J.B. Shuck may have found job security as a pinch hitter.
The reserve White Sox outfielder has consistently made an impact all season in limited opportunities. Shuck delivered again late in Saturday’s victory over Detroit with a game-tying, pinch-hit RBI double in the ninth and came around to score the winning run on Leury Garcia’s single.
Shuck has been valuable off the bench for the White Sox in a variety of ways, whether through his hustle or outstanding defense. But he’s provided the most value as a pinch hitter, where he’s 8-for-30 with two doubles, a triple, five runs, six RBIs and three walks.
“He’s been big for us all year,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said.
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Claimed off waivers on Nov. 3, Shuck has provided one Win Above Replacement in only 161 plate appearances this season, according to baseball-reference.com. Prior to 2015, Shuck had 34 plate appearances as a pinch hitter. He’s had 35 this season as he’s had to vie for playing time in an outfield where the fewest games played among the starting trio is 148. A lack of starts -- Sunday was Shuck’s 29th -- has helped him to realize he needed to make an impact in other ways.
“They’re guys who can be in there every day so I’ve accepted we need somebody that if we need a hit late in the game, that’s gonna be more my role,” Shuck said. “I’ve accepted it and tried to make the best of it.”
Shuck has a little know-how from his first season with Houston in 2011 when he played alongside Jason Michaels. Michaels told Shuck to always be ready to swing at the first pitch. To physically prepare, Shuck said he watches the game and starts to get ready in the fifth or sixth inning. But mental preparation begins much earlier as Shuck examines the lineup, tries to determine whom he might hit for and then studies video of the pitchers he might face.
“It’s tough,” third-base coach Joe McEwing said. “You try to figure it out and have a game plan against a particular guy, which is tough because if that particular situation doesn’t happen and if they end up bringing in a righty or a different situation -- you have to prepare for pretty much everybody throughout the bullpen. “You have to have a gameplan going into it for what you want to do.”
Shuck’s compact swing helps matters as he can go several days without playing and still put up a good pass. Given he might not play for a few days at a time, Shuck has learned to live with a bad result as long as his process is correct. He’s also fine with his role as long as he’s able to contribute as he did Saturday when he doubled off Neftali Feliz to tie the score at 3.
“You usually only get one,” Shuck said. “The goal is to have an approach, stick to the approach and if you do everything right and you get out, you can’t really get too upset. Now if you take that one at-bat and go away from your approach, you take a bad swing, bad pitch, you can get a little more upset.
“Obviously everybody here wants to play every day and be able to help in a starting role, but there’s always a need for it.”