By JAY COHEN AP Baseball Writer
CHICAGO (AP) — It looks as if Chicago White Sox slugger Eloy Jiménez could spend a lot of time at designated hitter this year.
Jiménez himself has other plans.
The 26-year-old Jiménez said Monday he is preparing to play more games in the outfield, especially in right after Chicago signed Andrew Benintendi to a $75 million, five-year contract. The White Sox also have Luis Robert in center, to go along with Gavin Sheets and prized prospect Oscar Colás in the mix in right.
Jiménez was sidelined for a couple months last season after he had surgery in April to repair a torn hamstring tendon behind his right knee. He returned in July and finished with a career-high 50 starts at DH — not exactly his favorite opening in the lineup.
Asked if he would embrace the DH role this year, Jiménez responded: “I don’t know.”
“Last year, when I was DH’ing more than (playing) the outfield, it was because I got surgery. And I understand that,” he said. “But this year, I’ve been working really hard to play the outfield more than DH. So I don’t really think that I’m going to accept it, because if I’m working hard, I’m going to get better, and I want to play in the outfield.”
Jiménez has been a bit of an adventure in the outfield since he made his major league debut with Chicago in 2019. He missed the start of the 2021 season after he ruptured his left pectoral tendon trying to make a defensive play during an exhibition game.
But he remains a force at the plate, and there is no questioning his importance to the White Sox.
After Jiménez returned last year, he hit .305 with 15 homers, 47 RBIs and an .895 OPS in his last 73 games. He bashed 31 homers during his rookie year in 2019, and then batted .296 with 14 homers and 41 RBIs in 55 games during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
Chicago went 81-81 in 2022 and missed the playoffs after reaching the postseason in the previous two years.
“We just need to be healthy, that’s the key right now,” Jiménez said. “If we’re healthy, we can do whatever because we are good on paper. But if we don’t play together as a team because of the injuries, we’re not going to do it, you know? We’re not going to make it.”
Jiménez said he has had “good communication” with Pedro Grifol since he took over as White Sox manager in November. Asked about his offseason conditioning, Jiménez playfully brushed off the question.
“I’m going to give you a surprise. I’m not going to answer right now,” said Jiménez, who plans to play for his native Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. “You’re going to see me in spring training.”
Left field was Jiménez’s only defensive position in his first four years in the majors, making 235 starts at the spot among 316 big league games. But Benintendi has spent most of his career in left, winning a Gold Glove in 2021 with Kansas City.
So Jiménez and Grifol have talked about playing right, but the 24-year-old Colás is expected to get a long look at the position in spring training after he batted .314 with 23 homers last year in the minors.
Still, Jiménez has focused at least some of his work on learning how to play right.
“It feels way different because most of the contacts in left field you don’t know where it’s going to go,” he said. “Right field is a lot different because every ball the right-handed hitter hits most of the time has some backspin. It’s way better being there.”
In addition to the new position, Jiménez also is preparing for his first season without José Abreu after the first baseman left Chicago for a $58.5 million, three-year contract with Houston in free agency.
Abreu has been a key figure in Jiménez’s career.
“It’s going to be a little bit weird but this is the business,” Jiménez said. “We need to move forward and play with what we have.”
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