Chicago White Sox hitting coach Marcus Thames discusses the offensive struggles: ‘Make sure you are the best of yourself’

MINNEAPOLIS — Chicago White Sox hitting coach Marcus Thames texted first baseman Andrew Vaughn on Wednesday morning.

“Let’s think about the positives that happened yesterday,” Thames said of the first baseman, who entered the day hitting .165. “He did hit the ball hard, so we have to keep him as positive as possible.

“He hasn’t been in a rut like this since he’s been in the big leagues. It could be tough. We have to mentally keep him positive.”

That message extends up and down the lineup for the Sox, who rank last in the majors in several team offensive categories.

Thames discussed the struggles before Wednesday’s 6-3 loss to the Minnesota Twins at Target Field.

“For me, it’s trying to make sure these guys stay positive and make sure they are doing the right work to get back on track,” Thames said.

“Because they have a track record. And you look up at the scoreboard and you have 60 (at-bats) and you see .160 and .170 (as the batting average), it stinks. But guess what? Hopefully you get 4-or-500 more (at-bats) and you can turn it around and right the ship.”

The Sox have scored 50 runs, the fewest in franchise history through 23 games and the fewest in the majors through 23 games since the Montreal Expos scored 41 in 2004.

The Sox entered Wednesday ranked last in the majors in runs, average (.192), home runs (12), on-base percentage (.266), slugging (.290) and OPS (.556).

They’ve been shut out eight times and have been limited to five hits or less 12 times.

“It hasn’t been what I expected, but I know the guys are putting in the work and trying different things,” Thames said. “(Tuesday) night we had a couple of guys cross the plate (in the 6-5 loss), but we just got to do it more often.”

Wednesday’s starting lineup included four players with batting averages under .200, including Vaughn and Andrew Benintendi (.163).

“Andrew (Benintendi), he’s not on time,” Thames said. “We just have to get him on time and trust the process. I just talked to Andrew about being a good hitter. I don’t want him up there thinking about power. Just doing the little things. When I’ve seen him at his best over his career, he’s just been a good hitter. I want him to get back to that and swing at his pitches.

“I just think as a whole, a lot of our guys are putting a little bit more pressure on themselves and going out of the zone. For me it goes back to the basics since you were a kid: Get a good pitch in the zone and hit it hard. Once we can simplify like that, good things will happen for us.”

Thames wants Vaughn to shrink the strike zone.

“He’s taking good pitches to hit and swinging at fringe pitches from their guys,” Thames said. “He has to get back to the point where he’s dominating Andrew’s pitches and not the opposing guys’ pitches. When you do that, you shrink the zone. We’ve got to get him back to shrinking the zone. When he’s going well, that’s what he’s doing.

“Just the at-bat last night (in the eighth inning), (runners on) first and third, gets a first-pitch fastball right where he wants it and we take it. Then we swing at two fringe sliders. We have to get him back to having that confidence and swinging at his pitches.”

Confidence is one area Thames says is working for right fielder Gavin Sheets, who is slashing .262/.378/.508 with six doubles, three home runs and 10 RBIs.

“Last year he got beat up a little bit,” Thames said. “The game hit him in between the eyes and he went home and worked his tail off. He hasn’t stopped.

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“He kept his same routine he had in the offseason. He’s doing the same thing and he’s doing a pretty good job so far.”

Thames also noted that designated hitter Eloy Jiménez’s timing has improved, resulting in home runs in two of the last three games.

“When he plays baseball, he’s going to be fine,” Thames said.

Jiménez missed 12 games from April 1-14 with a left adductor strain. The Sox are currently missing center fielder Luis Robert Jr. (right hip flexor strain) and third baseman Yoán Moncada (left adductor strain) because of injury.

Thames said the hitters have to guard against trying to do too much with those two important players out of the lineup.

“The most important thing is the mindset,” Thames said. “You have a couple of guys out of the lineup and teams circle names — this guy is not going to beat me, that guy is not going to beat me.

“I want our guys to make sure who they are. Nobody can replace Luis Robert. Nobody can replace Yoán Moncada. You have to make sure you are the best of yourself.”