Jiménez back in OF: 'Bit weird' at first, but where he wants to be

May 19th, 2024

NEW YORK -- The pregame White Sox lineup card for an eventual 7-2 loss to the Yankees on Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium might have caused even the most dedicated South Side supporters to do a double-take or two.

“Hitting third, No. 74, .”

OK, nothing unusual there.

But the “RF” next to his name marked the first 2024 appearance in the outfield for the team’s starting designated hitter.

“I feel a little bit weird in the first two innings,” Jiménez said after the Yankees completed their three-game sweep. “But after, I feel OK.”

Jiménez’s lone putout came on an Anthony Volpe flyout to end the second. Nonetheless, Jiménez was where he has always wanted to be.

Back at SoxFest 2020, Jiménez made crystal clear his lack of desire to serve as the White Sox designated hitter in direct and profanely colorful but humorous terms. And prior to Sunday’s setback at Yankee Stadium, he was just as sold on that belief.

“I try to do my best,” Jiménez said of the full-time DH role. “But I still say I don’t like DHing.”

Since the outset of 2023, Jiménez has started 137 games at designated hitter, with 15 games played in right field. He had -3 defensive runs saved over 109 2/3 innings last season, according to Baseball Reference, and he has -18 DRS for his career in the outfield.

In 2019, when Jiménez played 114 games and 967 2/3 innings in left field, he finished with -10 defensive runs saved. In ‘20, when he played 54 of 55 overall games in left, he was at -4. He moves pretty well at 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, but he hasn’t proven statistically to be close to a break-even outfielder.

There’s also the injury factor, with some of Jiménez’s major maladies coming during outfield play. He suffered a high right ankle sprain in 2019 upon running into the Guaranteed Rate Field wall while chasing a homer by the Tigers’ Grayson Greiner to left. Jiménez hurt his right elbow when colliding with center fielder Charlie Tilson chasing a fly ball in Kansas City later that same year, and he suffered a rupture of his left pectoral tendon while leaping for a homer by the A’s Sean Murphy near the end of Spring Training ‘21.

That pectoral injury limited Jiménez to 55 games. He missed from April 1-14 this season due to a left adductor strain suffered while running out a ground ball.

White Sox manager Pedro Grifol mentioned pregame how Jiménez has really good hands, and it’s not a matter of him catching the ball. Jiménez feels more connected to the game doing more than just hitting. But it’s a matter of the team protecting him.

“Just been too many injuries that we have to kind of err on the side of caution with that,” Grifol said. “We’ve had our conversations.

“Once in a while you run into a situation like today, like we need it and I’ll play him out there. But for the most part, he’s our DH.”

His Sunday play in right became a necessity with left-hander Carlos Rodón (5-2) starting against his original team from Chicago. Grifol wanted to get catcher Korey Lee in at designated hitter, and he wanted to pair Martín Maldonado behind the plate with starter Chris Flexen (2-4).

While Jiménez was getting reacquainted with the outfield, Corey Julks put up a bit of a highlight reel in left. He homered off Rodón in the second and then took away a homer from Jose Trevino in the sixth, leaping over the wall to make a spectacular grab and becoming the first White Sox player to accomplish such a double since Luis Robert Jr. did it twice in 2023.

“Yeah, I saw, the ball was going to be close to the wall at least,” Julks said. “I was trying to get back there as fast as I could, feel for the wall and just try to make a good play.”

Rodón struck out Jiménez in their first Sunday matchup. Jiménez followed with a fourth-inning single back up the middle featuring a 111.2 mph exit velocity, per Statcast.

So the White Sox right fielder won one battle against his friend and former teammate. The Yankees (33-15) won most of the rest.

“Going up against your former club is a big deal,” Rodón said. “I definitely wanted to beat them.

“I'm sure they wanted to beat me as well. I know a lot of guys over there. There's some good players over there. So it was a treat to play against them."