In the early days of the 2021 campaign, Tony La Russa found the word to describe what Tim Anderson means to the Chicago White Sox.
"He's our igniter," the South Side skipper said in April.
Well, the White Sox are about to get their igniter back.
La Russa said Sunday that Anderson, who's been sidelined for a couple weeks dealing with a hamstring issue that's often been described as general leg soreness, is expected to make his return Tuesday, when the White Sox open a three-game series against the Los Angeles Angels.
"He's as good a shortstop as there is in Major League Baseball, whether it's defense or offense, his whole game," La Russa said. "We've been really fortunate. Leury (García) has been outstanding. When Danny (Mendick) plays, he makes all the plays. No disrespect to them. But Tim is one of the best out there.
"When he plays, it helps spark everybody. Now, he's doing it in the dugout as a cheerleader, but it's not the same as when he plays. Getting him back will be a big boost for us."
Yes, it's a big deal for the White Sox, who have searched for full strength all season long. Significant injuries to Eloy Jiménez, Luis Robert and Yasmani Grandal left the team without three of its most impactful bats for large swaths of the campaign. And recently, the White Sox have navigated their way through simultaneous injured-list stays for Anderson, Lance Lynn and Lucas Giolito.
But Tuesday will bring them the closest they've been yet, with Anderson and Giolito anticipated to make their returns on the same day. Lynn pitched Sunday against the Boston Red Sox. Even oft-injured outfielder Adam Engel is expected to return during the team's upcoming three-city road trip. With just a few weeks left in the regular season, the White Sox will finally see the roster they expected when spring training began.
Anderson, in particular, is as important as anyone on that roster. Not only is he one of the American League's best hitters getting things going at the top of the lineup, but he's a constant source of energy in all facets of the game. The face of the franchise, Anderson is arguably the most critical piece to the White Sox' championship puzzle.
As La Russa has pointed out when other players have made their returns from injury, not only does Anderson coming back give the White Sox their starting shortstop, but it lengthens their bench, too. García was quietly excellent while filling in for Anderson, with strong defense and a .365/.407/.519 slash line in his last 14 games coming into Sunday's series finale with the Red Sox.
But all eyes will obviously be on Anderson, who will be slow-played upon his return, La Russa promising an even more cautious approach to not overexerting the shortstop than the White Sox used when Jiménez and Robert returned earlier this season from lengthier absences. In other words, expect plenty of days off for Anderson in the final days of September.
"It'll be similar," La Russa said, comparing the team's approach to Anderson with how they handled past returns. "Going to be even more careful with Tim because of his legs, hamstrings, for one thing. It will probably resemble something like spring training."
It's all an effort to keep Anderson healthy, with an eye on having him feeling as good as possible come October, when the White Sox will need him to reach their sky-high goals.
But as Anderson said earlier this week in Oakland:
"When October rolls around, you don't feel nothing anyways."