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Is Jeff Keppinger's Shoulder Injury a Reason to Worry for the Chicago White Sox?

SCOTTSDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 25:   Jeff Keppinger #7 of the Chicago White Sox is seen in the on deck circle during the game against the San Francisco Giants on Monday, February 25, 2013 at Scottsdale Stadium in Scottsdale, Arizona. The Giants and White Sox played to a 9-9 tie. (Photo by Rich Pilling/Getty Images)
Rich Pilling/Getty Images
Matthew SmithCorrespondent IIIMarch 13, 2013

Chicago White Sox third baseman Jeff Keppinger is still feeling the effects of a sore right shoulder, and that is a problem. If Keppinger’s injury turns out to be something more serious, the White Sox are in serious trouble.

See, Keppinger was brought in to change the style of baseball that White Sox manager Robin Ventura is able to play.

He is a top-of-the-order contact hitter who is capable of moving runners over and sets up the rest of the order nicely. 

He has been showing as much during spring training.

Going into the off-day Tuesday, Keppinger was hitting .476 with 10 hits and no strikeouts in 21 at-bats. His shoulder is obviously not affecting the way he can swing the bat.

The only problem is that he was not brought in to be the designated hitter. That is where Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn come into the equation.

Without the ability to play the field, Keppinger is a $4 million pinch hitter. He will not get enough at-bats to help the White Sox if he does not play a position. It is as simple as that.

Another consideration here is that Keppinger’s absence from the field dramatically impacts who opens the season as the reserve infielders.

It appears that Angel Sanchez—who is hitting .316 this spring—should have a spot on the 25-man roster locked up because of his ability to play up the middle. The swing infielder will be the issue.

As it stands, Conor Gillaspie is outplaying Brent Morel by a wide margin. He is hitting .333 in Glendale with a 1.162 OPS and has driven in eight runs, while Morel has a .250 batting average and a .740 OPS.

Not only is Gillaspie a better hitter, but he is also left-handed—something that general manager Rick Hahn covets. All things being equal, the former San Francisco Giants farmhand is a better option than Morel.

Without Keppinger though, Ventura may be forced to go with Morel when the season opens because of his versatility. That, in turn, makes an already suspect lineup even more vulnerable to pitching matchups.

Against right-handers, for example, Keppinger is a career .269 hitter, while Gordon Beckham—who has raised his spring-training average to .290—and Morel have averages of .247 and .223, respectively. 

To be sure, .269 is not very good, but it is a whole lot better than the alternatives.

It could be a very difficult beginning to the 2013 season for the White Sox offense.

In all fairness, the White Sox may be exercising the perfect amount of prudence with Keppinger. If he does not play another game in the field during spring training, he could still be the Opening Day starter at third and show no ill effects from the missed time.

Ventura has repeatedly stated that he is “not concerned about" Keppinger's "playing time." (Via Dan HayesCSNChicago.com) That may be the case. Right now, anyway.

The longer little injuries like this linger, though, the more worrisome they become.

According to ESPN.com’s Bruce Levine, the White Sox have not said whether they plan on scheduling an MRI, so we will find out more as the season approaches.

Keppinger is slated to resume throwing “as early as Friday." (Via Mark Gonzalez, Chicago Tribune)

Cross those fingers, Sox fans.

 

*Statistics courtesy of BaseballReference.com

 

@MatthewSmithBR

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