Not much can take away from the buzz of Opening Day. Every year, the promise of summer is mixed with the joy of what is, essentially, a kid’s game, as long as you’re willing to ignore the fact that 5-year-olds don’t have contract disputes.
No, Opening Day is almost always all good, especially this year, especially for the White Sox and especially with a pandemic that won’t seem to let go of us. More relief is always welcome on the COVID-19 front. And with this team, there’s not just the anticipation of the first game of the season but the hope for a deep run in the playoffs.
Somewhere in there, though, is the bummer of left fielder Eloy Jimenez’s chest injury, which necessitated surgery Tuesday to repair a torn pectoral tendon, which will require five to six months to heal before he can play again.
Jimenez is one of the many talented cogs in the Sox’ machine, but it’s going to be a challenge to replace the kind of production he put up in 55 games during a pandemic-shortened 2020: a .296 average, 14 home runs and 41 RBI. Veteran Leury Garcia will get the Opening Day start in left against the Angels on Thursday night in Anaheim, California.
Jimenez was injured in a spring-training game last week while trying to rob Oakland’s Sean Murphy of a home run. Sox first baseman Jose Abreu said he cried after learning of the severity of Jimenez’s injury, knowing the role the 24-year-old plays on the field and in the clubhouse. I’m sure the tears had some therapeutic value in the moment, but they can’t loiter. Not with the Angels waiting and not with so much anticipation on the South Side for a big season.
The Sox are built for this kind of body blow, built to absorb something like this. There’s talent all across the roster, and, hypothetically, at least, the other cards in the team’s deck should be able to help fill the Jimenez-sized hole in the lineup. It’s what good teams do when a player or two is slumping. Others pick up their games while teammates wage war with their hitting or pitching demons.
You’re right, Jimenez’s injury isn’t a slump. It’s a five- to six-month kick in the teeth. And, no, you can’t replace everything that Jimenez is — hitter, motivator, life of the party . . . OK, maybe not great left fielder. But the lineup around him has the talent to take the edge off his absence: Abreu, the reigning American League MVP; Tim Anderson, the 2019 AL batting champion who hit .322 last season; masher of baseballs Luis Robert; Yoan Moncada, who seems primed to have a bounce-back season after a poor 2020; and Yasmani Grandal, a 2019 All-Star.
Andrew Vaughn, the Sox’ 2019 first-round pick, also will get a shot at playing left field this season. He hasn’t played above Class A, which might seem like a giant red flag. But it’s not as if the Sox are a rock band that asks the audience if anyone out there can keep a beat because the drummer has passed out onstage. Vaughn can play baseball. He was the third overall pick in the ’19 draft. Let’s hope it will be fun to find out how that translates at the big-league level.
The alternative is more of Abreu’s tears, and how much fun is that?
Maybe Jimenez will get an opportunity to be the conquering hero just in time for the playoffs. And perhaps earlier than that.
“There’s a chance, certainly, that he beats that traditional time frame for this type of injury of five to six months,” Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. “But quite candidly, no one’s going to know that for at least 12 weeks until he’s completed the healing process and the rehabilitation side of this injury.”
Until then, the Sox simply have to put their collective shoulder down and barrel ahead. “Simply’’ doesn’t mean “simple,’’ of course. You’re not supposed to replace a 2020 Silver Slugger without missing a beat. There are supposed to be hardships involved.
But have you seen the Sox’ rotation? Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Lance Lynn, Dylan Cease and Carlos Rodon. Pretty good. If the pitching staff excels, perhaps Jimenez’s injury doesn’t hurt the team so much.
It’s good to be spread thick. Play ball.