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According to the White Sox, Eloy Jiménez has not experienced a setback in his recovery.
But weeks after surgery to repair a torn hamstring tendon behind his right knee, there has been a bit of a wrench thrown into his comeback.
The power-hitting left fielder is being removed from his current rehab assignment with Triple-A Charlotte and will sit out five days before getting back into minor league game action as he works his way back to the big league club.
Rick Hahn explained it Thursday as “normal leg soreness” for Jiménez, who has been out since crumpling to the ground running to first base in an April 23 game in Minnesota. Running is still the issue for him, the part of his game in which he feels discomfort, as he did running out a couple of ground balls in a rehab game Wednesday.
But while it’s not an unexpected part of his post-surgery life – Yasmani Grandal and Lance Lynn have been through similar surgeries and dealt with similar bouts of soreness in recent years – it’s enough to give Jiménez pause and force the White Sox to end his current rehab stint.
“You have surgery and you feel sort of a tear or a pulling, tugging, in the area of the repair, you freak out a little bit. It’s understandable,” Hahn said. “I do think it’s going to take a little time for him to trust it, just like any guy coming back from any injury.
“I don’t foresee, after activation, that being an issue for Eloy. Right now it is a little bit. He’s got to get comfortable with this and this process, and we’re going to take a few days to sort of calm it down and reset this 20 days so we don’t have to feel any pressure that, ‘All right, you don’t feel like your timing’s there, but time’s up, we need you in the lineup against Houston.’”
Hahn, Tony La Russa and teammates all marveled at how well Jiménez was moving around in the weeks following his surgery, and an erroneous report, perhaps a reflection of just how good he looked, suggested Jiménez would make a lightning-quick return to the big league team, blowing that six-to-eight-week timeline that accompanied his initial injury out of the water.
Before this slowdown, Jiménez was set to return right in that window. Now, his absence from a lineup struggling mightily to score runs will almost surely last longer than eight weeks. Of course, Hahn is always quick to remind that timelines are estimates, and we’ve seen players return well before those dates and well after them.
In terms of the numbers at this point, Jiménez will be required to sit for five days before starting a new rehab assignment, which can last a maximum of 20 days. Not only will Jiménez need to get comfortable with his how his leg will feel post-surgery, something he’s yet to master, he’ll also need to rediscover his rhythm at the plate so he can be an effective contributor for these White Sox – who obviously could very much use his services as they continue to float around .500 after a couple of disappointing months of baseball.
So will Jiménez miss another 25 days? The White Sox aren’t talking with that sort of concern, and that 20-day rehab window is just that, a window, something that can close at any time before the 20 days are up.
“We are fairly confident that we will be able to put him back on a rehab assignment as soon as next week,” Hahn said. “We don’t believe this is going to be a long-term issue.
“I wouldn’t call it a setback. It slowed us down. The hope was, when he originally went out on these 20 days, that we weren’t going to use all 20 and that we possibly would have him back probably not this homestand but on the road trip (through Detroit and Houston). Now that won’t happen.
“It’s not a new injury. It’s not a reaggravation. It’s part of the process. It’s part of the process that is slowing us down a little bit. It should not have any long-term effect on him other than slowing his return to Chicago.
“Two days ago, or before this most recent grab, Eloy was saying he feels great. The only issue is his timing at the plate. This could be a matter of how much longer until he felt himself at the plate. Hopefully we get him back out there next week, and it’s a matter of building up his rhythm.”
So how is this “normal”?
Well, per Hahn, this wary feeling of discomfort happened to both Grandal and Lynn. It’s just that they dealt with it earlier in their rehab, before going on rehab assignments, and got comfortable with it before they started playing in games. Not so for Jiménez. And that feeling, his search for offensive rhythm and the sand running out of his rehab-assignment hourglass combined to bring things to a bit of a screeching halt this week.
It obviously remains to be seen when Jiménez can be back in the White Sox’ lineup, and the team just found out how its best-laid plans with a rehabbing player can be altered along the way.
While plenty of focus will remain on Jiménez getting back to the South Side, it’s well worth wondering what he could look like once he returns. Hahn outlined that Jiménez will continue to experience the sort of soreness, the sort of discomfort, that is the reason for this current pause – a pause that, if it hasn’t been clear to this point, has as much to do with timing as with how that leg is actually feeling – once he returns from the IL. It’s a matter now of learning to live with it.
“We expect that he’s going to feel this, from time to time, over the course of the remainder of this season,” Hahn said. “But over time, it should not cost him extra time once active. This isn’t the kind of thing we foresee flaring up and, ‘OK, we’ve got to sit Eloy for five days.’”
Again Hahn pointed to what Grandal went through last year upon his return from midseason knee surgery.
“If you recall or noticed last year, this would happen to Yaz from time to time when he was active,” Hahn said. “It could be the kind of thing that you are going to see, Eloy at some point when he’s playing for us, pull up a little bit, test out his leg and get comfortable and, ‘OK, that’s the feeling I’m accustomed to feeling from time to time, but it’s not indicative of any sort of injury.’
“It’s something that for the rest of the season is probably going to occasionally feel a little odd to him, and he just has to get more comfortable with this. It isn’t a major problem but part of the process.”
Whether that makes Jiménez, who has dealt with more than his fair share of injuries in his brief major league career, tentative running the bases or playing the outfield? We’ll find out.
While the White Sox aren’t seeing this as a disastrous setback, it’s still less than ideal injury news for a team that’s been swamped with that kind of thing this season. And given how many holes there currently are in the team’s sputtering lineup, any further absence from Jiménez is at least somewhat damaging to any effort to emerge from this early-season malaise.
Another waiting game on the South Side.