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Trust Lucas Giolito at your peril.
As he went on the injured list with a hamstring strain, GIolito’s optimistic view of the White Sox rotation didn’t seem quite right — specifically the third pitcher referenced.
“I feel like I’m going to be good,” Giolito said. “I know Lance is moving along pretty nicely. He just needs to clear up what he’s got going on. Carlos got a little break, and he’s feeling good now. We just have our little buildup here the last month, and then we’re all ready to go.”
The assessment that Carlos Rodón was “feeling good” failed to square up with the evidence, that showed two games with below-average velocity despite below-average pitch counts and above-average rest. Sure enough, he won’t be making his next start as scheduled — if it was even scheduled in the first place — and Tony La Russa has to scramble further.
Rodón won’t be making a start this week against Oakland. Dallas Keuchel will remain on schedule to our chagrin, and Reynaldo López will have to contend with his own stuff concerns that surfaced his last time out, while Tuesday will be a Jimmy Lambert-led experience.
“It’s not a decision that you like doing,” La Russa said. “We like him pitching, but he’s still not experiencing the good feeling, whether it’s fatigue and a little soreness.
“But right now, we’re hoping he can pitch against the Red Sox over the weekend but there are no guarantees there. When he doesn’t feel right, it’s impossible to push it. You don’t even dare, even think of that. We do miss him in the rotation.”
At 119⅔ innings, Rodón is three outs away from matching his third-highest innings total from 2018 after throwing just 42 innings in between. You have to call his overall health a success regardless of how he finishes the season.
The timing exacerbates the issue, as it’s not his fault that Giolito and Lance Lynn are on the injured list at the same time. It also doesn’t help that one of the first-half solutions to a starter shortage is conspicuously absent.
If we were talking about September rotation gaps back in May, we probably would’ve assumed that a healthy Michael Kopech would be able to step into one of those spots. He went 3-for-3 in such opportunities over the first six weeks of the season. He struck out 19 against three walks over 12 innings, during which he allowed a total of 10 baserunners and three runs. The White Sox won all three games.
Yet while Kopech is technically healthy, he hasn’t been a factor for weeks. He has an 8.68 ERA in the second half, giving up a line of .299/.364/.597 over 17 games. There’s nothing in his underlying pitch characteristics that hints at struggles. His velocity is actually increasing, his spin rates didn’t take a hit during the foreign-substance crackdown, nor did his pitch behaviors or release points change.
But he’s been notably worse in two regards:
- First half: .188/.268/.266 over 71 PA
- Second half: .327/.414/.633 over 58 PA
And with men on:
- First half: .077/.163/.103 over 43 PA
- Second half: .375/.450/.750 over 40 PA
I only have suspicions. The diminishing effectiveness and execution could be a manifestation of him pitching a six-month season for the first time since 2018. Perhaps his slider isn’t that great of a pitch, at least hitters are making him prove it’s a real threat, which allows them to key on the fastball and react to the hangers.
The White Sox prepared for this in one regard by acquiring both Craig Kimbrel and Ryan Tepera. When the back end of the bullpen includes those two along with Liam Hendriks and Aaron Bummer, the lethal version of Kopech becomes a luxury. At one point it seemed like Kopech was going to have to become the White Sox’s eighth-inning guy in order to close out games with a minimum of drama. Now they can afford to let him figure it out.
It should have freed up Kopech for the three-inning gigs he dominated over the first couple months of the season, but he’s having a difficult enough time getting through one right now. Perhaps he’ll get a chance for multi-inning work out of necessity, but it might be a situation where he gets a chance to keep rolling, rather than have two or three innings marked off.
The combination of no Rodón, Lynn and Giolito and no Kopech creates an ugly situation, but there’s some solace in knowing that the White Sox could have had this kind of emergency thrust upon them far earlier than the season’s final month. Instead, the five designated starters held up their end of the bargain for just about every turn, which allowed the Sox to withstand injuries in the lineup and time to put out fires in the bullpen.
Now the lineup is just about fully restored outside of Tim Anderson and the bullpen has the sort of depth that offers no excuses, so it’ll give both areas some practice in picking up for a rotation that covered for so much potential ugliness. The uneasiness lies in knowing that they could be practicing for an early exit in October if the Sox can’t their biggest, best arms back in time.
(Photo by Matt Marton/USA TODAY Sports