The Charlotte Observer (Sunday)

Jiménez inspired by Kobe Bryant to recover from injury

- BY PJ MORALES pmorales@charlotteo­bserver.com

When Chicago White Sox left fielder Eloy Jiménez tore his left pectoral muscle during a spring training game in March, fans feared the worst. Would the South Siders go the whole season without one of their most promising players, a 2020 Silver Slugger who was only getting better?

Fast-forward to this Thursday — with Jiménez starting in left field for the Triple-A Charlotte Knights and a recall to the division-leading Sox on the horizon after this weekend’s series against the Gwinnett Stripers — and it seems those concerns have been put to bed.

Doctors estimated it would take Jiménez five to six months to recover from his injuries. He did it in less than four.

How did he do it? Two words — Mamba Mentality.

“(Kobe Bryant) always had that mentality to get back sooner than later, you know?” Jiménez said. “For me, that’s helped me a lot, because that was my favorite player as I grew up. So I took advantage of that, and I’m finally back.”

The late Los Angeles Lakers legend was famed for his work ethic, preferring the gym to the club and the grind to the high life. Across the Caribbean, in the Dominican Republic, a young Jiménez noticed his idol’s dedication, and committed to the same grind. It’s that mindset that’s helped him push through this injury, even if, by his own admission, it wasn’t easy.

“It has some moments where it feels like you can’t,” Jiménez said. “But if you have a tough mentality, like (Bryant) did in his day, you’re going to be successful. That’s how I feel.”

Another part of that Mamba Mentality is a dedication to constant improvemen­t, even when that improvemen­t is in the skills you’re weakest at. For Jiménez, that’s defense.

In his 2019 rookie season with the White Sox, his DRS, (defensive runs saved) was minus-10 — one of the worst in MLB. By 2020, he had improved it to minus-4, which still left much to be desired. As such, there have been talks of shifting Jiménez, who hit .296 with a .891 OPS last season, to the designated hitter role.

But those are not conversati­ons the Dominican outfielder wants to entertain.

“I don’t really like DH,” Jiménez said. “I don’t think it’s for me. I don’t think it’s fun to just hit. I like to play both defense and offense.”

Jiménez is one of many White Sox stars to get injured this season.

South Siders and former Knights like Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal and Yoán Moncada, along with José Abreu and, most recently, Yasmani Grandal have all taken knocks this season, with Madrigal’s torn hamstring sidelining him for the rest of the season. And yet, through 89 injuryridd­led games, the Sox have remained dominant in the AL Central, holding a commanding eight-game lead over the second-place Cleveland Indians.

It appears as though Jiménez’s return to Chicago will bring back some much-needed firepower just in the nick of time.

“Wow, it’s unbelievab­le,” said Jiménez on the White Sox’s dominance. “I feel really proud of the guys because they do the work every single day. We have a lot of guys with injuries and they still win. For me, that’s pretty special, and I feel really happy for them.”

There are still some things Jiménez is rehabilita­ting — things that will need sorting before he returns to the Windy City. He said his timing was getting better “day by day,” and that he no longer feels pain when making long catches with his left arm.

And while he doesn’t want to risk re-injuring himself by playing too soon, he’s already discussing the grind that awaits him when he’s back in the bigs.

“We’re gonna go play hard and try to get to the playoffs,” Jiménez waxed. “Let’s see what happens after that, but the first thing is win games.”

The 23-year-old Robert could be close behind Jiménez in the return-frominjury pipeline. The 2020 Gold Glover was placed on the 60-day injury list on May 27 after he tore his right hip flexor, putting him out of any baseball-related activities for at least three to four months.

For now, though, Jiménez is just focusing on his own return. He may have to finish playing out this series in Charlotte, but like Kobe Bryant, he wasn’t shy with his own opinion.

“I’m pretty much ready to get back.”

 ??  ?? Eloy Jiménez
Eloy Jiménez

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