Healthy Gimenez ready for big league opportunity
Switch-hitting catcher teams with Flowers to take reins from departed Pierzynski
PEORIA, Ariz. -- All Hector Gimenez ever wanted was a big league opportunity.
Make that a healthy big league opportunity.
"When I was in Houston, I made it to the big leagues in 2006 and I had that chance to be on the Major League roster," said the White Sox switch-hitting catcher. "I got a shoulder problem, had surgery. I lost all of the 2007 season.
"In 2011, I was with the Dodgers. I had a really good chance too. I made the team out of Spring Training, but unfortunately I had a knee problem so I lost most of the year too."
Gimenez, 30, lost that 2007 season due to a partially torn labrum in his throwing shoulder. And it was a strained right knee that slowed him down with the Dodgers.
"Last year, you know, they give me a good opportunity to be back in the big leagues in Chicago," said Gimenez, who was 5-for-11 after his late-season callup. "So this year, it's a new opportunity and I'm working to be the guy that they need me to be."
No health problems exist this season. Gimenez is ready to take his place with Tyler Flowers as the replacement tandem behind the plate for A.J. Pierzynski, who was with the White Sox for eight years. Even though Flowers has been tapped as the starter, it's a cooperative effort between the two that will help solidify this position.
For example, Gimenez has more experience with some of the younger hurlers through his 99 games at Triple-A Charlotte in 2012, so he has been giving the pertinent information to Flowers. When Chris Sale pitched Friday and Gimenez was behind the plate, Flowers tried to provide a little extra guidance on how to handle the White Sox ace.
"We talked about how we both want to be as open with each other to help the team for whoever is catching," Flowers said. "And you know, that's how it should be. That's what A.J. and I had. It's the best interest of the team right there, just us communicating as best we can when he plays and when I play. It gives us the best chance."
"It's real refreshing," said White Sox bench coach Mark Parent, a former catcher who works with Flowers and Gimenez. "It's a total unselfish act that they are doing. They are trying to make the pitchers better. That's what a catcher is supposed to do, day in and day out, try to get that pitcher through the game with a 'W' hopefully. And the best and quickest they can."
Parent believes that one of Gimenez's strongest suits, the in-game time he takes communicating with the pitcher to get him to relax, also is one of his downfalls. That extra conversation or two, which he used beneficially to slow down Sale on Friday and help him find a mound rhythm, also can slow down the game.
"When that's your only minus we see -- he's working on that," Parent said. "He has good professional at-bats. He's low maintenance. His swing is low maintenance. His approach to catching is low maintenance. He has enough experience. Grinds out at-bats. Throws well."
"He's a little bit like [Ramon] Castro," said Sale, comparing Gimenez to the good-natured White Sox backup catcher from 2009-11. "He brings fun and energy and relaxation. When something isn't quite going right, he says, 'Hey, you're good. Stay the course, and we'll get this together.' It's always what you want in a catcher, and he works hard back there and knows what he's doing."
Being able to hit from the left side becomes a definite plus for a White Sox roster with just two left-handed hitters in the starting lineup, and currently only Dewayne Wise on the bench. It also doesn't hurt that Gimenez can play first base, third base and even in the outfield if necessary.
Through the early stages of Spring Training, Gimenez has shown off a strong throwing arm. That Arizona effort backs up the 43.1 percent (22-for-51) Gimenez threw out last season with the Knights.
His post-surgery throwing arm might not be as strong as when Gimenez was a young catcher. He has learned more about the intricacies of the process in the years since.
"Just move your feet and your feet are going to dictate how quick you are going to get to the base no matter what kind of arm you have," Gimenez said. "Like I said, I had an arm problem but now being smarter, I learned to use my feet more than my arm. I just let the ball go to second base."
Add up the number of career games played by Flowers and Gimenez, and that total of 119 still comes up seven short of the 126 games caught by Pierzynski in just 2012 alone.
That lack of experience didn't cause general manager Rick Hahn to bring in a true veteran behind Flowers. The White Sox have expressed their trust and support for Flowers from SoxFest moving forward, and the same sort of sentiment is being espoused for Gimenez. He's still taking nothing for granted with this great opportunity.
"We're into being positive and upbeat, and again, helping a guy learn his craft," said White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper of the Flowers/Gimenez tandem.
"You know, I appreciate the opportunity that the organization is giving me. Rick Hahn, I appreciate the confidence he has in me," said Gimenez. "I feel like it's not on my hands. The second spot, the backup catcher, I have to go get it and come every day and be ready for it."