How Sox will patch together outfield without Luis Robert originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
This might have looked like a doomsday scenario for the White Sox just two months ago.
They're hoping, of course, that Luis Robert's hip flexor strain won't be that, exactly, but the electrifying center fielder is heading to the injured list after suffering the nasty-looking injury in Sunday's game, compounding problems in the team's outfield with Eloy Jiménez still slated to miss months — and possibly the entire 2021 season — while recovering from a ruptured pectoral tendon.
We don't know the severity of Robert's injury yet, how long the White Sox will be without the Rookie of the Year runner-up, but we know they'll need to fill in for him in some capacity. How they're going to do that doesn't take much investigative work, of course, and several of the same reserves who have been deployed in an effort to plug the hole in left field will be shifted into double duty in center field, as well.
That means more Leury García and more Billy Hamilton, most likely, with Luis González expected to be called up from the alternate training site in Schaumburg to join the mix of players who can play center field.
In a cruel twist of irony, the injury to Robert means fans clamoring for more consistent playing time for Andrew Vaughn in left field will probably get their wish. White Sox manager Tony La Russa, who's been questioned for not playing Vaughn on an everyday basis, pointed to Vaughn as someone whose timely offensive improvement will be leaned on in Robert's absence.
But the big question is when Adam Engel will return, and unfortunately for the White Sox, it might not be soon enough to help quickly stabilize either of the outfield positions opened up by injuries to core players.
Engel figured to be counted on as an important piece in the outfield before the season began, and his nice offensive season in 2020 provided more confidence than ever that he could do it. But a hamstring strain suffered during spring training has kept him out ever since, a setback causing a lengthy delay.
Engel's timeline has been repeatedly pushed back because of that setback, and La Russa's update that Engel wouldn't return before the end of May was updated once more this weekend, the manager saying there currently is no date for when Engel might come off the injured list.
That's disheartening, of course, as the White Sox could have used Engel to bring an end to the by-committee approach in left field. Now they could really use him with two outfield spots being filled with stopgap measures.
But the reality is that the White Sox are suddenly without three of their top four outfielders. Even right fielder Adam Eaton is battling some not-unusual soreness, per La Russa, his status obviously less than 100 percent as he somewhat hobbled around the field Sunday, which was supposed to be an off day for him before he stepped in when Robert was carried to the clubhouse.
García and Hamilton, of course, are capable defenders in the outfield. Their presence is more noticeable in the lineup, and that's where the White Sox will miss Robert the most.
Surprisingly, that's not where they've missed Jiménez the most, thanks to Yermín Mercedes' outrageous start to his rookie season. But García and Hamilton — not to mention other left-field fill-ins like Jake Lamb and Nick Williams — have become the bane of many fans' existence for not producing when given ample opportunity by La Russa. That has mostly been complemented by complaints of Vaughn's absence, and that could become less of an issue with help needed in center and Vaughn starting to turn things on at the plate.
And so much like the responsibility of filling in for Jiménez fell on the shoulders of the other hitters in the lineup more than it did the specific players who were subbing in for him in left field, the same figures to be true with Robert hitting the injured list. José Abreu, Yasmani Grandal, Yoán Moncada and Tim Anderson, as opposed to García and Hamilton, will be the ones expected to shoulder the load.
And considering they've experienced varying degrees of success doing that with Jiménez out, it'll be a real challenge to see if they can do it with a second key cog missing.