The Eloy Canal

We saw some really dumb stuff last week. For openers, there was that poor sumbitch who steered his cargo ship - as large as the Empire State Building according to reports - into the bank of the Suez Canal, grounding the behemoth crosswise so that all traffic has been disrupted, affecting commerce throughout the world.

Those photos of the itty-bitty steam shovel - or whatever they're called today - attempting to free the huge vessel would be like using a soup spoon to dig a swimming pool. Judging from the paltry equipment employed, the time required for the ship to become buoyant could be five or six months.

Which is the predicted time frame for the recovery of White Sox leftfielder Eloy Jiménez, the victim of his own folly last Wednesday in a meaningless spring training game. I never was fully aware that my pectoralis major - what we all know as our "pecs" - have tendons connected to clavicles and sternums and then meeting up at the humerus. Now that Eloy has ruptured his, we can only imagine the resulting misery.

The multitalented 24-year-old Jiménez launched his big league career the past two seasons by hitting .276 and launching a home run every 15 at-bats. When questioned recently how many home runs he could hit this season, he nonchalantly answered, "Forty," as though he was being asked whether rain was predicted for tomorrow.

He's that confident in his ability and comports himself not so much with a swagger but with a wide smile and a friendly, endearing demeanor. Apparently he thinks nothing is beyond his grasp, including the long fly ball last Wednesday that easily cleared the eight-foot barrier at the Sox' Camelback Ranch facility in Glendale, Ariz. Manute Bol couldn't have reached it. Check that. Manute Bol standing on the shoulders of Wilt Chamberlain would have had no more than an even chance of getting a glove on the ball.

So Eloy was left hanging over the fence by his left arm in a game that the Sox lost 14-4 to Oakland and which, of course, occurred more than two weeks before the genuine competition ensues.

Jiménez is no stranger to the sick bay. This is the seventh time he'll be idled by injuries ranging from a quad strain to concussion protocol. Most often his maladies have been the result of outfield collisions with walls, nets, and teammates, although Eloy sprained his right foot rounding third base at the end of last season. He missed the year's final series against the Cubs and was only available for Game 3 as DH in a losing cause to Oakland in the playoffs.

In addressing the sad news about Jiménez, general manager Rick Hahn said, "We'll talk to him [about] a plan perhaps making some better decisions."

Perhaps, Rick, but this is a guy who plays the game with unbridled exuberance and energy. Putting a damper on his ebullient personality would be messing with the very quality that makes him a unique talent. It would be like telling Tim Anderson to lower his voice.

Chances are this won't be the last time Eloy gets injured. Making him a permanent DH might protect the kid, but where does Eloy place all of that positive energy and enthusiasm between at-bats? No, I think he's got to be part of the entire game at this point in his career. He might hurt himself, but in between injuries, he'll hit 400 homers or maybe lots more than that.

The immediate dilemma is how the club proceeds without its premier power hitter until the leaves change colors.

Most of the talk revolves around Jiménez's replacement, but that's misplaced. The Sox figure to score fewer runs without Eloy, so the answer must lie in how to limit the opposition. The lineup still will be formidable, and let's face it: There is no one who can replace Jiménez.

So the starting pitchers will need to be more effective; the bullpen must live up to its preseason hype; and the defenders will need to catch and throw with greater proficiency than in the recent past.

If end-of-the-rotation starters Dylan Cease and Carlos Rodon have felt pressure to this point, the needle just rose a few ticks because of Jiménez's absence. Cease led the American League last summer in issuing bases on balls while yielding almost two homers per nine innings. Improvement is required.

Meanwhile, Rodon has a new lease on major league baseball life after the Sox released and then re-signed him. He deserves applause for his strong showing this spring to nail down the fifth starter role. In 13-plus innings this spring, he's walked just one batter while fanning 16. Now we'll see whether he can continue his resurgence while staying healthy for an entire season.

