Eloy Jiménez was back in the Chicago White Sox lineup as the designated hitter Friday, returning from a hamstring injury that caused more anguish on the South Side than a block full of potholes.
Jiménez was looking forward to putting his injury-plagued past in the rearview mirror, but but suffered his first injury during the home opener April 3. His return provided him with a do-over of sorts, a fresh start for a Sox slugger with unlimited potential that has yet to be fully tapped.
“Kind of a little bit,” he said. “Right now I feel good. It’s hot, so it’s perfect.”
It was a perfect night for baseball at Sox Park, and the crowd was treated to an interesting game against the Baltimore Orioles.
Starter Mike Clevinger made his home debut, coming out of the bullpen before the game to the Kanye West song “Gold Digger.”
It was a curious selection for Clevinger, whom MLB investigated for several months over allegations of domestic abuse made by the mother of one his children. In March the commissioner’s office released a statement saying it would not impose discipline on Clevinger “in connection with these allegations.”
The Sox then made Clevinger the No. 4 starter in the rotation over Michael Kopech, assuring he would not pitch in the home opener. He dominated the Orioles over six shutout innings Friday, allowing one hit while striking out five and walking five.
A diving catch in left by Andrew Benintendi and a running catch of a foul pop up by Lenyn Sosa helped bail Clevinger out of his only jam in the sixth, and the Sox scored a pair in the bottom of the inning before he was pulled with a 3-0 lead.
But the Orioles rallied with four runs in the seventh and two in the eighth to hand the Sox a 6-3 loss, their third straight.
While the weather was perfect, the Sox’s 5-8 start entering the homestand against the Orioles and Philadelphia Phillies was imperfect to say the least.
While the Sox welcomed Jiménez back, they placed Yoán Moncada on the 10-day injured list retroactive to Tuesday with lower back soreness. Moncada was not made available to the media, but general manager Rick Hahn said it was “manageable” and despite “slow progress” would eventually heal.
“And then all his problems will be behind him,” Hahn said.
That sounded like wishful thinking, but Hahn is somewhat of an expert on discussing injuries, based on years of having to answer questions about them. “Precautionary” should his middle name.
Tim Anderson and Joe Kelly were healing well from their recent injuries, Hahn said, noting this was not a rerun of last season, as some fans already fear.
“You guys always hear from the most negative fans,” he said. “The fans I talk to never come up to me and say, ‘Rick, this is the start of just the same stuff as last year.’
“They seem to seek you guys out in the comments sections. Imagine that.”
It should be noted that this is Hahn’s 11th season as Sox general manager. The team has had a winning season twice, including the 60-game shortened season in 2020. Imagine that.
Hahn said he understands “the pessimism” and that they’ve talked since last offseason about being in “prove it” mode. The Sox made a lot of noise in spring training about starting new.
“We’re disappointed in how the start has gone thus far,” he said. “There have been times when the starting pitching was probably the culprit for keeping us out of games. There have been times when the bullpen (was to blame).
“Both of those two stepped up over the week in Minnesota. So it’s just really a matter of getting each element clicking at the same time. The simpler way of explaining it is we know we have something to prove and we know we haven’t proven it yet.”
With Moncada on the IL, Jake Burger could get some extended time at third base. Burger homered off Tyler Wells in the second inning, giving Clevinger a 1-0 lead.
“When I came up, I talked to (manager Pedro Grifol) and had a role set,” Burger said Friday. “It was going to be (Gavin) Sheets and I platooning in the DH role. Unfortunately, Yoán has an injury. You never want to see anyone get hurt. I’m just going to fill in in that spot. I feel good over there.”
Grifol declined to say how he would handle third in Moncada’s absence, pointing out that he was in the lineup that day.
“We’ll try to put the best club on the field every single night,” he said.
Ditto for Sosa at second base.
“We’ll do what’s best for the team that particular night,” Grifol said.
It’s only April, but prying basic information out of Grifol can be as difficult as washing windows with a Kleenex. Let’s just assume he’s trying to win every night, like every other major-league manager, and go from there.
In the other dugout sat Orioles manager Brandon Hyde, whose team has performed synchronized spitting drills during games and drinks water out of a beer funnel to celebrate home runs. Hyde joked it’s like working at SeaWorld with all the splashing. His Orioles look as if they’re having a blast while earning the reputation as the league’s biggest frat house.
There’s plenty of time for the Sox to turn things around and have the kind of fun that goes hand-in-hand with winning. Jiménez’s return should held keep the offense from going under water while Anderson and Moncada heal, and Luis Robert Jr. has looked like an early MVP candidate.
“That doesn’t surprise me at all,” Jiménez said of Robert. “It’s good, he’s been good. I just pray to God that we can stay healthy.”
Answered prayers might be the Sox’s best hope of avoiding a repeat of 2022.
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