There’s a reason Andrew Vaughn’s excellent rookie season with the Chicago White Sox hit the skids over the past month.
For at least a portion of that stretch, his back was hurting.
We’re not sure exactly when the ailment began to affect him, but Vaughn was placed on the 10-day injured list with lower back inflammation this week, retroactive to Sept. 10. He will be eligible to return to action early next week.
“In my opinion, it’s just a one-time deal,” White Sox manager Tony La Russa said of Vaughn’s injury. “He’ll be aware of how his back feels and he can do some specialized exercises to stay active.
“We’re going to be careful with him, and after 10 days he should be ready to go.”
The White Sox, who entered play Friday with an 83-63 record and an 11-game lead in the AL Central division, will be cautious with all health issues over the next two weeks. They’ve overcome more than their share of injuries this season and want to be at full strength when the playoffs begin.
It speaks to Vaughn’s unexpected value to the White Sox that slugger Eloy Jiménez had this exchange with him earlier this week, according to NBC Sports:
“How are you feeling today?” Jiménez asked.
“Better today than yesterday, baby,” Vaughn responded.
“That’s great. We need you,” Jiménez said, before patting him on the back.
Vaughn, the 23-year-old Cal alum, never played at a minor-league level higher than Single-A because of complications due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the White Sox had high hopes for their 2019 first-round draft pick and invited him to spring training, hoping he could make the MLB roster as a designated hitter.
A first baseman at Cal, Vaughn was almost immediately drafted to play left field when Jiménez tore a pectoral muscle and was out until late June.
Vaughn’s contributions were a welcome complement to a talented team expected to challenge for the postseason. He has played five positions in the field — left and right field, along with first, second and third base — plus DH.
As of Aug. 21, he was batting .263 with 15 home runs, 42 RBIs, and had a .457 slugging percentage and a .792 OPS over 107 games.
Since then, in 13 games, he was just 4-for-50 (.080 batting average) with no extra base hits and only three more RBIs. He hasn’t played since Sept. 9, at which point his season batting average had dropped to .240.
Vaughn had never before suffered any sort of back injury, so when it began to tighten and stiffen he went to the White Sox training staff.
“It was to the point where it felt like something was going to happen,” Vaughn said. “It was midway through that (Oakland) series (last weekend) I started to feel it a little bit. I thought it was something I could stretch out. But I got back off the flight and felt like it locked up and went in and got it looked at.”
Like La Russa, Vaughn hopes the back issue is short-lived and he is back close to 100 percent for the playoffs.
“Yeah, I mean it’s a bad thing. I don’t like it. I don’t want to be hurt or missing any time with my team,” Vaughn said. “I think definitely it’s better to happen now than the playoffs. Looking forward to progressing and getting back out there.”
Cover photo of Andrew Vaughn by Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo