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White Sox left fielder Eloy Jimenez chalks first one up to experience

Eloy Jimenez talks to reporters before the White Sox scheduled season opener against the Royals in Kansas City.
Photo by Daryl Van Schouwen

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — This is how Eloy Jimenez rolls. It was Opening Day, he had never played in a major-league game and he was thinking about being a star before his first one.

“I have dreamed about this day a million times,” he said before the White Sox’ first game of 2019 and the first of his career. “And I think it’s going to be special, that first at-bat.’’

Special? As it turned out, the only extraordinary thing was the feeling he had walking up to the plate, about a week after agreeing to a six-year, $43 million contract before playing his first major-league game. Going back to the dugout after striking out against right-hander Brad Keller?

Not so much.

When the same thing happened after his second at-bat, Jimenez was down but said he knew what was afflicting him.

“It was really good; I enjoyed it,” he said after the Sox’ 5-3 loss to the Royals at Kauffman Stadium. “But I was too anxious. And I think moving forward, I’m going to get better. I’m going to control that, and I’m going to adjust.’’

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After chasing sliders out of the zone his first two times up, Jimenez grounded out his third time up against Keller and had a chance to be a star with the bases loaded and the Sox down 5-0 in the ninth. Left-hander Jake Diekman hit him on his left big toe, though, forcing in a run and giving him his first RBI. He said he was feeling better at the plate, and while getting two or more RBI was what he had in mind, he did accomplish a first, albeit the hard way.

“I got an RBI,’’ he said.

“I wanted three, but God gave me one.”

A second run would score on Daniel Palka’s forceout ground ball to third base and a third on Tim Anderson’s single to left. But Yolmer Sanchez flied to right with the tying runs on base against Brad Boxberger, the Royals’ fourth pitcher of the inning.

Game over, debut over.

As it turned out, the ninth inning was the only thing the Sox had to take from this disappointing opener. Anderson at shortstop (throwing), Sanchez at second base (fielding) and righty reliever Dylan Covey (throwing) each made an error, and the lineup produced all of four hits. Keller, who was 9-6 with a 3.08 ERA last season, held the Sox scoreless on two hits and one walk while striking out five in seven innings, outpitching Carlos Rodon — who wasn’t bad with three runs (two earned) allowed in 5„ innings. Rodon allowed three hits and one walk and struck out six in his first Opening Day start.

“The way we played that last inning just shows you that we’re a team that’s not going to quit,’’ Rodon said. “We’re going to play every out like it’s our last out. Unfortunately we lost, but I was proud to see the guys stringing together some good at-bats against some good arms late in the game.’’

For Jimenez, it’s already time to adjust. General manager Rick Hahn alluded to that before the game.

“His baseball acumen and physical tool set are both extremely high, and he’s very well-equipped to make those adjustments when the time comes,’’ Hahn said.

“Eloy took some hacks and saw they’re not going to be giving in to him very easily,” manager Rick Renteria said. “So today was a great learning experience for him to know they’re not going to just give him cookies. He’s going to have to look, as a big-league hitter does, for mistakes out over the plate, and when they don’t want to give in to him, he’s going to have to take his bases.

‘‘First game at the major-league level, so he’ll have plenty more to improve.”