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.
Enjoying an eight-game lead on an off day Thursday despite a rash of injuries, the Sox (51-35) have been planning ahead knowing two of their premium players, Jimenez and center fielder Luis Robert, should be back in time for the stretch run and playoffs.
“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 had surgery on March 30, and has been training at the team’s spring training facility in Glendale, Ariz.
“I feel better than I did in spring training,” the 2020 Silver Slugger winner said. “I feel 110 percent, let’s say 200 percent. I feel normal. I can finish my swing with one hand, two hands, whatever. It’s not going to hurt.”
The maximum minor league rehab time for a position player is 20 days. General manager Rick Hahn recently said the 20-day clock would begin after Jimenez arrived at an affiliate.
“If everything goes smoothly in that time period, you’ll see [Jimenez] back in Chicago,” Hahn said.
“I think I can be around the end of this month,” Jimenez said.
A four- to five-month recovery period was expected following surgery. But he might be on track for a return that could conceivably come the last weekend of July.
Manager Tony La Russa on Wednesday said Jimenez would likely be used “a lot” as a designated hitter when he returns. Jimenez reiterated that he doesn’t want to DH but he might not have a choice.
“That would be one way to get his bat in and not have to worry so much about his legs,” La Russa said. “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.
The Sox have also been without 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 [in Arizona], he’s going to be back sooner than later, too,” Jimenez said. “We’ve been working hard to get back to our team.”
Jimenez said he’s about to start 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.”
So there are hurdles to clear, but signs have pointed up for weeks now, allowing La Russa to “play around with different lineups” knowing he’ll likely have Jimenez to pencil.
“It’s part of the fun,” La Russa said. “Wait until we get to the end [of the season] and 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, very special.”