One month in, White Sox pitchers negotiating irregular workloads

While it’d be much more preferable to have inclement weather causing a postponement rather than a COVID-19 outbreak, the scratching of Wednesday’s game gave the White Sox a breather during a stretch of 18 games over 17 days. The White Sox and Guardians will make it up with a doubleheader on July 23, a weekend series preceded by the All-Star break, and followed with an off day.

This month’s real grind still remains — seven games with the Yankees sandwiching a five-game series over four days in Kansas City — but the Sox can catch their breath a little bit before the work begins.

The same can be said for the bullpen. Thanks to the combination of cautious ramp-up periods for starters and a lack of out-of-hand games to distribute leverage situations more evenly, Tony La Russa spent the first month redlining the engines of his most trusted relievers. Liam Hendriks pitched in five of six and six of eight recently, while Kendall Graveman was given a three-day break after pitching in more than half of the team’s first 25 games.

The good news? La Russa has slowly but surely advanced the starters into pitch counts that should be more or less normal.

STARTER123456
Lucas Giolito61769910191
Dylan Cease7991929993101
Michael Kopech697583948391
Vince Velasquez6285877875
Dallas Keuchel8048887992

Velasquez is the only one who isn’t taxed, but it’s not usually a great idea to let him face a lineup a third time through, and his best opportunity was shortened by rain.

Still, Giolito, Cease and Kopech have done the work to work six-plus innings with regularity. Now it’s just a matter of their bodies backing them up, which is probably why La Russa is opting against leveraging Giolito into the weekend series against the Yankees, even though the day of rest would allow him to do it. Instead, it’s Cease tonight, followed by Velasquez, Keuchel and Kopech.

Assuming they can pick up extra innings here and there, assuming warmer weather makes a few more games out of hand, and assuming competent defense allows the White Sox to actually take advantage of such large leads, the workloads should stabilize.

Who can work more

Kelly made his 2022 debut with a scoreless inning, and while he’ll be prohibited from pitching on consecutive days during this introductory period, he can cover the leverage between Matt Foster and Liam Hendriks.

López figured to be a swingman, but he’s been used as a conventional reliever, on pace for 61 appearances and 65 innings. That said, he departed Monday’s game with back stiffness while attempting to pitch the 11th inning after the 10th, so his status is a little uncertain at this moment. Banks has instead handled the long opportunities, but after a charmed first month of his MLB career, he’s allowed six baserunners and six runs over two innings in May.

Burr went a whole week without pitching before appearing in back-to-back days, partially because strike are proving elusive for him right now. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he and Kyle Crick rotated back and forth throughout the year until one of them locates in the majors.

Who should work less

Graveman’s recent respite knocked him back below 81 appearances for the season, and his picking up the save on Tuesday gave Liam Hendriks a similar break. Graveman’s 14 appearances have been more or less evenly distributed, while Hendriks went from pitching twice over two weeks to six games over eight days.

Foster started May with six appearances over nine days, although his first four came so easy (39 pitches over 4⅓ innings) that it hardly felt like work. With him, I wouldn’t be as concerned about durability as I would overexposure, as he’s succeeding with a new pitch mix that updated scouting reports might eventually solve, or at least wrestle toward average.

Who’s on track

Ruíz is a little bit of a cautionary tale with regards to Foster. He’s faced more traffic over the course of the season as hitters learned to account for a changeup he hadn’t featured before. He’s still better than he’s ever been, but he’s still a little bit touchy when it comes to ambitious assignments, which is why Tony La Russa has deployed Sousa to tag-team high-leverage innings.

Back in La Russa’s St. Louis days before the three-batter minimum, he used to love himself a LOOGY, with multiple lefties who’d throw something like 75 games while only pitching something like 45 innings. The current rules don’t allow such extremely limited usage, but he’s doing what he can to spare Sousa, who is on pace for 54 innings over 73 games. He was supposed to be a candidate for third-lefty work over the course of the season, but a season-ending injury to Garrett Crochet and a knee strain for Aaron Bummer have thrust him into lead lefty work for the time being. La Russa will do what he can to limited him to one batter.

As for Bummer’s bum knee, he said that he suffered it on a hyperextension during the Boston series, rather than being an issue that has plagued him through his entire rough start. That’s either good news (he’ll get past it!) or bad news (the root problem remains!). Whenever he returns, the version he assumes will go a long way to determining how gracefully La Russa can normalize doling out the most important innings among his most important relievers.

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Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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chipporter

I mean, logically, wouldn’t it mean that Bummers issues still remain and the knee is unrelated?

chipporter

That’s assuming it’s mechanical and not feel With as much as EK has been able to do with others and mechanics, that really leaves me wondering if it is mechanical. I understand that pitching coaches aren’t one size fits all, and also the fact that you can lead the horse to water, but you can’t make him shorten his delivery, but mechanics should have been addressed at this point.

metasox

Was curious how the Giants are managing Rodon as a known contrast. Has made 6 starts of 89, 90, 95, 104, 95 and 110. More than I would expect.

jhomeslice

He’s been great so far no doubt, just like the start of last year. I can’t picture him lasting the year at that pace though. Then again, with the Sox luck, this will be the first year he stays healthy the whole season.

As Cirensica

The last time Rodon pitched more than 150 innings was in 2016. That’s a long time ago even for a healthy pitcher (not named John Smoltz) trying to stretch the workload. I wish nothing but the best to Rodon, but I understand Hahn’s risk aversion decision here.

jhomeslice

I completely agree, I was not upset that they did not re-sign him since he is unlikely to be healthy come October. If he is healthy this time around, finally, then… damn. B/c the dude has been spectacular at times over the past year.

jhomeslice

One good thing about the off day is the Sox avoided a game where their lineup had both Garcia and Harrison. They should never need to have both in the same starting lineup.

chipporter

Only compounded by have a DH hitting .160

soxygen

It’s going to be interesting to watch. Just checking Fangraphs, the Sox starters have thrown 140 innings in 29 starts. That’s an average of less than 5 innings per start. Generally, bullpens break down with that much usage over the long haul. The combo of heavy overall usage and sub-optimal use or over-use of specific relievers could really snowball into a bullpen disaster.

Lynn’s ability to come back from injury and perform like a true #2 starter is critical. If he doesn’t, Tony is going to need to manage the bullpen differently (use openers and tandem starter arrangements). I don’t think that old dog is willing to / capable of learning new tricks from the likes of Tampa, the only team that has proven it can win consistently while getting less than 5 innings per start.

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