MINNEAPOLIS — It took a ruptured pectoral tendon, but the thing folks have long asked about Eloy Jiménez appears to be approaching reality.
"There’s legitimate reasons to think of DH'ing him a lot," Chicago White Sox manager Tony La Russa said Wednesday.
Jiménez has been sidelined since the end of spring training, when he suffered that significant injury attempting to rob a home run in a Cactus League game. His rehab has gone quite positively, though, it seems. A few weeks back, he was cleared to resume baseball activities at the White Sox training complex in Arizona. And as his excitement over a nearing return has grown on his Instagram page, so too has the excitement in the White Sox clubhouse.
"Eloy is in very good shape, very good spirits, too," White Sox first baseman José Abreu said Tuesday. "I told him since the first day when he started his rehab process, 'Hey, just take one day at a time, don’t try to rush. We need you, but what matters the most is for you to be really healthy.' He knows that.
"The path that he took has been a clear path. His mind is in the right place. Thank god everything has been working out pretty good. And we’re happy, very happy with how his process is. We hope he’s going to be with us pretty soon."
But here's the question: When Jiménez makes his return, where will he play?
Jiménez's long-term status in left field has been a recurring question mark for literal years now, his regular play there interspersed with glaring miscues and unmissable injuries. With the latest taking his essential bat out of the White Sox lineup for three-plus months in the middle of a season with World Series aspirations, it's necessary that the team reconsiders what has been, to this point, an insistence that he plays the outfield.
At least in the short term, it seems the White Sox have reconsidered a bit. And that could be due to a variety of factors, of course.
Certainly there's a desire to get Jiménez back healthy and keep him healthy, and limiting his time in the field could be a good way to do that, giving the White Sox a deadline-style acquisition with a thunderous bat joining the lineup for the stretch run.
Then there's how the rest of the White Sox position-player puzzle fits together.
Andrew Vaughn has done a remarkable job filling in for Jiménez in left field, and even though it was a brand new position for him when the regular season began, he's established himself as a reliable defender there. Similarly, there's now playing time available at DH after Yermín Mercedes' bat cooled to the point the team sent him to Triple-A Charlotte.
With Adam Eaton designated for assignment Wednesday and Gavin Sheets expected to pick up more playing time in right field — not to mention Adam Engel returning from the IL to man center field until Luis Robert returns from his own injury — things line up for Jiménez to get playing time as a DH rather than be a necessary daily presence in the outfield.
"That would be one way to get his bat in and not have to worry so much about his legs," La Russa said. "At the same time, the way Mercedes was going, the spot was open for a while.
"I think the depth we have now in the outfield allows us to think about Eloy maybe getting a lot of swings as a DH."
Obviously, adding Jiménez's bat to a first-place lineup will be a terrific way for the White Sox to keep their championship-level hopes realistic, no matter where he plays. But by plugging him in as a DH, they could maximize the effectiveness of the rest of the positions on the field.
In the end, it's about adding a potentially elite power presence to the middle of the order and attempting to make a run through the American League side of baseball's playoff bracket. And that, considering how grim things looked that day in late March, would be a gigantic deal for these White Sox.
"Wait until we get to the end, see where we end up, because it’s got a chance to be a hell of a story," La Russa said. "The key, in spring training, losing him and the way the guys responded, it’s been very typical (of what the White Sox have done throughout the 2021 season).
"It’s been very special, but if we don’t hit the finish line, it’s not going to be as good of a story."