TAKING IT OUT ON THEM
Sox acquired Jimenez — and Cease — from Cubs, and slugger seems to enjoy punishing North Siders
There’s something about hitting against the Cubs that brings out the best in Eloy Jimenez.
Perhaps it’s simply because he’s emerging as a top-flight power hitter and has always been a big talent. Chances are, the 6-4, 235-pound left fielder is going to put a hurt on any number of teams he faces.
Or maybe it’s because of the added mojo the 23-year-old has for the team that traded him away. Jimenez’s feelings were hurt when White Sox general manager Rick Hahn pulled off one of his big-three deals that set the Sox’ rebuild in motion, and this jilted one carries a bit of a grudge in a broken relationship.
“It’s always going to be like that; it’s always, I want to be good against them,” said Jimenez, who pounded a grand slam over the center-field wall against Cubs righthander Yu Darvish in an exhibition win Monday.
“That’s pretty normal.”
There’s nothing normal about this shortened season, and it would be good for Jimenez to have something in the tank for the Cubs with six games against them making up 10% of their schedule. The season concludes with three games against the Cubs at Guaranteed Rate Field.
The Sox, a team seemingly on the rise, also pried away Dylan Cease, the Cubs’ top pitching prospect at the time, in the trade, and he will be their No. 3 or 4 starter. He could get two starts against the Cubs, who are thin on young pitching and would certainly like to have him back.
“That would be cool,” he said. “With them also being a talented team and a team that’s going to be competing, that will be a lot of fun. It’s something I look forward to.” It’s not that the Cubs didn’t care for Cease or Jimenez — although it’s known they had reservations about Jimenez’s defense in a National League that wasn’t using the designated hitter at the time — they just liked the idea of acquiring a quality lefthanded starter with valuable long-term contract control in Jose Quintana. Quintana has been dependable for the Cubs with ERAs of 3.74 in 14 starts after the deal was made in 2017, 4.03 in 32 starts in 2018 and 4.68 also in 32 starts in 2019, but seeing Jimenez begin to blossom into a star and Cease pitching to rave reviews in summer camp, the deal for the Sox looks like — John Rooney voice here — “a White Sox winner.”
Quintana is sidelined now after he cut his thumb in a kitchen accident the day before he was supposed to leave his Miami home for summer camp.
If his performances in spring training, exhibitions and real games are any indication, Jimenez seemingly wants to inflict more pain on the North Side. In nine games (four regular-season games), he is batting .292 with four homers, 10 RBI and six runs against the Cubs.
As a minor-league prospect, he hit a go-ahead homer in the eighth inning of a spring-training game at Sloan Park in 2018. In a game that mattered, he hit a broken-bat homer in the ninth inning of a 3-1 Sox victory at Wrigley Field on June 18 last season. And then the slam.
“Yeah, I feel good, I feel really nice,” Jimenez said Wednesday before the Sox played the Brewers in their final exhibition tuneup before the season opener Friday. “These three weeks [of camp] . . . the lineup has looked good. I feel good, and we’re ready to roll.”
Jimenez finished strong in September and led American League rookies in homers (31), RBI (79) and total bases (240) in 2019. Having one full season under his belt will help immensely in 2020, Jimenez said.
“I learned as much as I could last year,” he said.
As for the team, the Sox are ready to get going Friday.
“This year is completely different,” Jimenez said. “Our lineup is better, our pitching staff is better. We can compete more than last year.”
Eloy Jimenez smacks a double in the fourth inning Wednesday in the exhibition game against the Brewers.