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Tim Anderson, with shoulder still on mend, spends birthday moonlighting as White Sox’ second baseman
Tim Anderson is the White Sox’ shortstop. He has not been moved to second base.
That’s important to lead with considering Anderson did play second base Friday night, spending his 30th birthday playing a position other than shortstop for the first time in his major league career.
Anderson didn’t start the afternoon as part of the White Sox’ starting lineup for their series-opening game against the visiting Red Sox, a nagging shoulder injury seemingly sending him to a fifth straight missed start.
But something changed during pregame work, and rather than simply send out a tweet announcing a lineup change, Pedro Grifol called us reporter types back so he could delve into the situation — mostly because there was plenty of room for misinterpretation with a player who has struggled offensively and defensively this season.
Of course, those struggles continued Friday, and though he drove in the only run the anemic White Sox offense scored in a 3-1 defeat, Anderson was hitless and made a costly error in the third inning, a pickoff throw from Lucas Giolito — who was spectacular with 10 strikeouts and one unearned run allowed in six innings — clanging off his glove and bouncing into no-man’s land in center field, the runner able to score the game’s first run.
“I just didn’t see it,” Anderson said after the game, “didn’t pick it up.”
Hours earlier, it seemed Anderson wouldn’t see any time in the field. When Grifol first met with the media, around 4 p.m., the latest was that Anderson’s shoulder could use some more rest. Earlier in the afternoon, he threw for the first time since coming out of Saturday’s game in Seattle. Grifol reported that Anderson felt good, maybe even good enough to play, but the White Sox didn’t want to push it in game action after working out the shoulder so rigorously. It was possible Anderson would get the “all clear” for Saturday afternoon’s contest.
But not long after, we were summoned back for news of a lineup change. Anderson, it turned out, was so intent on helping the team Friday night that he offered up his services as a second baseman. Playing there wouldn’t require the types of long throws necessary from shortstop. Short throws were OK for Anderson, from a physical standpoint.
So to second base he went.
“TA went out there (for pregame work). He threw, started playing, was taking his ground balls at short, and he brought it up to me where, ‘I can play second if we need it,’” Grifol said. “I asked him, ‘How do you feel with it?’ And he said, ‘I’d like to go over there to get in the lineup. I would like to be a part of this thing.’
“Don’t read too much into it. He wants to be a part of the lineup tonight. After the game, we’ll evaluate it like if he wasn’t playing, see where his arm is, and we’ll make a decision on where he plays tomorrow. All intentions are for him to go back to shortstop. This is about him wanting to be a part of this lineup tonight and helping us win a baseball game.”
It echoed Anderson sliding over to play second base earlier this year, when he was playing for Team USA during the World Baseball Classic, an experience Anderson said gave him “a lot” of confidence to play there Friday. Much was made of him finding playing time where he could on the same roster with Trea Turner, and he took a brief star turn as that squad’s second sacker, earning a heaping helping of praise from manager Mark DeRosa.
Friday, he got the same compliments from Grifol.
“He wants to be a part of this,” Grifol said. “To a man, we think we can do this thing. We think we have an opportunity to do something special. And he wants to be a part of it. There’s a lot of baseball left. … He wants to be a part of it.
“I think him (playing second base during the World Baseball Classic) makes him feel comfortable over there. He played high-leverage baseball and played it over there. He figures he can do it over here, as well. It speaks to his makeup, just that want to win. And he’s like, ‘You know what? I can do it. Just put me in the lineup, I’ll play second base.’”
In case Grifol didn’t hammer it home quite enough, this is temporary, potentially just a one-game thing. And that wouldn’t need hammering home if it weren’t for the way Anderson’s season has gone to this point, or his penchant for making errors throughout his career. Numerous times this season, Anderson has botched plays when the infield has been drawn in, adding to fans’ memories of misplays by the All-Star shortstop, and there’s another for the bank thanks to Friday’s dropped pickoff throw.
Whether it be because of those miscues or the fan base’s hopes of adding a star shortstop from outside the organization — or even from within; the team’s top-ranked prospect, Colson Montgomery, is a shortstop — there have been plenty of suggestions that Anderson be moved to a different position.
His athleticism and ability to make plays others can’t have kept him at shortstop, and Grifol intends for Anderson to return there once he’s able.
Showing that Anderson isn’t the only one to make errors at shortstop, Elvis Andrus was playing there Friday and made his own costly mistake, botching a grounder ahead of Giolito giving up a two-run homer to Rafael Devers.
Two middle-infield blunders directly led to two Red Sox runs — and a two-run loss for the White Sox.
Still, Grifol was adamant that the South Siders’ biggest problem Friday was their bats. The offense couldn’t scratch across anything after Anderson’s sacrifice fly in the third inning. Indeed, they had chances but couldn’t come through in any spot, even when the Red Sox’ defense pulled similar antics to the ones the White Sox’ gloves had earlier in the night, putting men on base.
“Bottom line is we’ve got to swing the bat. We’ve got to step on home plate,” Grifol said. “When you have this type of pitching, the positive to this is that if we start swinging the bat, we’ve got a chance to win some games.
“We have to swing the bat. We’ve got to string base hits together, base hits and walks together, and we’ve got to hit homers with men on base. That’s it, the bottom line. Today was a great pitching performance. We weren’t able to step on home plate.”
In that vein, one move that did stick was Anderson’s new spot in the White Sox’ lineup. Grifol swapped Anderson, the team’s longtime leadoff man, with Andrew Benintendi on Saturday. That didn’t get much run, though, with Anderson making an early exit that day in Seattle. But he was back in the No. 2 spot when he was a late addition to the starting lineup Friday night. He went 0-for-3 with the RBI.
Much like Anderson never played anywhere besides shortstop as a big leaguer, he never batted anywhere but the leadoff spot during the 2020, 2021 and 2022 seasons, and every start he made in 2023 prior to last weekend featured him as the leadoff hitter. He only led off four times during the 2019 season, which he finished as the AL batting champion, with a .335 average.
Of course, his numbers this year are a far cry from the eye-popping ones he put up from 2019 on. He came into Friday’s game slashing just .249/.290/.292. Plenty of fans have called for his being lowered much further in the batting order than just one spot.
Grifol’s the one who finally pulled the trigger on a lineup change, but he doesn’t think Anderson’s doldrums will last much longer.
“He’s been so good at this level that he’s going to be good again,” Grifol said. “Everybody goes through something like this, everybody does, at some point in time in your career. … Unfortunately he had that injury, he battled through not being comfortable and kind of losing the feel of his legs and his body and all that kind of stuff. It hasn’t all been just strictly a not-performing type of adversity.
“I’ll say the same thing I’ve always said: I’m not really concerned. I think he’s going to get back in there, and at any time, he could hit .300 the rest of the way, he’s got that type of talent. I’m looking forward to him getting back.”
Anderson has long been described as an “igniter” for this offense, so perhaps it should be no surprise that his season-long slump and a season’s worth of poor performances from the lineup as a whole have gone hand in hand.
But much like Grifol isn’t going to forget what he saw from Anderson when he was in the opposing dugout as part of the Royals’ coaching staff, Anderson’s teammates aren’t going to forget what he did for this squad, either.
“Tim, his bat-to-ball skills are really good, so he’s like a spark plug for our offense,” Giolito said. “Tim’s a premier player in this league. I think that he’s just an adjustment or two away from doing what he does.”
Anderson hopes getting back to normal includes a very short tenure as the White Sox’ second baseman, that his shoulder allows him to return to his usual spot at shortstop.
“We’ll see how the shoulder keeps feeling and take it day by day,” he said, now on the other side of 30 years old.
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