Eloy Jiménez preparing to play outfield with White Sox

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
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CHICAGO — It looks as if Chicago White Sox slugger Eloy Jimenez could spend a lot of time at designated hitter this year.

Jimenez himself has other plans.

The 26-year-old Jimenez said he is preparing to play more games in the outfield, especially in right after Chicago signed Andrew Benintendi to a five-year, $75 million contract. The White Sox also have Luis Robert in center, to go along with Gavin Sheets and prized prospect Oscar Colas in the mix in right.

Jimenez 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, Jimenez 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.”

Jimenez 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 Jimenez 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,” Jimenez 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.”

Jimenez said he has had “good communication” with Pedro Grifol since he took over as White Sox manager in November. Asked about his offseason conditioning, Jimenez playfully brushed off the question.

“I’m going to give you a surprise. I’m not going to answer right now,” said Jimenez, 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 Jimenez’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 Jimenez and Grifol have talked about playing right, but the 24-year-old Colas 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, Jimenez 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, Jimenez also is preparing for his first season without Jose Abreu after the first baseman left Chicago for a three-year, $58.5 million contract with Houston in free agency.

Abreu has been a key figure in Jimenez’s career.

“It’s going to be a little bit weird but this is the business,” Jimenez said. “We need to move forward and play with what we have.”

Colin Poche, Rays go to arbitration just $125,000 apart

Colin Poche torn UCL
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Reliever Colin Poche went to salary arbitration with the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday with the sides just $125,000 apart.

The gap between the $1.3 million the pitcher asked for and the $1,175,000 the team offered was the smallest among the 33 players who exchanged proposed arbitration figures last month. The case was heard by John Woods, Jeanne Vonhof and Walt De Treux, who will hold their decision until later this month.

A 29-year-old left-hander, Poche had Tommy John surgery on July 29, 2020, and returned to the major leagues last April 22 after six appearances at Triple-A Durham. Poche was 4-2 with a 3.99 ERA and seven saves in 65 relief appearances for the Rays. He struck out 64 and walked 22 in 58 2/3 innings.

Poche had a $707,800 salary last year.

Tampa Bay went to arbitration on Monday with reliever Ryan Thompson, whose decision also is being held until later this month. He asked for $1.2 million and the Rays argued for $1 million.

Rays right-hander Jason Adam and outfielder Harold Ramirez remain scheduled for hearings.

Players and teams have split four decisions thus far. All-Star pitcher Max Fried ($13.5 million) lost to Atlanta and reliever Diego Castillo ($2.95 million) was defeated by Seattle, while pitcher Jesus Luzardo ($2.45 million) and AL batting champion Luis Arraez ($6.1 million) both beat the Marlins.

A decision also is pending for Los Angeles Angels outfielder Hunter Renfroe.

Eighteen additional players are eligible for arbitration and hearings are scheduled through Feb. 17. Among the eligible players is Seattle utilityman Dylan Moore, who has a pending three-year contract worth $8,875,000.