Eloy Jiménez spent more than two months on the injured list last season after tearing his right hamstring while running to first base in late April. He appeared in 84 games, making 50 starts at designated hitter and 30 in left field.
Jiménez is determined to stay healthy for the Chicago White Sox in 2023 — and he wants to play in the outfield as much as possible.
“Last year I was in that situation that I needed to DH more than play outfield, but this year I’m really preparing myself to play more games in the outfield than DH,” Jiménez said during a video conference Monday.
How that works out remains to be seen.
The Sox have a new left fielder after signing Andrew Benintendi to a five-year, $75 million deal. It’s the largest contract in franchise history in overall value.
“(Benintendi) comes here to play left field,” Sox manager Pedro Grifol said during the 2021 Gold Glove winner’s introductory news conference on Jan. 4. “He’s done it his whole career and he’s obviously very good at it.”
Luis Robert is the center fielder and prospect Oscar Colás figures to be an option in right. That could mean many nights at DH for Jiménez.
“I’ve spoken to Eloy, I’ve told him to continue to work in the outfield, to work some in right field as well,” Grifol said on Jan. 4. “And in true professional manner, Eloy is like, whatever is best for this ballclub and whatever helps us win.”
Jiménez said it was good to talk with Grifol.
“(Grifol) said it would be more in right field than left field because Benintendi is here now,” Jiménez said. “But we didn’t talk about DH a lot.”
In the past, Jiménez has made clear his preference to play in the outfield.
While it might not have led to a complete embrace of the spot, Jiménez did make a major contribution as a DH last season. He slashed .274/.343/.500 with 11 homers and 35 RBIs in the role.
“Last year, when I was DH’ing more than (playing) the outfield, it was because I got surgery,” Jiménez said. “And I understand that. 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 (embracing the DH role) because I’m working hard to get better and I want to play in the outfield.”
Jiménez never has played right field in a major-league game. He started 103 games in right in the minors compared with 240 in left.
“I’ve been practicing more in right field this year,” Jiménez said of his offseason work. “I feel better. I was really working on every aspect of the outfield, moving backward, moving from side to side. This year I feel really good.
“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.”
The Sox might have to sort out where Jiménez plays this spring, but there’s no questioning his importance to the offense. Even in limited action in 2022, he finished second on the team in homers (16) and fifth in RBIs (54). He slashed .323/.391/.558 in 65 games after the All-Star break.
“I was feeling way better last year because I was more disciplined and that really helped me to do a better job,” Jiménez said.
After missing extended periods the last two seasons because of injuries, Jiménez recognizes the top priority.
“In my mind, I just say I need to be healthy,” he said, “because I know If I’m healthy, I can help in my way.”
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