‘Next man up’ is White Sox’ motto heading into 2021 season
Publicly, the White Sox are saying what they would be expected to say: They’re deep enough offensively without Eloy Jimenez. Privately, they must be thinking that losing a player poised to ascend into All-Star company and a middle-of-the-order masher is a crushing blow.
GLENDALE, Ariz. — There is no getting around the magnitude of the loss of left fielder Eloy Jimenez.
Publicly, White Sox teammates, coaches and front-office voices are saying what they would be expected to say: The Sox are deep enough offensively even without Jimenez and have a good enough pitching staff to forge ahead and still be a postseason team.
‘‘Next man up,’’ as Opening Day starter Lucas Giolito said.
Privately, they must be thinking that losing a player poised to ascend into All-Star company and a middle-of-the-order masher who hits for average and power is a crushing blow.
Jimenez wasn’t forgotten Sunday, his red batting glove hanging out of first baseman Jose Abreu’s back pocket. He won’t be forgotten all season long.
With Jimenez, many viewed the Sox as the team to beat in the American League Central and many saw them as the best team in the AL. Without him, Billy Hamilton might be getting more reps in left field than anyone imagined a month ago.
‘‘That’s a big blow, no way around that,’’ Giolito said. ‘‘I think we have that mentality [that] injuries are going to happen. Things out of our control are going to happen.
‘‘It’s like, what do we do now? Next man up. We have that culture in our clubhouse where we are going to support each other. We are all going to fight and do everything we can. It really sucks to lose Eloy for these next X amount of months, [but] we have guys for that role, and it’s just more motivation.’’
Andrew Vaughn, a first baseman by trade, played left for the second time in three days Sunday, an indication the Sox seriously are considering using him there quite a bit. And Vaughn again wasn’t a hazard out there, catching a routine fly and getting the ball into second base on a double.
The Sox also will rely more on a staff that features four pitchers who finished among the top 10 in AL Cy Young voting last season. A rotation of Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Lance Lynn, Dylan Cease and Carlos Rodon, which has a combined 2.24 ERA this spring, and a bullpen touted as one of the best in baseball looks very good, even if it’s a bit short on depth.
And the Sox can be stronger defensively — if La Russa chooses them to be — by playing Adam Engel, who is working his way back from a strained hamstring, or Leury Garcia in left.
‘‘The only place you can look at is left field,’’ La Russa said. ‘‘Center field, right field, all four infield spots, catcher [are good]. . . . Whether it’s Andrew or who plays left field, they’ll hold their own. So I think it’s a contender kind of defense. Talk is cheap, but that’s what I think.’’
After six weeks of spring training, during which the Sox lost reliever Jimmy Cordero to Tommy John surgery, Engel for the first couple of weeks and Jimenez, they open the season on the road Thursday against the Angels.
‘‘The definition of how ready we are comes Thursday night, when the other side is trying to beat you,’’ La Russa said. ‘‘I would not change anything about the effort level of the club [or] the attention to the practices. Nobody’s been half-stepping it. No excuses.
‘‘The weather has cooperated. We generated a lot of playing time. Lately we’ve been more competitive, so that’s more fun. But there’s a lot of talent.
‘‘In this game, you have to execute plays, pitches [and] at-bats, and I think we are a team that’s learning. But we are fast learners.’’