Surely, by now, White Sox fans can be expected to react to an Eloy Jiménez injury with a dramatic rendition of “here we go again.”
Jiménez has been a mainstay on the injured list about as much as he’s been a mainstay in the lineup since his arrival to the major leagues in 2019. The White Sox have bristled at Jiménez being discussed as “injury prone,” and their explanation of bad luck can be treated as reasonable.
It’s just that there’s been an awful lot of bad luck.
And now there’s some more.
Jiménez’s misadventures in the outfield contributed to numerous IL trips, but it’s reached the point where base-running is equally to blame. The White Sox designated hitter – a fresh title for 2023 that was supposed to reduce the risk of injury by reducing, dramatically, his time in the outfield – strained his hamstring going from first to third on a seventh-inning double Monday, landing him on the IL just five games into the season. He’s expected to stay there for the next two or three weeks.
Considering it was base-running that sent Jiménez to the sidelines for months last season – he was hurt trying to leg out a ground ball during an April game in Minnesota – the “here we go again” refrain is appropriate. It was running the bases, too, that stripped Jiménez from the majority of a quick three-game playoff series in Oakland back in 2020, the injury suffered in a late-season game in Cleveland.
Fans begged for the White Sox to pull the plug on Jiménez as an outfielder after his ill-fated robbery attempt in a spring training game wiped out months of his 2021 season. Limited mobility after last year’s leg injury finally forced him into a full-time DH role, and he simultaneously flourished at the plate, having one of the most productive second halves of any hitter in the game. After the team acquired Andrew Benintendi this winter and touted Oscar Colás as the favorite for the right-field job – which Colás eventually won – Jiménez was scheduled to be a DH, with perhaps only occasional time as a fill-in outfielder.
But not even that has prevented injury. Jiménez didn’t play an inning in the field during the season’s first five games. The White Sox, however, are already taking on that famed “next man up” mentality again, even after a mostly healthy spring brought hope that this season wouldn’t look like the last two on that front.
This is far from doomsday for the White Sox, of course, and a low-grade hamstring strain pales in comparison to the early-season injuries Jiménez suffered in 2021 and 2022. Pedro Grifol is optimistic that the injury won’t be a major one, that belief buoyed by the work Jiménez did this offseason to get himself in better physical shape, the same winter workout plan that led to him dropping 25 pounds.
“It’s one of those things,” Grifol said Monday, again illustrating the team’s stance that Jiménez is the repeated receiver of bad deals. “He worked hard this offseason. He put the work in. He put the time in. He’s in great shape. It’s just one of those things that happens, unfortunately.
“I’m really optimistic this is not going to be too long and he’s going to come back strong because he put the work in this offseason. He really did, and he looks great. He’s going to have a real good year.”
The White Sox have touted their own advancements in injury prevention, or “player availability,” as Rick Hahn has described it. But the caveat Hahn has offered at every explanation of the team’s offseason alterations in that department has been that no amount of preparation can wipe out bad luck.
In fact, Hahn made that very same statement just Monday, when reacting to a question about his team’s mostly healthy spring. Little did he know his example of a regular, run-of-the-mill baseball injury that was sure to happen would be so immediately applicable.
“At some point over the course of the season, somebody is going to pull a hamstring. It’s going to happen,” Hahn said just a few hours before it did. “However, the work that our performance group has done – the communication, the investment we’ve made in human capital and technology – has helped put guys in a position to maximize their performance.
“We have another seven months ahead of us, so I’m not going to quite do a victory lap, probably not even until November, if then. But so far, a lot of people are working hard and guys are in the right position.”
The right position or not, Hahn’s repeated insistence that bad luck was unavoidable hit home quickly for these White Sox. And it just so happens that the man in the spotlight is the same one who’s been there so many times before.
The book on Jiménez’s season is of course far from written in what is still the first week of this 162-game marathon, and if this is just a two-week absence, well that’s about as normal as an injured-list stint can get. Jiménez could still serve as the most potent bat in the middle of the White Sox’ lineup all summer long and still bash a number of home runs that will make every fan’s eyes pop.
But the biggest question surrounding this franchise building block isn’t whether he can hit. It’s whether he can stay on the field. And here’s yet another instance in which he’s been unable to do that.
Damning? Hardly. Bad luck? Absolutely. Bad news? Yes, indeed.
The same old story? Unfortunately for Jiménez and the White Sox, also yes.