Will Yasmani Grandal be recovered enough from his springtime knee injury to be ready for Opening Day?
His manager thinks so.
A day after the White Sox catcher made his first appearance in a Cactus League game this spring, the South Side skipper said that, blessed with good health, Grandal will have enough time to prepare for the season-opener in Anaheim in two and a half weeks.
"I think the break he caught, and we caught, is (the injury came) really early in the camp," Tony La Russa said Sunday. "This amount of games, if he can take the starts that are on the plan for him — not only as a hitter, as a DH, but catching — with his experience, he’ll be fine.
"The thing we have to look at is Mother Nature. Will she cooperate and keep him healthy? In two weeks, he can really get sharp by Opening Day."
Speaking after his three plate appearances in Saturday's game against the Los Angeles Angels — he was 0-for-2 with a walk — Grandal was hopeful but less definitive.
"I'm definitely not going to rush into things," he said. "I'm hoping I get the amount of ABs I need to feel comfortable. Right now, repetition behind the plate is probably No. 1. I could (not) care less if I start off the season hitting or not. I know the bat is going to come through at some point and once that happens, then it's a done deal.
"Being able to hopefully get more repetitions behind the plate, catching-wise, where I'm blocking and I'm throwing and I'm moving around and calling the game and seeing how the game is going along, I think that's No. 1, being able to start slowing down the game more and more and more."
Grandal twisted his knee in a running drill in the early days of camp and has been working his way back since. Though he's still been engaged with White Sox pitchers in bullpen sessions and live batting practice, he didn't see his first game action until this weekend, serving as the designated hitter in a back-field B game Friday and getting into a Cactus League game Saturday, also as the DH.
As Grandal mentioned, he'll have to start getting into games as a catcher if he wants to be ready to be behind the plate starting Opening Day.
"Just because I haven't been able to play doesn't mean I haven't been out on the field," he said. "I've been out to live BPs. I've been out to watch bullpens. I'm always watching guys throw, whether it's at home or on the road. I'm always going through games. I'm always trying to figure out what it is that they're trying to do and how we can get guys better.
"I don't think I'll be able to understand it fully until I'm actually in a game. There's a lot of variables that go on once you're playing and once you're in a game. You're trying to get this guy through an inning: How do we make adjustments? What pitch do we need to throw to make a certain adjustment? What location? Things like that and how he feels comfortable on the mound.
"That's why I was saying the more repetition I can get behind the plate is probably the most important part of it right now."
La Russa is confident that will happen. But the team has been very careful with its No. 1 catcher ever since the injury first took place. Initial word from the team suggested a brief absence, only for the White Sox to play a dozen Cactus League games before Grandal got into the lineup.
There's nothing wrong with that approach, of course, as Grandal is expected to carry a huge load at a physically demanding position in a season with championship expectations. That's what he signed up for, and it makes sense he and the White Sox would want him as comfortable as possible for as long as possible once the games start counting.
In the event that things don't run smoothly before the team leaves for Anaheim, however, there will be an even greater spotlight thrown on the already interesting backup-catcher battle between Zack Collins, Yermín Mercedes and Jonathan Lucroy. All three have received plenty of opportunity to show off — and plenty of positive reviews from White Sox pitchers — in Grandal's absence.
Though only one of them will win the job of backing up Grandal, any lingering effects of the knee injury could potentially open the door for greater opportunity, at least until Grandal's back to full strength or full readiness behind the plate.
"I think those guys have done a great job," Grandal said. "At the end of the day, whoever it is, we're going to go to battle. And if something happens to one of us, then the next guy up is going to have to come up and take that spot. The cycle kind of goes on and on and on.
"What I've seen so far from those three has been great. They grind it out each and everyday. They work at the little things, and that's what you want to see."