BALTIMORE – Tony La Russa’s way of running a ballclub is family first. One of the first indications of that to the White Sox was when slugging outfielder Eloy Jimenez went down with a serious injury in spring training.
A Jimenez jersey hung in the dugout when the season started. Jose Abreu put Jimenez’ red gloves in his back pockets. Everyone stayed in close contact from the moment Jimenez had surgery to repair the torn pectoral muscle through his rehab.
“It started the day he was hurt,” La Russa said. “He was bouncing around and hiding. He was really distraught. We had a meeting about going ahead without him, and we made sure he was in there.”
The message: His teammates were concerned for Jimenez the person.
Losing his Silver Slugger bat was big. But through the rehab, “we were going to do our darnedest to stay in contention until he got back,” La Russa said.
“So we made it personal, taking turns communicating with him. He feels like he’s a part of it and so does Luis [Robert].”
Robert is also on the comeback trail, from a hip flexor strain, and might be a couple of weeks behind Jimenez.
Playing actual games “is a big step in the right direction,” La Russa said.
“We’re also saying, ‘Be careful,’ ” he said.
Personable as always on his Zoom call with reporters Thursday, Jimenez was the life of the party, opening with a loud, “Good morning, everyone!” and closing with “Good bye. Hi mom!”
Jimenez said “sometimes it made me sad” to watch the Sox while he was out, just because he missed it all so much. His interaction with the 76-year-old La Russa has been “really, reall good,” Jimenez said.
“He helped me a lot. He was always there for me, he supported me and said, ‘Just be smart. I’ve talked to the guys, and they say it’s great to play for him, it’s amazing to play for Tony. I’m excited, I can’t wait to play for him.”
“In my interactions with him he was always pleased with the progress he was making,” La Russa said. “He sent videos. Always a big smile and he kids me about my age all the time, so nothing really changed.”
As for how long Jimenez will actually need to be ready to rejoin the Sox, La Russa said the temptation to rush him back must be avoided. The Sox entered Friday with an eight-game lead in the AL Central.
“The number on rehab is 20 days [maximum],” La Russa said. “If we were really patient and he stayed healthy, 20 days would be a lot of work.
“You just have to watch him. Because I know he’s going to be anxious to produce when he gets here and you want to be fair. You want him to have some timing, not be unfair with him asking him to be a big league producer before he’s ready. So we’ll play it by ear.”