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New hitting coach Marcus Thames talks Chicago White Sox offense: ‘We’ve got to focus on what we do well’

Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune/TNS

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Chicago White Sox had the highest outside-the-zone swing percentage in the majors in 2023.

The number, according to FanGraphs, equals “swings at pitches outside the zone/pitches outside the zone.” The Sox’s O-Swing% was 36.4 last season.

If the offense is going to be better in 2024, it will have to make improvements in that area.

“It’s just buy-in, making sure we’re doing our homework on the opposing pitcher,” hitting coach Marcus Thames said this week of avoiding chasing. “Our guys have to understand their strengths and that’s what we’re going to hammer. Every person’s going to know who they are as a hitter and what they do well and we’re really going to attack.

“We’ve got to focus on what we do well. And guys doing their homework, making sure they’re doing their homework on the opposing pitcher and make sure we’re prepared before we go out there. It slows the game down once we do that.”

Thames likes where the group is at for this portion of the spring.

“We want to have competitive at-bats,” he said. “Not making weak contact early in the count. Some guys are still trying to get their timing, but overall I’ve been pleased with what I’ve seen so far.”

Designated hitter Eloy Jiménez has been one of the hottest batters this spring, going 10-for-20 in seven Cactus League games entering Wednesday.

“Timing is everything for him,” Thames said. “When he’s early, when he gets that leg up early, he’s good. When he’s late, he’s going to rush, he’s going to put the ball on the ground and the big emphasis for him is get the ball off the ground. Hit the ball hard in a line somewhere, and if he does that good things will happen for him.”

He’s made adjustments “just trying to make sure his hands are staying up,” Thames said.

“Once he starts burying his hands, it’s all timing, now he’s got to come back up, so why not keep them close to where he’s firing from,” Thames said. “He does that, good things are going to happen for him.”

Jiménez leads the team in hits and RBIs (seven). Infielder Nicky Lopez is second in hits (six, including five doubles), while shortstop Paul DeJong ranks second in RBIs with six.

“I told (Lopez) he just needs to work the count, get on base and let those big boys knock him in,” Thames said. “Play the hell out of second base, understand who he is, keeping the ball on the line, do the little things and he’s going to be good for us.

As for DeJong, Thames said: “On the offensive side, we just want him to swing at good pitches.

“If he’s swinging at good pitches good things will happen for him. Not try to do too much. Just be a good hitter first and the other stuff will come.”

Third baseman Yoán Moncada was 5-for-15 (.333) in six games. Thames said the key for Moncada is health. He was on the injured list twice in 2023 with back-related issues.

“If you see his last 140 at-bats last year, pretty darn good,” Thames said. “If we keep him healthy, good things can happen for him. He’s darned talented. We just have to keep him on the field and let him be himself.”

Thames also pointed to health for Andrew Benintendi, who played through some right-hand soreness last season.

“Benny, he can play — we’ve all seen it over the years,” Thames said. “When you don’t have your hands it’s hard to hit. His wrist is healthy and mind is good, so he’s in a good place right now.”

Outfielders Dominic Fletcher and Zach DeLoach are in a new place after being acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks and Seattle Mariners, respectively, in February trades.

“These guys had a pretty good year last year in Triple-A,” Thames said. “Now it’s a matter of tapping into understanding who is on the mound, who they’re facing, making small adjustments. Those two guys are doing a pretty good job.”

Photos: An inside look at White Sox spring training

Thames, who was the hitting coach for the Los Angeles Angels last season and previously for the Miami Marlins and New York Yankees, is also enjoying getting to watch All-Star center fielder Luis Robert Jr. from a new perspective.

“It’s been pretty special,” Thames said. “He’s a talented young man, and I’m getting the chance to enjoy since the first day, getting to watch him take (batting practice). Everything comes so easy to him and even on the defensive side, I’ve seen it in games, but watching him shag in BP, he’s an elite player and he’s only going to get better.”

Up and down the lineup and throughout the roster, Thames is taking a look at the quality of the at-bats.

“I just want to make sure our guys are swinging at good pitches,” Thames said. “If you don’t do that now, you can’t start (that process) on March 28 (with the season opener against the Detroit Tigers), so we’re trying to make sure we start that now.”