'We're all fired up': Robert makes his return

August 10th, 2021

CHICAGO -- returned to the White Sox starting lineup, batting seventh, in an 11-1 victory against the Twins on Monday night at Target Field.

The center fielder went 2-for-5 with an RBI double in the fifth inning and a single in the ninth. He misread a sinking line drive in the second, but the reigning Gold Glove winner recalibrated in time to make a lunging grab.

Robert, the 2020 American League Gold Glove winner in center field and runner-up in the AL Rookie of the Year voting, suffered a right hip flexor tear while legging out an infield single in the first inning of a 5-0 home loss to Cleveland on May 2. The 24-year-old went through 12 games and 49 plate appearances of Minor League injury rehab with High-A Winston-Salem and Triple-A Charlotte.

“It feels like this is gonna be my debut,” Robert said before the game via a team interpreter. “It feels good.”

“Guys are fired up,” said manager Tony La Russa of Robert’s return. “We’re all fired up.”

Having Robert back moves the White Sox closer to the starting lineup they had designed for Opening Day. Eloy Jiménez already has returned from surgery to repair a ruptured left pectoral tendon, suffered the last week of Spring Training, and started for a third straight game in left field Sunday at Wrigley Field.

Catcher Yasmani Grandal has responded tremendously to surgery on July 6 to repair a tear in the tendon in his left knee and has been increasing his baseball activity. He did some pregame baserunning this weekend, as an example.

“He’s very impatient and pushing it, but the training staff has been monitoring it, holding him back, nothing foolish,” said La Russa. “He’s making a lot of progress. Knock on wood, he’ll get back sooner than we thought when he first got hurt.”

Players such as Gavin Sheets, Brian Goodwin and Seby Zavala, who are just a few to fill in for the injured trio, have done a tremendous job with the White Sox leading the American League Central by 10 1/2 games at first pitch Monday. Let’s also not forget rookie Andrew Vaughn’s smooth move to the outfield, despite having just three games of Spring Training experience at the position before making the transition.

But Robert’s return represents another step for the White Sox in moving from division champs toward their goal of a World Series title.

Chicago was in first place in the American League Central back in early May when Robert last played, and they’re still in first place now. He said the goal of winning a title has been in place since Spring Training, and it won’t change now.

“We know that we have a good team,” Robert said. “It’s good to be a team that’s in that position. I just feel happy to be here.”

As for his workload with the White Sox, that figures to be a day-by-day process. La Russa said it’s important not to put the Gold Glover at risk of reinjury, but using him on consecutive days isn’t out of the question.

Robert admitted he’s still not at 100 percent. Still, he feels he can perform at a high level and help his team.

“I won’t lie, I may still have a little fear in my mind, but that’s gonna fade out with the days and the games,” Robert said. “Physically, I feel good. About playing every day or having some days of rest, I don’t know what the plan is. But I’m feeling good. I’m ready to play every day.”

Crosstown brotherhood

Jiménez faced a familiar face when knocking out two hits against Cubs starter Adbert Alzolay in Saturday’s 4-0 victory. The duo played together with Class A Eugene, South Bend and Myrtle Beach before Jiménez was traded to the White Sox with Dylan Cease in 2017 and became a Silver Slugger-winning outfielder. They have remained friends after the trade, having a long talk on the field prior to Friday afternoon’s contest.

“Yeah, after I got traded, we kept in touch. He’s my brother, besides baseball. He’s my brother,” Jiménez said. “He’s a really, really good friend of mine. And because I got traded I’m going to stop talking to him?

“We played together. We had intrasquad and we have been facing each other. We were always talking about this kind of day and yesterday was the first day we faced [each other] for the first time after I got traded. It was fun.”

Alzolay texted Jiménez after the game, with Jiménez adding he was impressed by the right-hander’s stuff. Jiménez also was impressed by the number of White Sox fans on the North Side this weekend, despite still hearing it a little bit from the Cubs supporters in the bleachers.

“I know Cubs fans; I think they hate me. But I don’t know,” said Jiménez with a laugh. “They’ve been good. I have had a lot of fun these couple of days.

“They made me laugh a lot. It’s good to have more black shirts in the stands. It’s been pretty good.”

They said it

“He’s the greatest closer in the game right now. What is he, eighth all time in saves? It’s pretty nice when you can go to [Craig] Kimbrel and then Liam [Hendriks] or whatever it may be. You know it’s going to be a zero.”
-- Carlos Rodón, on the White Sox lockdown bullpen

“It’s been awhile, but that’s never going to go away.”
-- Jiménez, on always having extra motivation facing the Cubs