Luis Robert is coming back.
The Chicago White Sox will welcome their starting center fielder back from a three-month injury-induced absence Monday, when they start a three-game series against the division-rival Minnesota Twins in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
"Evidently yesterday went well, so officially he'll be with us tomorrow," La Russa said. "Guys are fired up. We're all fired up."
Robert tore his hip flexor at the start of May, one in a series of significant injuries that forced long layoffs for White Sox starting position players, joining fellow outfielder Eloy Jiménez and preceding second baseman Nick Madrigal and catcher Yasmani Grandal in that department. It seemed like the large number of injuries might have derailed the White Sox plans to chase a championship in 2021.
But fill-in players helped keep those World Series hopes afloat, and now with Jiménez and Robert back in the middle of the lineup — and Grandal expected to join them before the end of the regular season — the White Sox could surge from contenders to favorites.
Robert obviously figures to provide a big boost, not just in the lineup but in numerous facets of the game, a "six-tool player" who can make an impact with his bat, his glove and his legs.
"Having Luis Robert here back, it's good," Jiménez said Sunday. "He's one of the best players we have."
As has been seen with Jiménez, who was briefly sidelined with a bout of groin tightness immediately following his return from a months-long layoff, Robert could very well need to ease back into big league baseball. He just went through a lengthy rehab assignment in the minor leagues, and Robert's game, more than Jiménez's, hinges on his ability to use his legs to provide speed and agility.
Jiménez has been slow to make his typical offensive impact, as well. Though he blasted a game-winning homer in just his second game back, he is just 6-for-29 since his return. Robert could potentially need some time to get reacclimated, too.
"As a player, as a competitor, everybody wants to do their best and produce. For (Jiménez and Robert), especially, they will feel that necessity and urgency to produce and do good," White Sox first baseman José Abreu said Friday through team interpreter Billy Russo. "It's on us to try to guide them and try to help them and just let them know, 'You are going to do good. Just take your time.'"
It remains to be seen what sort of roster tweaks will be made with Robert making his return. The White Sox outfield will be a crowded one, though everyone there has done well to contribute this season. With Jiménez and Andrew Vaughn expected to split time between left field and DH and Robert expected to resume his center-fielding duties, there will be fewer at-bats to go around for the likes of Adam Engel, Brian Goodwin, Gavin Sheets and Jake Lamb, as well as Billy Hamilton, who's currently on the injured list.
Engel's offensive success this season could make him the most frequently featured player in right field. But Goodwin has stated his case to stick around with a couple game-winning homers in the last week. Hamilton's speed is game-changing, and Sheets has impressed in his first taste of the majors, though he could be the easiest sent out to Triple-A Charlotte and returned when rosters briefly expand at the beginning of September.
Teamed with the splashy acquisition of All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel at the trade deadline, the White Sox will get a double whammy of a midsummer boost with the returns of Jiménez, Robert and Grandal. That is obviously huge for a team that owns the largest division lead in baseball and is hoping to peak at the right time, heading into October.
"We all know the quality of players they are," Abreu said. "This has been a really tough season for us as a team, especially in the offensive part. Having everybody healthy and playing the same time should be a very good thing for us, a plus for us, something that should carry us to the finish line."