Eloy Jimenez is heating up at the plate as the Chicago White Sox season nears — and coach Frank Menechino believes he can be a .340 hitter someday

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LaMond Pope, Chicago Tribune
·5 min read
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Eloy Jimenez legged out a triple in the fourth inning of a March 11 game against the Cincinnati Reds in Goodyear, Ariz.

The Chicago White Sox left fielder went around the bases at a slightly slower pace his next time up, when he smashed a solo home run off the left-field scoreboard in the sixth.

Asked later which hit was better, Jimenez said, “I liked both.”

Jimenez also has to like how locked in he has been recently at the plate. He has three multihit performances and seven RBIs in his last seven games.

He singled twice and drove in a run Thursday against the Kansas City Royals, and he had a two-run double Saturday against the Cleveland Indians. He’s hitting .282 with one home run and seven RBIs in 13 Cactus League games, collecting eight of his 11 hits in the last seven games.

“He’s having good bat on ball consistently,” Sox manager Tony La Russa said Sunday. “If he has a bad at-bat, he knows it and he knows what he did wrong.”

Jimenez must have sensed a turnaround was on the way when he spoke to reporters last week.

“I feel more comfortable at the plate, so I’m starting to get more results,” he said the day after hitting the triple and homer against the Reds.

Jimenez took a big step from his rookie season in 2019 to 2020, when he slashed .296/.332/.559 with 14 home runs and 41 RBIs in 55 games.

“He’s one of the best young hitters in the game,” Sox outfielder Adam Engel said Friday. “He seems like he’s always ready to hit. He’s a guy that’s scary. It’s like he’s ready to do damage all the time. It’s a very mature approach when he’s up there.”

Hitting coach Frank Menechino believes Jimenez can take his game to another level.

“Eloy is a gifted hitter,” Menechino said earlier this month. “He can control the depth of the baseball. When he has his approach and he’s looking for a pitch, he doesn’t miss it a lot.”

Jimenez didn’t want to get too deep into that topic.

“It’s a gift,” he said. “I don’t know how to explain it, I just do it.”

Menechino said the key is “controlling the at-bat.”

“Controlling what you want to do as opposed as to what they’re going to allow you to do,” Menechino said. “Eloy gets a little overaggressive sometimes. You never see him get passive. So just learning and knowing when to pick his spots and when to understand, ‘Hey, I have to tighten it up, or it’s OK right now to loosen up my strike zone, hunt where I have to hunt.’ ”

It’s also important to cut down the guessing game at the plate as much as possible.

“All hitters love it when they outsmart the pitcher and catcher and say, ‘I know you’re going to do this and I’m going to hit it,’ ” Menechino said. “So the less we do that, that’s when I feel like Eloy can be a .320, a .340 hitter, when he is convicted with his approach and does what he wants to do in that at-bat, being able to take the walk and not give in. That’s what everybody strives for because he has a special talent and he can leave from pole to pole.”

Jimenez has had ups and downs defensively during his first two seasons. The question pops up occasionally if he would be a better fit as a designated hitter.

As he has said in the past, Jimenez has no interest in that role and is working to become a complete player.

“I don’t want to come out in the seventh inning (for a defensive replacement),” he said. “That’s why I work hard every single day, try to do my best at being a complete player. That’s why I take so much pride to do everything I can to go out and play hard for my team.”

That means extra time on drills with coach Daryl Boston.

“He tries to help me a lot,” Jimenez said. “That’s why I try to go every single day, do my best, no matter how I feel. I’ve been working on everything, every aspect and different parts.”

Saturday against the Indians, he made a sliding catch to take away a bases-loaded hit for the final out of the sixth.

“Spring training skies are notorious where guys don’t get great breaks or they lose the ball,” La Russa said before Saturday’s game. “So far, he’s tracking it outstanding. The more you do good, the more confidence you get.”

One area where Jimenez doesn’t have to put in too much effort is showing his joy for the game.

“He’s very happy,” center fielder Luis Robert said last week through an interpreter. “It’s good to have somebody like him around. It’s something that makes you feel more comfortable.”

Jimenez connects instantly with fans. Although the Sox were the visitors when they faced the Reds in Goodyear, fans screamed his name wherever he went.

He’s thrilled to see people back in the stands.

“Last year, it was a little bit weird because without fans, it felt like you were playing rookie ball,” Jimenez said. “This year, it’s been better at spring training with fans. It feels way more fun than last year.”