White Sox slugger Eloy Jiménez to miss months with ruptured pectoral tendon

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Vinnie Duber
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Eloy Jiménez to miss months with ruptured pectoral tendon originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

What is supposed to be a dream season for the White Sox is off to a nightmarish start just a week from Opening Day.

Eloy Jiménez, who left Wednesday's spring training game with an injury after attempting to rob a home run, has a ruptured pectoral tendon, which will require surgery, the normal recovery time from which is five to six months.

It's horrendous news for the White Sox, who have exited rebuilding mode and prepare to enter the 2021 season with World Series expectations. Without Jiménez, meeting those expectations will become significantly more difficult, a gigantic hole punched in the middle of their batting order.

RELATED: Liam Hendriks fighting kidney stones as Opening Day nears

Though somewhat overshadowed on his own team by American League MVP winner José Abreu, MVP candidate and face of the franchise Tim Anderson and highlight-reel rookie Luis Robert, Jiménez quietly had one of the best offensive seasons in baseball during the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign. He won a Silver Slugger after ranking in the top 10 in the AL in hits, home runs, RBIs and slugging percentage.

Jiménez spent the spring showing off his omnipresent ebullience and laying out sky-high goals to mirror those of the organization and his teammates. He suggested 40-plus home runs as a realistic goal over the course of a full season and made it known he thinks he, too, can win an MVP one day.

Most of all, however, he wanted to avoid the kind of injury-induced absence he experienced at the end of last season, a foot injury suffered while running the bases knocking him out of the first two games of the White Sox best-of-three playoff series against the Oakland Athletics. Though he started Game 3, he exited that contest early. Recently, he explained that he was so upset that he couldn't be on the field with his teammates in those postseason games that he called his parents and cried.

"I was completely gone, I was crying," he said on the White Sox Talk Podcast, "because in the majors you play to make the playoffs, and the time you are there, you want to play. So sitting out, for me, was bad, it was hurting. It was really bad."

So it doesn't take too much guessing to figure out how Jiménez feels now.

Though he's been consistently adamant that he can be an all-around player and improve defensively — the White Sox sharing those opinions in definitive terms as recently as the early stages of this year's camp — this is the latest in an ever-growing number of injuries Jiménez has suffered while playing the outfield in his brief big league career. In 2019, he went to the injured list after planting his leg into the outfield wall, and he missed more time after crashing into a teammate in the outfield. Last season, he whacked his head on the outfield wall in the season's opening series, missing a small number of games.

Wednesday's injury, though, will end up proving the most significant of the bunch.

On a second-inning home run, Jiménez leapt at the wall and hooked his arm over the top of the fence. When he came down, he was hurt, and he stayed down while the trainer came out. As he left the field, Jiménez's left arm hung at his side.

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The injury will amplify calls for the White Sox to remove Jiménez from the outfield and install him as a full-time designated hitter upon his return to full health. Those calls have been consistent, as Jiménez has combined injury-causing plays with other misadventures in the outfield since debuting in 2019. Simple misplays, though embarrassing, would be relatively excusable, given the impact of Jiménez as a hitter, but if his continued presence in the field keeps him from playing at all, as it now has, the White Sox have something to think about, to say the least.

In the meantime, the White Sox will have to figure out how to replace one of their biggest bats. That's not going to be easy and probably puts an even greater focus on what Andrew Vaughn can do in his rookie season as the team's everyday DH, as well as what sort of load Yoán Moncada and Robert can carry after their respective struggles in 2020. A stacked South Side lineup, the AL's most powerful a season ago, is less stacked than it was when the sun came up Wednesday.

Hahn mentioned at the outset of spring training that he expected to have the financial ability to make a trade-deadline addition, if need be. While that might have originally been a logical way to make a midseason addition to the pitching staff, perhaps, should it be necessary, those resources would be best used adding a bat to help make up for Jiménez's absence. We'll see.

In left field, fill-in duties figure to fall to Adam Engel and Leury García, though García will be the only one of the pair ready for Opening Day. Engel is sidelined with his own injury, a hamstring strain that's expected to keep him out for at least a couple weeks. When Engel returns, he might get something more akin to the everyday opportunity some fans were advocating he receive in place of offseason addition Adam Eaton in right field.

It's not like the White Sox are eliminated from championship contention before Opening Day, and they had one of the game's best lineups a year ago despite down years from key players like Moncada and Yasmani Grandal, not to mention a severe Robert slump that lasted much of the final month of the regular season.

But Jiménez was expected to be an incredible presence in the middle of the batting order, and he was showing it this spring, with a .319/.360/.532 slash line to go along with a couple homers and 11 RBIs in 47 Cactus League at-bats. That's some kind of weapon being yanked out of the lineup, and the White Sox will have to soldier on without his production as they chase a championship in 2021.

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