With each White Sox loss, the reward of returning from injury before the end of the season is offset more by the risk of aggravating that injury and adding more questions to an uncertain winter.
In the cases of shortstop Tim Anderson and outfielder Luis Robert, their comeback attempts don’t seem urgent as the Sox sink further from playoff contention.
After getting swept by the first-place Guardians this week, the Sox showed somepassion Friday night in the opener of a three-game series against the Tigers. Right fielder Andrew Vaughn robbed Javy Baez of a home run in the fifth inning, and AJ Pollock hit a two-run, game-tying homer in the sixth.
But catcher Yasmani Grandal’s errant throw on a steal attempt set up a sacrifice fly by Riley Greene for the go-ahead run in the seventh, and the Tigers went on to win 5-3.
Acting manager Miguel Cairo remains optimistic that Anderson — trying to return from a tear in his left middle finger suffered Aug. 6 — can rejoin the team before the end of the season, but two factors cloud his return. First, the Sox entered Friday seven games out of first place in the American League Central with 12 games left.
And although Anderson started facing live pitching this week, a minor-league rehab assignment seems questionable since Triple-A Charlotte’s season ends Wednesday.
“If he’s got to do it, he’s got to do it soon,” Cairo said before the game. “But let’s see what happens, and if the trainers come up with a plan.”
Cairo stressed he wants Anderson to return, but not at the cost of re-injuring his hand.
“You got to be 100%,” Cairo said. “But of course, I would like to see him lead off and be with our team at the end of the season.
“We got 12 more games. We got to finish strong, too. Just because we lost three in a row [to the first-place Guardians], that don’t mean we weren’t playing good, and I know those guys are capable of playing hard and playing good baseball.”
Robert, who was hit on his left wrist by a pitch earlier this month, didn’t start for a third consecutive game Friday, and the Sox might be destined to shut him down if he can’t play without pain after two at-bats.
He has started in only six of the last 24 games and has one hit in his last 28 at-bats (.036). The extra rest might be the final try to see if he can heal to the point of returning.
“He’s trying to see if he can go out there and do it without pain,” Cairo said. “He wants to play, and it’s not fun sitting on the bench and watching your teammates play. He wants to play.”
Inactivity during the stretch drive has taken a toll on the injured players, but Cairo doesn’t want them to come back and overcompensate.
“You’re going to be trying to do something with your hands or your stance,you’re going to create bad habits, and you don’t want that on Luis. You don’t want bad habits. He’s such a good player.”
Vaughn empathizes with Robert’s plight, especially after getting hit in the right hand by a pitch in late April.
“I felt it for two months after it happened,” Vaughn said. “But I had to go through it and strengthen it. I hope it gets better.”