GLENDALE, Ariz. — And with one futile attempt at catching a home-run ball beyond his reach, White Sox slugger Eloy Jimenez is gone.
Gone for most of the season, if not all of it, after it became know Thursday he ruptured his left pectoral tendon colliding with the left-field fence Wednesday in a game against the Athletics at Camelback Ranch. What the Sox called “shoulder discomfort” on Wednesday turns out to require surgery and a recovery period of five to six months.
Primed to follow up a Silver Slugger season with another big year, Jimenez had talked of hitting 40 home runs and would have been perhaps the biggest bat in the middle of a potent Sox lineup. He went down with seven days left before Opening Day.
“Obviously a difficult loss for us,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “An important part of our offense. And one that was a bit of a shock to the system.”
A shock to the system, yes, but to those who have watched Jimenez play the outfield, it was not a shock he got hurt. A subpar defender bent on showing he’s better than advertised, Jimenez has been injured in the outfield in each of his last two seasons. Now this, the worst injury of all, and just before the Sox begin a season in which they’re talking World Series.
After leading American League rookies with 31 homers, 79 RBI ad 240 stolen bases in 2019, Jimenez, 24, batted .293/332/.559 with 14 homers and 41 RBI in 55 games last year.
“I’m sure none of our opponents are saying, ‘Oh, what a bad break,’ ” manager Tony La Russa said. “They’re all saying, ‘It happens to everybody — hang with it.’ So we’re going to hang with it.”
Hahn wasn’t ruling out Jimenez — a fast healer with his multiple past injuries — returning by September.
In the meantime, the Sox will look to internal options, a challenge heightened by Adam Engel’s hamstring injury. Hahn declined to comment on options outside the organization — free agent Yoenis Cespedes, to name one.
“We all know, for the course of the season, that depth is going to be tested,” Hahn said. “Baseball gods sometimes have some cruel twists in mind for you, and this is one that we just have to deal with.”
One possibility in left field is Andrew Vaughn, a first baseman who’s expected to open the season as the designated hitter. He worked in left field at the Sox’ alternate training site last season and has taken fly balls at camp this spring. He’ll start in left when the Sox play the Brewers on Friday.
An outfield of Leury Garcia in left, Luis Robert in center and Adam Eaton in right is the most likely Opening Day trio, it would seem. Billy Hamilton and Nick Williams are also trying to make the team. Engel will return in April.
None of them could have made a play on the homer by Sean Murphy that Jimenez leaped for Wednesday, his left arm hanging over the fence for a moment before he came back down. The tear, more common in football, likely occurred on impact.
Jimenez previously was hurt colliding with teammate Charlie Tilson in Kansas City in 2019 (elbow) and colliding with the fence (concussion protocol) against the Twins last July at Guaranteed Rate Field. He also sprained his foot running the bases late last season, missing most of the wild-card series against the A’s.
This injury only adds ammunition for those who believe Jimenez should be confined to the safety of the dugout as a designated hitter.
“It’s unfortunate because the kid has worked hard on the defense, and he was trying to make a play, and that’s what cost him,” Hahn said. “You don’t want to take that desire out of him to make plays, but at the same time, he understands he’s far more valuable letting that ball fall in for a home run.”