Sports

“I’m the same as before” in White Sox

GLENDALE, Ariz. – There was something different about the 2021 season for the White Sox’s usually exuberant left fielder, Eloy Jimenez. And it went beyond the rupture of the left pectoral tendon that the Dominican suffered at the end of spring training.

“I didn’t enjoy last year,” Jimenez told MLB.com. “So this year is different. It’s a different year.”

Jimenez, 25, finished with a career-low .249/.303/.437 batting line after taking a Silver Slugger during the shortened 2020 season. Those 2021 numbers included a tough September and October, months in which he posted a .213/.289/.319 offensive line with just two home runs, four doubles and seven RBIs in 25 games.

The injury, which occurred when Jimenez jumped over the left-field fence at Camelback Ranch while chasing a homer, influenced him. But the change it brought about wasn’t about any lingering pain when Jimenez returned, as much as it was about the energy and hard work the Dominican put into months of rehab to return on July 26 in Kansas City and the resulting desire to make up for the time lost on the ground.

“When you’re rehabbing for most of the season, when you come back, you want to do things too well and put a lot of pressure on yourself,” Jimenez agreed. “I think that’s what happened to me last year. I tried to do more than necessary, and I was more focused on doing things too well than enjoying what I was doing.

“Now I feel like I’m the same as before. I enjoy what I do. I feel good. I feel normal again, and everything is going well. I feel like I’m back.”

Preseason numbers support Jiménez, who was batting .364 with two homers and seven RBIs prior to Thursday’s game. The Quisqueyan also arrived at training with half of his hair dyed blonde, something he had not done since 2016, in addition to exhibiting that fun attitude among his teammates, members of the media and people in general.

“Something new. Something different”, expressed a smiling Jiménez about the change of look. “I’m trying to do something fun.”

“He’s a guy who knows what he wants to do,” said Cuban White Sox first baseman José Abreu. “He is a guy who knows how to get what he wants to get. In these spring training, he has been working very hard. We are all now seeing the results of that work. Hopefully, he’ll be able to keep that and move it into the regular season.”

A happy Jimenez should translate into a highly productive Jimenez. In 2020, he hit 14 home runs in 226 at-bats. In his 2019 rookie campaign, Jimenez finished with 31 homers, 18 doubles and 79 RBIs in 504 plate appearances.

So it’s no wonder baseball writers like MLB.com’s Paul Casella chose Jimenez to win the home run title in 2022.

“I let people talk, you know, because I have to focus on what I want to do,” Jiménez said. “I know I can do it if I’m healthy, but that’s my goal right now. My goal is to help the team get to the playoffs and win the World Series.”

Is 40 home runs or even 50 shots possible for Jimenez? An amount as high as that would surely increase the pleasure level of the young slugger.

“If I’m healthy, I know I can do it,” Jimenez said, without specifying the goal of 40 or 50. “So, I don’t think about that.”

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