Tim Anderson's been back from the injured list for a few days now. And he's giving the White Sox exactly what they need.
For a little while there, the South Siders had not one but two Silver Slugger sized holes in their lineup. Eloy Jiménez is out for months recovering from surgery to repair a ruptured pectoral tendon. Meanwhile, José Abreu and Yoán Moncada have been slow to get going. While Yermín Mercedes has been a pleasant middle-of-the-order surprise and Luis Robert is heating up, the White Sox could use the guy at the top of the order who gets things going.
"He's our igniter," White Sox manager Tony La Russa said when Anderson came off the IL last Thursday. "We're a better and deeper lineup with him setting the table."
Well, Anderson didn't really bother setting the table Sunday at Fenway Park, deciding to clear it on the first pitch of the ballgame. He smacked the ninth leadoff homer of his career, not doing the stereotypical leadoff-man thing, perhaps, but igniting the White Sox all the same.
"You like that?" Anderson jokingly asked after the game. "I was looking for something in my zone. He came there and it was something firm, and I was able to stay through it and drive it to right-center. And it was able to get out. 1-0."
So it did the job of getting his teammates jazzed?
"So fired up, so fired up. Everybody’s going," he said. "One pitch. One run."
Anderson definitely has some pop, as his legendary bat flip will remind you. He hit 10 home runs in 49 games during the shortened 2020 season. That comes out to more than 30 over the course of a 162-game season.
But the White Sox are happy to have him back for everything he does, chiefly getting hits and bringing energy to the team.
"That's your leadoff hitter every day, right? So you're optimistic that you can get off quickly," La Russa said last week. "And then when you turn the lineup around and you have a chance to drive in big runs, there he is, right in front of the rest of the good hitters.
"There is the other end, the ... intangible. He is such a spirited guy, to his credit. Believe me, I've been through a lot of guys that they get hurt and they don't feel like they're a part of it and they're a little shy. Tim has been very vocal, very supportive of the team and cheerleading.
"That's that tangible (and) intangible about him. He's got that leadership and that energy and that desire to have us compete and win. ... When your best player sets the best example, you've got a chance to have a heck of a team."
Anderson had two hits in his return from the injured list last Thursday, then scored the tying run after a leadoff hit late in Saturday's game. After three more hits, including the homer, in the first game of Sunday's doubleheader, Anderson is 6-for-14 since coming back from his hamstring strain.
You want energy? You want hustle?
Anderson suffered the hamstring injury in the first place trying to leg out an infield hit in Anaheim during the opening series of the season. Sunday, freshly back from that injury, he busted it down the first-base line, legging out an infield single.
"I feel good," Anderson said. "Body feels good. I think the biggest thing is I did my work. I did my work to be able to do that right away, to come back. Everything feels good so far."
For the White Sox, everything feels good with their spark plug, their "igniter," back at the top of the order. They hope to keep him there for the remainder of the campaign. If they do, they've got a good chance of scoring a lot of runs and winning a lot of games.
"He's such an important part of the spirit of this team," La Russa said Sunday. "You know we've got a chance in the top of the first, or the bottom of the first, because he's always ready to take an at-bat. But when you actually put a point on the board, that's a bonus."