CLEVELAND – Baseball has not been all fun and games for outfielder Charlie Tilson. But maybe things are starting to turn his way.
The New Trier grad thought he was living out a childhood dream when the White Sox, the team he grew up rooting for, traded left-handed reliever Zach Duke for him July 31, 2016. At the time, Tilson became the Sox’ No. 5 prospect per MLB Pipeline and was immediately promoted to the Sox’ 25-man roster and starting lineup, but a cruel thing happened to him on the way to a storybook beginning on the South Side.
Tilson tore his hamstring in the Comerica Park outfield grass, digging hard trying to make a running catch in a game against the Tigers two days after the trade. He needed surgery, and it marked the beginning of a prolonged battle with injuries to his lower half. While rehabbing the following spring, he suffered a stress reaction in his right foot, the first of two. Then he broke a bone in his right ankle and did not play a game in 2017.
How could the forces of baseball be so cruel?
“It was tough,” Tilson said. “Getting over that was a tall task and then not just that, but getting back to where I was really producing at the level I wanted to. It didn’t come as easy as I would have liked. I feel strong this year. I feel like I’m off to a great start and definitely feeling as productive as ever.”
In three games since getting called up from Class AAA Charlotte Monday, Tilson has five hits in 11 at-bats including a double, two stolen bases and three runs scored. In the Sox’ 5-3 loss to the Indians, he singled twice and scored ahead of Tim Anderson on Ryan Cordell’s two-run, game-tying single in the seventh inning after Jose Abreu’s ninth homer against righty Shane Bieber had produced the Sox’ first run.
The Indians (19-16), though, won it on Jose Ramirez’ walk-off homer against Kelvin Herrera with two outs in the ninth, their first win after the Sox (16-19) took the first two games of the series. The series concludes Thursday, and Tilson figures to be in the starting lineup again.
“I just want him to settle in,” manager Rick Renteria said.
Tilson looks physically stronger now than last season, when worked his way back to the majors in and hit a respectable .264 with a double and triple in 41 games. He opened this season at Charlotte where he opened eyes with these numbers: a hitting line of .333/.396/.475 with one home run, two triples, seven doubles, 19 RBI, and three stolen bases in 25 games.
Gradually regaining the strength in his legs and working with new Charlotte hitting coach Frank Menechino did wonders, Tilson said.
“I feel as dangerous as I really ever have in my career at the plate right now,” Tilson said.
“Just trying to stick with it and hopefully carry it up here.”
Plopped into the lineup at the start of the Sox’ seven-game road trip, Tilson was instantly productive. He has played all three outfield positions and madea diving catch in the ninth inning of a 2-0 victory Tuesday.
It appeared as though he would play another key role in a possible third straight win against the Tribe, who would not be denied in the ninth Wednesday. After lefty Jace Fry struck out Jason Kipnis with a runner on for the second out, Renteria went to right-hander Kelvin Herrera, who had held Ramirez to 1-for-10 hitting in his career.
“I just fell behind in the count (3-1) and wanted to throw my best pitch there, the fastball,” Herrera said. “I left it up in the middle, paid the price.”
Reynaldo Lopez allowed three runs over six innings but wasn’t pleased, allowing nine hits and a walk and striking out two.
“Too many hits with two strikes,” Lopez said. “That can’t happen.”