Luis Robert is back.
Though if you missed the news of Robert’s return Monday night, you can be forgiven.
The center fielder’s return to the Chicago White Sox lineup was blasted off the front page by Eloy Jiménez, another recent South Side reinforcement, continuing his personal home run derby against the team’s top rivals. Lucas Giolito, too, dazzled with eight spectacular innings, bumping Robert to no better than third billing on the night he described pregame as feeling like his first day in the majors.
But truthfully, the importance of Robert’s return can’t be overstated.
Giolito provided a perfect example of what got the White Sox to this point: dominant starting pitching. But it’s what Jiménez and Robert did — while Jiménez rounded the bases a couple times with a pair of homers, Robert managed a couple hits and was on base thrice — that showed how much better this team can still get.
The White Sox have yet to live up to the preseason projections of offensive potency, thanks in no small part to the injuries that knocked Jiménez, Robert, Yasmani Grandal and Nick Madrigal out for months at a time. But after a weekend sweep of the Chicago Cubs and an 11-1 Monday night mashing against the Minnesota Twins, that offense has seemingly arrived.
“We tried very hard for four months not to think of how we missed them,” White Sox manager Tony La Russa said after Monday’s game, “but getting both those guys back has been some kind of reminder of what they can do to help us.”
Robert might not have arrived with a bang loud enough to compare to Jiménez, who has already launched five homers and owns a 1.144 OPS in his first 10 games off the injured list.
But that’s OK with Robert, who’s not aiming to swoop in like Superman over there.
"I'm happy for the way he's playing right now. But that, honestly, I can't take that as a measure," Robert said through team interpreter Billy Russo before Monday’s game. "I'm going to try to do my best every day. If I do good, or whatever the case may be, I'm going to be OK because I know I'm going to be doing my best.
"I don't see what he's doing as a measure, I don't like to compare. To me, it's just go out, play hard and do my best. If the results are better or the same or worse, that's OK. But I don't see that like a measure."
It wouldn’t be a shock to see Robert take time to get back into the swing of things, though two hits in the first game back already has him on a better pace than Jiménez’s 0-for-4 debut two weeks ago in Kansas City.
What will be interesting is to see if Robert is able to trust his legs enough to make the kind of “six-tool” impact White Sox fans have already grown accustomed to seeing from the outrageously athletic youngster.
He ran the bases well enough Monday to make it to second base on a pair of fielding mistakes by the Twins, including a dropped pop up in the first inning that did not go down as one of his two hits. On a fly ball to center early on, Robert made a falling catch but only after recovering from a stumble earlier in the play.
But considering he’s just three months removed from tearing his hip flexor, it’s worth paying attention to not how well he’s healed — obviously the White Sox wouldn’t have cleared him for action if he wasn’t physically ready — but how well he can adjust mentally, and how quickly.
"I'm, honestly, feeling good. Obviously not at 100 percent. But at the percentage that I'm at right now, I know that I can do a good job, I can help the team and I still can perform at a high level," Robert said. "I won't lie, I might still have a little fear in my mind, but that's going to fade out with the days and the games.
"Physically, I feel good. About playing every day or having some days of rest, I don't know. I don't know what is the plan. But I am feeling good and ready to play every day."
We’ll see if La Russa ends up writing in Robert’s name every day. That’s an obvious inevitability, but after how long? The South Side skipper has not been shy about providing days of rest for guys dealing with physical ailments. Robert could get the ease-him-into-it treatment, if need be.
But seeing Robert play Monday, La Russa saw the same kind of athleticism that wowed him in spring training, that’s wowed White Sox fans for a couple years now. And with Robert in that lineup over the next two months and into October, the White Sox can get really excited about what could lie ahead.
“He’s beautiful to watch,” La Russa said. “I’ve talked about it with Tim (Anderson) and Mookie (Betts), but Robert’s in that class. He’s just a really gorgeous athlete.”