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White Sox set ‘platoon’ plan to weather Eloy Jiménez absence, which they don’t think will last long

Vinnie Duber Avatar
April 6, 2023

This Eloy Jiménez injury is not like some of the others, not something that’s expected to remove the White Sox’ biggest bopper from the middle of the lineup for the next several months.

But fans reacted the same way as they have to Jiménez’s injured-list trips in the past.

And they weren’t alone.

“I consider myself a positive person,” Jiménez said before Thursday’s game, “but when I need to talk about all this, it (doesn’t put me) in a good mood.”

Yes, even Mr. Happy Go Lucky can get bummed out, a helpful reminder that fans are far from the only ones angered when their favorite team receives bad injury news.

But even in the same moment that Jiménez wasn’t feeling so great from an emotional standpoint, the talk Thursday – three days after he strained his hamstring running the bases in the home-opener loss – was about how good he felt physically.

The team’s initial announcement of Jiménez going on the IL included a return timeline of two or three weeks. Jiménez said Thursday that he felt so good, if he wasn’t on the shelf he’d volunteer to pinch-hit. That obviously won’t be happening, but Pedro Grifol talked of Jiménez’s activity Thursday, which included running and hitting during pregame workouts, in a way that makes it sound like his slugger’s absence might be shorter than initially estimated.

“I look at it glass half full, right?” Grifol said. “The work that he put in in the offseason put him in a position where he came in today, two days after (it happened), and he’s running and he’s strong and he’s hitting. That’s how I look at it.

“Things like that are going to happen. They’re just going to happen. It’s part of the game. It could be the weather, whatever the case may be. The glass-half-full side of me tells me, ‘You know what? Good job in the offseason. Great job in the offseason. You put yourself in a position where you’re strong to recover from these types of injuries.’

“I’m extremely optimistic, we are all extremely optimistic that this is not going to take long.”

We’ll see if that’s how things play out. Grifol said the White Sox will evaluate Jiménez on a daily basis to make the best decision on when he can make a completely healthy return to the lineup.

Until then, even if Jiménez’s stay is closer to 10 days than three weeks, the team needs to plug a Jiménez-sized hole in the middle of their batting order. In the first two days of Jiménez’s absence, those duties fell to Gavin Sheets and Jake Burger, the latter called up to take Jiménez’s spot on the active roster Wednesday. Sheets got the start as the White Sox’ designated hitter against a right-handed pitcher Wednesday – coming through with a pair of RBI hits in a 7-3 win – and Burger was in the starting lineup against a left-hander Thursday.

Grifol used the word “platoon” when discussing the duo Wednesday, so it seems safe to assume this is how they’ll be deployed moving forward. After all, that’s what the numbers say. Sheets owned a .736 OPS vs. righties last season, compared to a .464 OPS against lefties. Meanwhile, Burger boasted an eye-popping 1.039 OPS vs. left-handers, compared to a .663 OPS against right-handers.

“It’s hard to replace Eloy. Eloy’s a big, big part of our lineup,” Grifol said. “But when you have Gavin Sheets and you have Burger that you can platoon those guys, that’s depth. That’s the depth we were talking about in the spring and we’ve been talking about here at the beginning of the season.

“Unfortunate that Eloy’s on the IL, but we’ve got two guys that we feel together can make one pretty damn good hitter.”

Grifol acknowledged that Yasmani Grandal, too, could be an option to take some at-bats as a DH. In years past, the White Sox used Grandal in that fashion with relative frequency as a way to give him a break from his duties behind the plate while still keeping his bat in the lineup.

But there will be some attention on Burger, whose bat has long seemed capable of having success at the big league level, only his defensive ability – and the White Sox having the positions he has played locked up by other players – keeping him from a regular spot on the roster. But the depth he provides is incredibly valuable, as well, and he’ll have a chance to show it, even if it’s earlier than the White Sox might have liked to make an injury-related call to Triple-A Charlotte.

“I’ve learned a lot from Gavin Sheets (when it comes to DH’ing),” Burger said Wednesday. “Last year, I had a decent amount of opportunities to DH, as well, and I like it. I feel comfortable there.”

Though the White Sox have been through an awful lot of Jiménez injuries, Grifol isn’t wrong in pointing to this one as a regular, run-of-the-mill baseball malady, not the sort of thing that cost Jiménez so much time in the past. Jiménez feeling so good so soon is a positive sign, as well, and perhaps Sheets and Burger will only briefly be on fill-in duty.

In that regard, calling on Burger to help Sheets cover Jiménez’s absence was an inevitability – not specifically related to Jiménez but to the team, in general – and one area in which the White Sox were covered from a depth standpoint.

“As we say to guys, we don’t view the pitching staff as the 13 guys we break with, it’s really much closer to 18 to 22 that help get you through a year. And certainly on the position-player front, you need more than 13, as well,” Rick Hahn said Monday. “We feel good about the depth.”

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