After Lucas Giolito's 95-pitch prep on Saturday against the Rockies and a five-inning stint by Dallas Keuchel on Sunday, the Sox starting five this spring have a combined 2.24 ERA with 86 strikeouts and 29 walks in 76-plus innings. That, my friends, is a promising first step in compensating for the loss of a prodigious power hitter.

As far as left field is concerned, rookie Andrew Vaughn, a first baseman by trade, has been trotted out there even though he hasn't played the position since he was 15. Manager Tony La Russa claims Vaughn can be "above average," but we don't even know as yet whether Vaughn can excel against major league pitching.

Vaughn, the third overall pick in the 2019 amateur draft, was the nation's top college hitter at Cal, and he followed that by slashing .278/.384/.832 with five homers in A ball two years ago. Prior to Jiménez's injury, no one in the universe had visions of Vaughn patrolling left field.

Of course, there are other options, led by inserting Adam Engel in right field and moving Adam Eaton to left. Engel is nursing a strained hammie and won't be available until mid-April, but he's coming off a 2020 shortened season in which he hit .295, and he was having a strong spring before he got hurt. A superb outfielder and at age 29, Engel is by far the most logical answer to the gaping hole left by Jiménez.

In the meantime, Leury García has appeared in 92 games in left field during his eight-year career, and Billy Hamilton and Nick Williams, both with major league experience, remain in the Sox spring camp.

The Sox lineup is left-handed-challenged, and García and Hamilton are switch hitters while Williams bats from the left side. Those factors will be considered when final decisions are made before Thursday's opener against the Angels in Anaheim.

Meanwhile, that container ship has been partially freed thanks to the aid of high-powered tugboats and high tides. Let's hope that Eloy also can beat the timetable set for him. Wanna buy a ticket?

You can still get a seat for the Sox' first homestand, April 8-15, but the phrase "good seats available" doesn't apply unless you want to spend $375 for a seat right behind home plate in the Wintrust Scout Seats. Fans are required to buy two seats together to comply with COVID-19 protocol, so that would set you back $750 if you'd like to watch the Sox and Indians tangle on April 13 at 7:10 p.m., when the temperature probably will hover in the mid-40s if it's balmy for mid-April.

Anyone with the faintest interest in the start of the baseball season knows that the city is allowing 20 percent capacity at The Grate, or about 8,200 fans for what will almost certainly cover the first two homestands in April.

Returning to that April 13 contest, there are a few - no more than a couple per section- twosomes available this morning in the last few rows of the upper deck. Those cost $28 apiece, but, again, fans must purchase both ducats.

My friend Chuck Hempfling has been a season ticket-holder for 34 years along with a small group who split the schedule. Chuck is responsible for organizing his pals for what have been four seats close to the diamond behind third base. Because of limited seating, the Sox are using vouchers that can be redeemed for seats, which include the entire schedule for folks like Chuck.

I purchased 24 vouchers, good for seats in the lower deck between first and third base. I prefer to wait until the weather cooperates, but I could use one voucher for 24 games, 24 vouchers for one game, or anything in between, depending on COVID protocol.

To describe this process, Hempfling e-mailed his group a couple of weeks ago about ticket availability for Opening Day and the first homestand. "I got on the site OK which showed available seats around Section 144," he wrote. "I could have navigated almost anywhere but chose to stay close to where we normally are. It started with buying two seats, and there was a good selection available. Then I clicked up to three seats; still good selection. Then went to four seats, and selection was not as good with closest seats to ours being in 145 row 25.

"So I went back to three seats and was successful. We are in 144, row 6, seats 1-3 for all seven games. I had to decide within minutes otherwise the site would time me out. We can draw numbers out of a hat for who goes first. If we do not fill all seven games, we will put any tickets left on Stub Hub or Craig's List. I am sure they will go fast. I, for one, am ready to see a live baseball game."

You're not alone, Chuck.


Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

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