Sox have new defensive plan for Eloy after home-run robbery originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Eloy Jiménez robbed a home run, threw up a peace sign and grinned from ear to ear.
But not everyone was smiling after the Chicago White Sox left fielder's highlight-reel play.
"'Holding my breath' would be the nicest-sounding way to describe the way I felt," manager Tony La Russa said after his team beat the Los Angeles Angels by a 9-3 score Tuesday night.
Surely he wasn't the only spectator feeling that way, White Sox fans everywhere surely feeling their hearts in their throats when Jiménez followed up his superb snag with a brief stay lying on the warning track. Jiménez almost seemed to be working the crowd, which had fresh in its collective memory his attempt to rob a home run during the spring that resulted in a torn pectoral tendon and a months-long absence. After the spell on the dirt came the peace sign, then he sprung to his feet smiling.
It almost seemed an act, of sorts. A schtick from the guy who loves interacting with the fans at Guaranteed Rate Field so much that in the ninth inning, he was orchestrating cheers, pointing at different sections from his position in left field and generating big screams.
But La Russa remembers, too, what happened in Arizona many months ago and can't afford to lose one of his biggest boppers with the White Sox about to embark on what they hope is a lengthy playoff run. So he's got a new plan for Jiménez, one that will likely mean no more robberies at the wall — but also no more scary moments and injury concerns.
"I told him that from now on, he's going to put his back against the wall. When he breaks back, he's just going to hit his head on it. And he's going to play everything in front of him," La Russa said. "He thinks I'm kidding. I said, 'Am I kidding?' Because that was so scary.
"There was one other time in the game, I said, 'I want you to play where you've got your feet on the edge of the grass where you feel the warning track.' And I looked up there when (Angels second baseman David) Fletcher was up, and he was (playing too far in). I told (outfield coach Daryl Boston), 'Get him back, man! Fletcher can hit the ball.'
"So we're going to play him deeper. And if some bloopers fall, they fall. But he ain't going to fall."
It seems the right kind of plan for Jiménez, considering both his importance to the team and his history of outfield misadventures, several of which have resulted in trips to the injured list. In seasons past, those missed plays in left have spurred questions about his development as a defender. With the White Sox attempting to win the World Series in the next month and a half, La Russa can't afford anything to go wrong out there.
Jiménez probably won't like to hear it, of course, as he's long committed to improving his defense in left field and becoming an all-around player, someone who doesn't want to get subbed out for a defensive replacement in the late innings. But La Russa has shown no hesitation to swap in a more reliable outfielder, should the situation allow it based on the score and where the White Sox are in their lineup.
Tuesday's play was indeed a very good catch, and Lucas Giolito reacted on the mound as any pitcher would have for any outfielder making a big play. After the game, Jiménez's teammates praised his work ethic in trying to get better, using this catch as evidence that he has. And Jiménez throwing some of his fun-loving personality made the moment even more memorable, more enjoyable for those watching.
But La Russa saw what plenty of White Sox fans probably saw, too, something they don't want to see again: Jiménez down on the track.
So the South Side skipper's going to make sure it doesn't happen again.