Manager Tony La Russa didn’t have the opportunity to include Luis Robert in the Chicago White Sox lineup last week with the center fielder on the COVID-19 related injured list.
The Sox on Tuesday reinstated Robert and he returned to action Wednesday batting fourth as the designated hitter against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.
While Robert was back, La Russa has had to juggle the top of the lineup this week in the absence of Tim Anderson after the Sox retroactively placed the shortstop on the 10-day injured list Monday with a strained right groin.
Yasmani Grandal led off Tuesday and AJ Pollock was in the spot Wednesday.
Injuries and the unique schedule caused by the lockout are some of the factors managers are considering while figuring the lineup.
It’s a topic of discussion, whether one is looking for where a certain player is hitting — for instance Andrew Vaughn batted second Wednesday — or who is in and out of the lineup.
La Russa recently said he welcomes the conversations.
“What I’ve learned is you hope fans are interested enough to care,” La Russa said last month. “And if they don’t understand or they complain, I would rather them have an opinion then, ‘What? Did they play a doubleheader yesterday? What was the lineup?’ Let them be passionate. Let them ask any questions, I’ll give them my answers, and they can decide, if they were the manager, what they would do.
“This is the best sport for first- or second-guessing. You can look at that lineup for the second game (of a doubleheader) and say, ‘Wait a minute, where’s José (Abreu)? Where’s Tim?’ It’s all right out there in front, man. It’s one of the beauties of the game.”
Because of injuries, the Sox have not had the chance to feature their projected starting lineup once this season.
Yoán Moncada began the season on the injured list with a right oblique strain. The third baseman’s first game was May 9, but the Sox were without Eloy Jiménez at that time. The left fielder last played April 23 when he tore the hamstring tendon behind his right knee, requiring surgery.
Jiménez is rehabbing with Triple-A Charlotte and was back in the Knights lineup Wednesday after leaving his first game with the team Saturday with right leg soreness.
Wednesday marked Robert’s first game since the second game of the May 22 doubleheader against the New York Yankees. He had a .337/.379/.483 slash line with four home runs, 14 RBIs and 14 runs in his last 20 games before the COVID IL stint.
“If you have a core that you can run out there, and they have the same kind of responsibility, that adds stability to the way you’re going to approach it,” La Russa said Sunday. “And then you play around with the edges depending on who needs the work or whatever. I think that’s the idea. But every once in a while, you may have a matchup where one guy is 10-for-12 (against the opposing pitcher), and you want to protect Abreu, that guy has to hit fifth or something. But it’s better to have that core. We had that going for a while when we had Robert, he was (batting) second, then he went to third or fourth, and we built around him.
“But it’s like that double-edged sword. You get excited about the thought of having Eloy and Robert back, but the other part is the fact that these games count (without them). And we’ve proved we can win without them (both missed significant time in 2021). Each game is critical. Hang in there.”
It was a point he echoed after Anderson’s injury Sunday.
“The games count,” La Russa said, “we’ll figure out a way.”