MLB: Minnesota Twins at Chicago White Sox

South Side Morning 5: White Sox Rotation Options, Or Lack Thereof

1. The White Sox have the worst rotation in baseball. You can pick nits here and there between them, the Royals, Marlins, and Orioles, but you can make a PRETTY strong argument that the White Sox have the worst.

Carson Fulmer’s demotion Friday — following yet another disastrous start — made sense in that even in a rotation rife with poor outings, his inability to show any semblance of getting through a major league lineup was doing no good for him or the team. Fulmer was drafted as someone who was expected to be close to major league ready and move quickly through the system. He did, even if he never really showed the ability to get even minor league hitters out.

At the risk of overreacting, it’s entirely possible that Fulmer is a lost cause at this point. The White Sox will continue to work him as a starting pitcher in Triple-A Charlotte, and while the assumption has always been that if he fails as a starter he still has the ability to be a productive reliever, there’s no guarantee of that either. Regardless of his future, sending him down made sense as there was just no point in seeing him get pounded every fifth day.

2. The logical replacement, you and I both say, is to call up Michael Kopech, who rebounded from his first truly poor outing of the season by striking out nine and allowing just four baserunners in seven shutout innings Friday. There’s plenty to be said about why the White Sox are keeping Kopech in Triple-A for the time being — whether they really want him to continue getting comfortable with the change-up or if it’s merely service-time manipulation — but regardless, it appears that’s not where they’re going … at least not yet.

Fulmer’s replacement on the roster in the short-term is Dylan Covey, who was called up prior to Saturday’s game against the Rangers. While it’s yet to be determined if Covey will take Fulmer’s spot in the rotation or if he’s merely serving as bullpen depth until that spot comes back around, I wouldn’t expect him to stick around for all that long. The White Sox rotation options are lacking at the moment behind James Shields, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Hector Santiago (who appears to be in the rotation by default at this point), but Carlos Rodon made his first rehab start Saturday in Low-A Kannapolis and is still expected to join the rotation in early June. It’s entirely possible the White Sox hang with the aforementioned incumbents and Covey until Rodon’s return.

If Kopech is off the table, there isn’t much of a choice. Along with Covey, the only other reasonable options are equally unappealing. There’s other Triple-A journeymen like Donn Roach or T.J. House; Tyler Danish has been pitching primarily in relief this year, and Jordan Stephens — probably the next most appealing option outside of Kopech — has just one start since joining Charlotte last week. These scenarios are hardly appetizing, but it’s the reality in which we seem to be living right now.

3. Lopez provided some relief to the White Sox rotation woes Sunday, putting together arguably the best start of his career in helping the White Sox to their first series win since the first series of the season. Even outside of his most recent outing when he was downright bad in lasting just 2 1/3 innings, Lopez’s peripherals hadn’t matched the results he had put up thus far this season. Sunday, Lopez was both efficient and filthy in tossing a career-high eight innings, striking out eight, walking two, and giving up two base hits.

Lopez showed the swing-and-miss-ability we’ve long known him to have, generating 16 whiffs, including 12 on a fastball that averaged 96 and hit as high as 98. Beyond that, he effectively worked ahead and kept the ball down except when he was elevating the fastball for a strikeout. Through six innings, only one of the Rangers’ recorded outs were fly outs, and they ended with only four in the entire game. That he lasted eight innings was a credit to his efficiency, and his 107 pitches were also a career high.

It was one start against a particularly bad offense, but a solid sign of progress from a unit that desperately needed it.

4. Speaking of struggling positional groups, Nicky Delmonico was hit by a pitch Friday and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks with a broken wrist. After a surprisingly strong debut in 2017, Delmonico has struggled mightily thus far, showing the same keen batter’s eye, but almost no pop whatsoever, slugging just .302 through 135 plate appearances.

The White Sox outfield options are perhaps even more grim than the rotation. While Avisail Garcia remains disabled and is now expected to be out until late June at the earliest, and until the team decides it’s time for Eloy Jimenez to come up, the options outside those already on the 25-man roster are limited, as evidenced by the decision to replace Delmonico on the roster with an infielder — Jose Rondon — as opposed to another outfielder. Some combination of Leury Garcia, Adam Engel, Trayce Thompson, and Daniel Palka will be run out there on a daily basis, although Rick Renteria intimated recently that they may consider giving Yolmer Sanchez — he of two career innings in the outfield — a shot at some point. Beyond that, internal options are severely lacking. Charlie Tilson has a .592 OPS in Triple-A, we’ve played the Jacob May game once already, Ryan Cordell is broken, and any other outfielder with a semblance of promise is too far away.

We’ve said on a number of occasions that the rebuild provides opportunities for players who might not otherwise get the chance to prove they belong, and there’s no better example than the outfield as currently constructed. Until Jimenez is called up or Garcia (who also struggled mightily pre-injury and is far from “established” even if he’s more so than the other guy), we’ll be seeing a whole lot of the aforementioned foursome.

5. An unexpected bright spot on an otherwise desolate season is that Jace Fry is apparently now a lights-out reliever. The 24-year-old lefty, who struggled in a brief debut in 2017, has now tossed 8 1/3 hitless innings since his return to Chicago, striking out 12 and walking just two. In Saturday’s win, Rick Renteria trusted him with a two-run lead in the eighth inning, and on Sunday he got the call in a 3-0 game to nail down his first career save.

Fry is an interesting case in that he wasn’t really on the radar prior to last season. Two Tommy John surgeries will do that to you. After last season’s reliever exodus, he earned an opportunity, and likely would have at the start of this season as well if not for an oblique injury. Relievers are volatile enough that him becoming an out-of-nowhere asset wouldn’t be the strangest thing in the world, but it would be far from predictable. It’s only been eight innings, but Fry has absolutely showed signs of becoming a valuable piece in another White Sox unit that could use something good to happen.

Lead Photo Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

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