Staying out of harm’s way tough challenge for White Sox outfielders

“It’s really difficult to hold back a little bit, especially in the outfield,” center fielder Luis Robert said.

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White Sox outfielders Eloy Jimenez (74), Luis Robert (88) and Adam Engel celebrate after a game against the Royals in 2020.

White Sox outfielders Eloy Jimenez (74), Luis Robert (88) and Adam Engel celebrate after a game against the Royals in 2020.

Charlie Riedel/AP

GLENDALE, Ariz. — It was a year ago when it happened, all so unnecessarily, it seemed.

During a Cactus League game at Camelback Ranch, left fielder Eloy Jimenez leaped on the warning track, stretching his glove over the fence with no chance of catching a home run sailing well over his head. Jimeneztore his left pectoral muscle and missed the first 99 games of the regular season.

Jimenez wants to do well in left field. Luis Robert wants to do great in center. The competitor in them prevents them from being overly cautious.

On Sunday, right fielder Andrew Vaughn was injured making a -diving catch in right-center field, laying out and hitting the turf with a hard flop.

In games this spring, Robert has banged into a wall attempting to make a catch and dived head-first trying to snatch a sinking line drive. There have been sliding attempts, too. If Robert gets up slowly, all eyes are on a player some view as an MVP candidate, if not this year, then sometime soon.

“It’s really difficult to hold back a little bit, especially in the outfield,” Robert said Sunday through translator Billy Russo. “I can do it running the bases, but in the outfield when you have to react, it’s tough. It’s very, very difficult for me to manage that reaction. That’s something I have to learn, but it’s difficult to do.”

Jimenez played 55 games last season, and Robert, who tore his right hip flexor running out a grounder in May, played in 68. -Yasmani Grandal (knee) played in 93. Those were the longest stays on the injured list the Sox overcame in a 93-win, division-winning season. Now it appears Vaughn will be sidelined.

With eight spring games left before Opening Day on April 8, the thing general manager Rick Hahn and manager Tony La Russa care about most is the Sox staying healthy. Until Vaughn went off on a cart, they had done that.

Jimenez has flopped his 6-4, 240-pound frame into nets and the first row of seats at Guaranteed Rate Field. In April 2019, he sprained his right ankle colliding with the wall in a game against the Tigers. The following July, he got tangled up with center fielder Charlie Tilson and sprained his right elbow. Jimenez is far from the Gold Glover that -Robert is, but it’s not for lack of trying.

“Being smarter, but not stopping playing hard,” he said last week. “Because if I stop playing hard, I’m going to be a DH, and that’s what I don’t want. So I learned more about taking care of me, but [I’ll be] playing hard like always.”

There have been no risky attempts by Jimenez in the field this spring, and he shouldn’t have to worry about Robert charging into his space with over-the-top aggressive catches on routine fly balls as he has done in the past.

“At that time, I was trying to catch every fly ball in the outfield and probably went a little bit crazy doing that,” Robert said. “But I’ve learned that you have to let the other guys play, too, and just adjust. It’s fun they’re making that bobblehead.”

That would be a bobblehead of Jimenez stopping in his tracks in left field and crossing his hands as Robert steps in front and makes a catch. “I GOT THIS, ELOY” is inscribed on the bobblehead.

Before the Sox’ Cactus League game Sunday, Robert wasn’t ready to say “I got this” when it came to his feel at the plate this spring. But he hit two home runs to right-center field, his second and third homers in two games, against left-handers Andrew Heaney and Garrett Cleavinger. So maybe he is now.

“I still have enough time to get ready for Opening Day and my swing, my real swing,” he said. “My ‘A’ swing is going to be ready by Opening Day.”

That sounds good to Sox fans. But in a louder voice they’re saying “No more injuries before Opening Day.”

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