White Sox outfielder Eloy Jimenez is set to begin a rehab assignment at High-A Winston Salem, the team said Thursday.
He could be back in a White Sox uniform in three weeks.
“The team is winning, and I feel happy I will be back to help the team,” Jimenez said Thursday. “They said six months but I’m back in three months.”
Jimenez has been out since he tore his left pectoral muscle leaping over the wall during a Cactus League game during spring training. He has been training at the team’s spring training facility in Glendale, Ariz. and has been declared fit to begin playing games.
“I feel better than I did in spring training,” Jimenez said. “I feel 110 percent, let’s say 200 percent. I feel normal. I can finish my swing one hand, two hands, whatever. It’s not going to hurt.
“They’re not give me a timeline — they’re not telling me when I’m going to be there — but I think I can be around the end of this month.”
General manager Rick Hahn recently said a 20-day clock would begin after Jimenez arrived at an affiliate.
“At that point, a 20-day clock begins,” Hahn said last week. “If everything goes smoothly in that time period, you’ll see them back in Chicago.”
Jimenez had surgery on March 30, and at that time a four to five month recovery period was expected. This puts him on track for a return that could conceivably come the last weekend of July.
“It’s been tough,” Jimenez said, “because I’ve dealt with a lot of injuries. But at the same time, it was good because my guys supported me and that was special through the work. I feel like they had my back.”
Manager Tony La Russa on Wednesday said Jimenez would likely be used a lot as a designated hitter when he returns.
“There’s legitimate reasons to think of DHing him a lot,” La Russa said. “That would be one way to get his bat in and not have to worry so much about his legs. The depth we have now in the outfield allows us to think about Eloy maybe getting a lot of swings as a DH.”
Andrew Vaughn moved to left field from first base after Jimenez was injured. The Sox have played 12 different outfielders due to injuries to Jimenez, Luis Robert, Adam Engel, Adam Eaton, Billy Hamilton and Jake Lamb.
Vaughn, who was projected to be the DH, has filled in just fine defensively. Yermin Mercedes covered the DH spot with aplomb in April but has since been demoted to Triple-A Charlotte. La Russa has rotated different guys since, including Jose Abreu, the now-injured Yasmani Grandal and Gavin Sheets of late.
“I can do whatever but I still don’t like to DH,” Jimenez said. “Keep that in mind.”
Jimenez’ poor defense lends itself to slotting him at DH, especially now that there is more wiggle room there. He has been injured in left field before, but said “what happened in that game, I can’t control.”
“I’m going to keep playing hard, that’s not going to change,” Jimenez said.
The Sox have also been without center fielder Luis Robert since May 2 with a Grade 3 strain of his right hip flexor. Robert was medically cleared to increase his level of baseball activities at the Sox complex on June 30, a phase of the rehabilitation process estimated to take approximately four weeks, or to the end of July. A rehab assignment with an affiliate would follow.
“I’ve seen him, he’s going to be back sooner than later, too,” Jimenez said. “We’ve been working hard to get back to our team.”
Jimenez called this period his spring training and cautioned that, while feeling 100 percent, “I don’t how I’m going to react when I start playing nine games back to back.”
La Russa admits to “playing around with different lineups” knowing he’ll get Jimenez.
“It’s part of the fun,” he said. “Wait until we get to the end, see where we end up. Because it’s got a chance to be a hell of a story. Losing him in spring training and the way the guys responded, it’s been very typical. It’s been very special, but if we don’t hit the finish line, it’s not going to be as good of a story.”