Eloy makes season debut, batting 4th as DH

July 26th, 2021

MILWAUKEE -- At long last, Eloy Jiménez is back.

A little more than four months after tearing his left pectoral tendon while trying to haul in a home run during a Cactus League game, Jiménez was activated off the injured list Monday for the White Sox opener of a four-game series against the Royals in Kansas City. Infielder Jake Burger was optioned to Triple-A Charlotte to make room on the roster.

“We’re excited,” White Sox manager Tony La Russa said Sunday. “He’s flying in tonight, and I’ll write him into the lineup tomorrow.”

Jiménez was hitting fourth in the DH spot in his return to the lineup, despite La Russa saying that according to reports from Triple-A Charlotte manager Wes Helms, Jiménez was playing the outfield without issue. A DH day will allow Jiménez to ease his way back into playing regularly.

“I think we’ll just see for ourselves, but I understand both [positions] are available,” La Russa said. “I also understand it’s supposed to be steaming hot in Kansas City, so we’ll factor that into all four days.”

Jiménez was not in the lineup Sunday when Charlotte wrapped up its series against Durham, but he batted .263/.293/.395 with two doubles and a home run in 10 games for the Knights. Including two games with High-A Winston-Salem, Jiménez finished his Minor League rehab assignment with a .289/.327/.467 slash line.

“He’s swinging free and easy, but I think it’s going to be more about getting his timing at the plate,” La Russa said.

Jiménez's return also provides an emotional boost for the White Sox. They hold a comfortable lead in the American League Central, but they stumbled out of the All-Star break, dropping five of their first nine games back.

There’s more help on the way, too. Catcher Yasmani Grandal is progressing faster than expected after undergoing left knee surgery and outfielder Luis Robert is doing well on his rehab assignment as he works his way back from a right hip flexor injury that’s sidelined him since May.

Getting all three back in time for the stretch run would go a long way to bolstering Chicago's hopes for a deep postseason run.

“You see a lot of teams making moves [at the Trade Deadline],” Grandal said. “But [getting guys back] is kind of like our Trade Deadline, because you get two big bats back in Eloy and Robert. Guys who can play defense.

“The team is going to be full now, so hopefully those guys get hot at the right time, because those guys can really carry a team through the end of the season and into the postseason.”

Jiménez, 24, was expected to be a centerpiece of a formidable White Sox offense after hitting .267 with 31 homers and 79 RBIs as a rookie in 2019, and .296 with 14 home runs, 41 RBIs and an .891 OPS last season.

Yet despite Jiménez's extended absence -- not to mention the injuries to Robert, Grandal, Nick Madrigal and Jake Lamb -- the White Sox entered Sunday with the largest cushion of any first-place team in baseball.

“In my career, it’s been one of the best performances by a team that loses key guys,” La Russa said.

Vaughn’s spot is safe
Andrew Vaughn is a big reason why Chicago has overcome its rash of injuries.

Vaughn went 2-for-4 in Saturday’s loss in Milwaukee, giving him a third consecutive multi-hit game, and he entered Sunday batting .356/.380/.644 with five home runs, 12 RBIs and 14 runs scored over his previous 21 games.

Jiménez's return will require a difficult decision when it comes to a corresponding roster move, but La Russa wasn’t concerned about Vaughn losing playing time.

“I don’t think Eloy being here is going to take at-bats away from Andrew,” La Russa said. “Maybe a time or two when you make a choice that you want a left-handed hitter in there and Eloy’s going to play. But Andrew’s earned it. ...

“He’s swinging the bat as well as anyone, and we’re trying to win. That’s how you get at-bats. You have to earn them, and he’s earned them.”