Eloy Jiménez had a pretty emotional reaction when presented with the idea of becoming a designated hitter back in January.
Well, one of those words was probably uttered by a good deal of White Sox fans — and maybe some folks in the front office, too — when Jiménez suffered his latest injury from a misadventure in left field.
Or, as he put it Wednesday: “Wall 2, Eloy 0.”
“I’ve had two fights with the wall, and the wall beat me twice,” Jiménez said upon his return to the White Sox lineup. “Wall 2, Eloy 0.”
Thankfully, he missed just two games after crashing into the outfield wall while tracking a grand-slam ball off the bat of Jake Cave on Sunday. An inning after getting the green light to stay in the game, he exited with what the White Sox called light-headedness, then sat out of the team’s doubleheader Tuesday in Cleveland.
And so yet again, Jiménez and his defense are feeling the glare of the spotlight, not because of any errors or a glove so subpar it demands replacement, but because he can’t seem to go long without getting himself hurt out there.
Last year, he planted his leg into the outfield wall at Guaranteed Rate Field, spraining his ankle while trying to rob an unrobbale home run. After the All-Star break, he collided with center fielder Charlie Tilson in Kansas City, suffering an ulnar nerve contusion. The two injuries kept him sidelined for more than 30 games.
The White Sox need his potent bat in their lineup on a daily basis. Never was that more apparent than in the two games he missed Tuesday, when despite shaky starting pitching, the White Sox lost a pair of games by a total of three runs. And if playing left field is going to take it out of the lineup for significant amounts of time at a stretch, then there’s a very legitimate question to ask: Should he be playing left field for the long term?
“I still think it’s a little premature for me to determine trying to limit him playing in the outfield,” manager Rick Renteria said Wednesday, echoing what he’s said in the past on the subject. “I believe he’ll continue to improve. Injuries, he’s had a couple where he has run into the wall. Those are things we’ll have to work on to take advantage of his full, complete package.
“He’s kind of young to relegate him into a different position. … I want to make sure we give him the best opportunity and keep him on the field while helping him navigate outfield play so he can do what he needs to do at the plate.”
Give Jiménez plenty of credit because he’s worked to improve his defense. The same day he dropped that F-bomb when presented with the idea of becoming a DH on a more regular basis, he vowed he’d get better in left.
“It's going to be better. I put in more effort this offseason, too. It's going to be better," Jiménez told reporters at SoxFest. “I know it can be better. I wasn’t disappointed when Rick took me out of the game, I just said, ‘He’s not going to do it anymore because I’m going to put in more effort and I’m going to work hard at that.’
“This year, you're going to see a surprise.”
Certainly seeing Jiménez go slamming into the outfield wall on Sunday counted as a surprise.
Playing alongside Luis Robert should help, as the new White Sox center fielder is already taking his “I catch all the fly balls now” style to extremes. The White Sox want to let Robert go after everything he can, and Robert’s range should take away some tough — and perhaps even routine — plays away from Jiménez and allow him to take it easier in left.
But it’s on Jiménez to play smarter if he doesn’t want to be lifted for defensive replacements or moved to a different position altogether.
“I’m going to be working hard, and I’m going to be ready to play nine innings or longer,” he said Wednesday. “I want to be there for my team, and I don’t want to get out early.”