Eloy still no fan of DH'ing, but he's there in return originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
It's tough to wipe the smile off Eloy Jiménez's face.
But after a few minutes of doing nothing but waving vigorously, smiling from ear to ear and using about 15 "reallys" to describe how excited he was to be making his return, the Chicago White Sox slugger's good times hit a momentary speed bump.
He was asked about being a DH.
Jiménez doesn't like to DH, a trait seemingly "inherited" from father figure José Abreu, the reigning American League MVP who has often made his own distaste for not playing the field known.
But Abreu has become an excellent defender at first base, working hard to improve his defense and stay in the field not because he wants to be there but because the White Sox need him there.
The same could one day be true of Jiménez, no slouch in the hard-work department himself. But right now, he's just returning from a ruptured pectoral tendon suffered while attempting to rob a home run, the latest in a series of misadventures in the outfield that have routinely called into question where his long-term future will be: as the White Sox everyday left fielder, or as their everyday designated hitter?
Though circumstances are different now than they were when this conversation was being had before his late-spring injury, a signal was given, perhaps, with where manager Tony La Russa put the returning Jiménez on his first day back with the team.
Jiménez batted fourth and played DH.
"We had a talk, and he said that (he didn't like to DH)," La Russa relayed before Monday's game in Kansas City. "I said, 'Well, you control your mind, and the days that you're DH'ing, you've just got to stay involved. Sit on the bench like you're playing left field. But you're DH'ing today.
"'We're going to be trying to make sure your legs are good, so you'll play left field tomorrow and probably DH Wednesday. We're going to try to see where you are, as far as your legs are concerned and everything else.
"'You don't want any negative thoughts about it: "When I DH, I'm not in the game." Because that's going to affect your hitting.
"'So scratch it.'"
Whether satisfied with that or not, Jiménez was happy to be playing anywhere here in late July, four months after suffering that injury in Arizona, and happy to be contributing to a first-place White Sox team.
"If he asks me, I’m here for my team," Jiménez said. "Even if I don’t like it, I'm here to be for my team. Whatever he wants me to play, I’m going to be here."
Jiménez won't be relegated to doing nothing but DH'ing, as La Russa mentioned, and the White Sox will test out the strength of his legs as soon as his second day back.
But whereas the White Sox might have not had much in the way of left-field substitutes immediately after Jiménez went down in the spring, things have changed.
Andrew Vaughn had never played left field prior to being thrust into the position as a result of Jiménez's injury, but he's played remarkably well there under the circumstances. In fact, considering Jiménez's history of defensive miscues, Vaughn has seemed an improvement, at times, with his steady play.
La Russa mentioned Sunday that Jiménez's return would have no effect on Vaughn's playing time, with the rookie swinging a hot bat and earning a full-time role with this championship contender. But remember that Vaughn was ticketed for the everyday DH role before Jiménez went down, and the two might find themselves in some sort of timeshare, swapping between left field and DH on a regular basis.
But when combining Jiménez's four months away from everyday action, his history in left field and Vaughn's strong play, Jiménez seeing more time at the position he doesn't like might be what La Russa dials up.
Remember what the South Side skipper had to say about a week and a half ago:
"(Jiménez is) playing the outfield some. But if he comes here and he just hits, I think we'd be happy."
We'll see how it all plays out, and whether "just hitting" is enough to keep the uber-happy Jiménez happy, too.