Russa said. “He’s sharp back there, he moves great, he has a good throwing arm. See him making adjustments with guys he’s barely caught, so we’re really pleased. And he takes a swing, too. He’ll get hits.”

McGuire caught six of the Sox’ first 13 games, an indication of the workload lying ahead. Sliding his left-handed bat with a .246/.297/.382 career slash line into the lineup and allowing Grandal to keep his legs fresh while DH-ing or sitting out as he did Friday is a plus.

McGuire hasn’t had much time to become acclimated to the pitching staff, but that’s “not as hard as people think,” he said.

“Moving forward it’s now that I know what your pitch looks like and what you like to throw, now how can I address with my setup and things like that,” he said. “It’s an ongoing thing.

“The game behind the dish is my thing, navigating a pitcher, the sequencing, framing different pitches and communicating.”

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