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Luis Robert hit a titanic, eye-popping grand slam in Minneapolis.
Then things got kind of weird.
That’s not to make light of what’s afflicting the White Sox’ center fielder, of course. But things remain relatively unexplainable, a week after Robert couldn’t make it very deep into last Friday’s win over the Twins. A really good weekend for a team that’s spent the season looking for that kind of really good weekend was somewhat marred by mysterious descriptions of Robert battling lightheadedness.
Rick Hahn kicked off his team’s second half Friday with news that Robert is going on the injured list. There wasn’t much more than that, though, with the GM informing that the lightheadedness and blurred vision that were bothering Robert last weekend are still bothering him this weekend.
The cause? Still to be determined.
“We have gone through a handful of tests in Minnesota, as well as Chicago, and at this point, his symptoms have not fully resolved,” Hahn said. “We haven’t been able to have the symptoms entirely resolve. Once they do, he’ll be back out there.
“It was more a problem of seeing from a distance, and in talking with Luis over the last few days (while the White Sox didn’t play any games), he really hasn’t been challenged in that regard, in terms of reading a ball off the bat. At this time, everything seems to have been more or less the status quo since he left that game.
“I get (that the situation seems mysterious). All I can tell you is I’m not sitting on any information at this time or keeping from you anything. … He’s seeing the right people, getting the right tests done. … Ideally his symptoms are fully resolved in the coming days, we ramp him back up, and he’s back when we start the next home stand.”
Fans can voice their frustrations over the White Sox being down another superstar player, especially one who had the loudest, longest hit in a weekend that saw a long dormant offense resurface in the form of a couple blowout wins over the division leaders. Certainly injuries have been among the biggest storylines in this disappointing season, one that even after a stretch of winning five out of six games has still yet to leap over the .500 mark for the first time since May.
But Robert’s symptoms – and the lack of explanation of what’s causing them – are a little more serious than the White Sox spending a couple weeks without their center fielder.
“You’re always concerned because, first of all, it’s health, and then it’s baseball,” Tony La Russa said. “It’s foolish to (say), ‘Ah, what’s the big deal?’ It is a big deal. Keep your fingers crossed, and more for him personally than professionally.”
All that said, the White Sox, sans Robert, will have to figure out how to keep the good offensive vibes going as they start the second half looking to chase down the Twins and Guardians. News of Robert’s IL trip was preceded by the return of Yasmani Grandal, who last played in a major league game on June 11.
Grandal fared well during a recent minor league rehab stint, slashing .360/.579/.600 in 38 trips to the plate across nine games. It’s that type of production the White Sox hope will boost their offense even further, with Hahn pointing to Grandal’s red-hot return from a month-long absence last season, when he went on an absolute tear in late August and September, posting an 1.154 OPS over his final 30 games.
Of course, whether Grandal can replicate such a performance remains to be seen. To this point, his 54 OPS-plus has made him among the least productive hitters in baseball. All the while, he dealt with knees still in recovery mode from offseason surgery that limited his time behind the plate.
But the team’s faith in “the back of the baseball card” persists, and whether it’s Grandal’s return or the continued play of Yoán Moncada, who has dealt with multiple maladies this year, Hahn said it will be on those now-healthy players to help power the second-half surge the White Sox need to achieve their sky-high preseason goals.
“Moncada being Moncada and Yaz being Yaz are kind of part of what makes this team go. So you’re not switching that out,” Hahn said. “You’re going to try to make that work, if they’re healthy, the best you can with those players because of what they’re capable of doing when they’re right. We saw what Yaz did last year when he came off the IL. He damn near carried this team for a little while. So I think pivoting from four- or five-win players midstream is probably not the strategy you want to follow.”
Elsewhere, there was news both good and bad on the health front.
Eloy Jiménez was out for the entirety of the four-game series in Minnesota after leaving a game last week in Cleveland with leg discomfort following a seemingly routine play in the outfield. He was back in the lineup on the other end of the All-Star break. While Hahn said Jiménez is likely to play the outfield in this weekend’s series against the Guardians, he might not when the schedule takes the White Sox to the spacious outfield of Coors Field for a couple of games next week.
Aaron Bummer, meanwhile, continues to rehab from a strained lat, with Hahn saying the team hopes the left-handed reliever can make his return to a big league mound this season. But Bummer’s lengthy absence has forced Hahn’s front office to make the bullpen among its top priorities heading toward the trade deadline.
“He’s starting to make some progress, and we do project him to return at some point. But that’s not guaranteed,” Hahn said. “So I would say bullpen’s probably the most obvious need (at the deadline).”
As with any season, health continues to play a major role in the White Sox’ fortunes for 2022. Accompanied by poor play throughout the first half, bad injury luck spelled a .500 record at the break.
But it didn’t stop Hahn from looking on the bright side Friday, recognizing that his team, despite the disappointment, is only three games out of first place and experiencing its best level of health since the spring.
Robert, right now, is the last major piece of the puzzle, at least when it comes to the lineup, that needs to fall into place. Because even with how poorly the offense has performed for much of the year – still ranking 24th in home runs and 20th in OPS-plus at the start of the day Friday – fans were still thrilled by the idea of what the lineup La Russa sent out against the Guardians would look like with Robert in it.
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