Yoan Moncada: With Eloy Jimenez out, White Sox’ hitters must stay in their lane

“It’s on us to try not to do too much” to make up for losing a force in the lineup, Yoan Moncada said.

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The loss of Eloy Jimenez’s bat in the middle of the White Sox’ lineup is hard to quantify. In any event, it’s huge, even for a batting order that doesn’t lack for depth.

Jimenez seemed primed to be that good.

“Eloy is tied for first with the best productive hitter we have on the team,’’ manager Tony La Russa said. ‘‘How do you replace him?”

Jimenez was set to bat fifth behind Yoan Moncada in La Russa’s lineup, and not having him there might cut into the number of good pitches Moncada sees, although Yasmani Grandal is no slouch, Moncada said, as protection. The temptation to put more on his broad shoulders must be resisted, though, Moncada said Saturday.

“Eloy is a big part of this team,’’ Moncada said. ‘‘He’s one of our keys. We are going to miss him. I wish him the best. But you know what? We all have to do our job.

“It’s on us to try not to do too much. We have to [hit] to our capabilities.”

Moncada felt good about a 3-4-5 punch of MVP Jose Abreu, himself and Jimenez. What wasn’t to like? Grandal, like Moncada a switch hitter who ranks second among catchers in home runs, extra-base hits and total bases and is first in RBI since 2016, will have to suffice if it’s him batting fifth.

“Grandal knows how to do his job, too,” Moncada said. “Whoever is the person who is going to hit behind me, I’m going to get good protection. I’m not concerned about that.”

Moncada, 100% healthy after battling through the effects of the coronavirus last season, has reached base in 17 consecutive Cactus League games. He tripled, doubled and singled against the Rockies on Saturday, raising his spring hitting line to .333/.448/.583 with seven doubles, a homer and a triple.

La Russa praised Moncada’s work habits and his desire to play Saturday after he fouled a pitch off his leg Friday.

“It tells a lot about where his head is, and it’s in a great place for us,” La Russa said.

“He’s locked in.”

Outfield picture

Leury Garcia was slated to start in left field but was scratched for precautionary reasons for general shoulder soreness. Billy Hamilton started in his place.

If it’s a decision between Hamilton and Nick Williams for a roster spot, “it will be a very tough call,” La Russa said.

“They both showed what they can do; both have played very well,” La Russa said.

“But Billy has put on a show himself.”

Hamilton, 33, who has 305 career stolen bases, is a light hitter (3-for-18 this spring with eight walks), but he brings energy and speed to the outfield and has been a nuisance on the basepaths.

La Russa said Andrew Vaughn, who did not play Saturday, is more than a possibility to see time in left field.

“He’s such a strong individual between the ears that he’s ready to do it,” La Russa said. 

“[On Friday], they hit him one [fly] ball. He timed it, and he caught it routine like it was. I think it’s definitely an option.”

Sox 8, Rockies 2

Giolito fans 9 in last tuneup

Aside from encountering some command issues in his last full inning, Lucas Giolito looked locked in and ready for his second Opening Day start Thursday.

Giolito struck out nine in 5 ²/³ scoreless innings, walked three and allowed two hits. In six Cactus League starts over 23 innings, Giolito (1.17 ERA) struck out 30, walked 10 and allowed 10 hits.

“The big goal was to improve that slider, use it more, and we accomplished that,” Giolito said of his third-best pitch. “Another goal was to develop my relationship with [catcher] Yasmani [Grandal]; we accomplished that. Treated today like a regular-season start, and it was a good one. I feel very prepared and ready for the season to begin.”

Abreu has last word

A fan yelled, “You suck!” at reigning MVP Jose Abreu while he was standing in the on-deck circle in the first inning, to which Abreu, shaking his head, turned around toward the fan, dropped his bat and lowered his open palms as if to say, ‘‘Why?’’ Moments later, Abreu drove in the first run with a single. He later homered, prompting Sox fans to taunt the unruly fan with “MVP” chants.

After playing nine full innings against the Brewers on Friday in Phoenix, Abreu went back to the Sox’ complex and hit for an hour.

“Abreu, he’s on another level; that’s why he’s our leader,” third baseman Yoan Moncada said. “Just how he handles himself and how hard he works.”

Winning ways

With two games left in Arizona on Sunday and Tuesday, the Sox (11-11-5) are 10-3-2 over their last 15. Tim Anderson extended his hitting streak to six games with two hits, including a double, raising his average to .309, and Moncada (.333) extended his on-base streak to 17 games with a single, double and triple.

On deck

Diamondbacks at Sox, 3:05 p.m. Sunday, Glendale, NBCSCH, 1000-AM, TBA vs. Dallas Keuchel. Sox are off Monday before the last game of the spring Tuesday at the Rockies.

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