White Sox pitching problems persist in ugliest performance yet

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USA TODAY

White Sox pitching problems persist in ugliest performance yet

That’s no moon. That’s the White Sox team ERA.

Maybe there was a better joke to make after the White Sox were blown up like Alderaan in a two-touchdown loss to the visiting Boston Red Sox on Star Wars Night. But that one seemed plenty appropriate for a team that might have to start holding tryouts for Wookiees and Wampas and any other intergalactic species that might be able to get some outs.

All right, that’s probably enough with the Star Wars references for now.

The fact remains, though, that White Sox pitching to this point has been mostly unsuccessful in 2019. Manny Banuelos getting lit up in a nightmarish, when-will-it-end third inning Friday night was just the latest sore sight, though perhaps there have been none worse. After retiring the first eight hitters he faced, he gave up two-out hits to the next 10. Nine of them scored. Carson Fulmer didn’t fare much better, facing eight batters and getting just one out, a nasty stretch that saw the first six hitters of the fourth inning reach base. Five of them scored.

By the time it was all said and done, the White Sox gave up 15 runs on 20 hits and watched their staff ERA climb to 5.55, the second highest in baseball.

White Sox starters have been the worst offenders, the rotation now in possession of a 6.82 ERA after Saturday’s debacle. None of the team’s starters have pitched well enough to own an ERA below 5.00. Carlos Rodon, who’s on the injured list for the foreseeable future with a significant elbow injury that could result in Tommy John surgery, leads the way with a 5.19 ERA. Everyone else has a worse mark: Lucas Giolito at 5.32, Banuelos at 5.96, Reynaldo Lopez at 6.69 and Ivan Nova at 8.33.

That the rotation contains two pitchers with higher ERAs than the guy who gave up nine runs and left before the end of the third inning Saturday night should say quite a lot.

While the bullpen can hardly claim innocence, they at least have an excuse. The rotation has been unable to log many innings, their 151.2 of them among the fewest in the league by a starting staff. That leads to a taxed bullpen, a tired bullpen, a vulnerable bullpen and ultimately, what we saw Friday night, when infielder Jose Rondon was sent to the mound in just a five-run game.

“It’s hard, man, it’s hard,” Banuelos said of the rotation’s continued inability to go deep into games. “Honestly that’s my goal every time I get the chance to start a game. I’ve been in the bullpen, and I know how that feels. My goal is just every time I get the ball, try to go deep in the game, six or seven innings. Today it didn’t work that way.”

It could be more of the same when Dylan Covey makes his first start of 2019 on Sunday. Though the starter has been determined, manager Rick Renteria has described it as a bullpen day already. That’s hard to do with a bullpen that’s been as overworked as this one, and it’s why Fulmer and Jose Ruiz were optioned to Triple-A Charlotte after Saturday’s game: to make room for more arms.

Covey has been tabbed as the guy to replace Rodon in the rotation. White Sox fans are familiar with Covey’s work as a starter. He put up a 6.26 ERA in 33 starts during the 2017 and 2018 seasons. The White Sox, though, are confident things will go better this time around.

It has to, because there’s practically no starting-pitching depth to speak of behind this current quintet. The numbers at Charlotte — aside from highly touted pitching prospect Dylan Cease, whose timeline won’t be altered because of a need at the big league level, per general manager Rick Hahn — aren’t much better than the ones on the South Side.

With nowhere to turn, the White Sox are banking on the hope that going back to the drawing board will work, that attempting to correct what’s made for one brief, high-scoring outing after another will click at some point.

“The guys that we still have left pitching right now, they have the capability of executing,” Renteria said after Saturday’s game. “We'll kind of work and see what we discover through our stuff tomorrow when we're looking at everything. In terms of confidence, these guys have enough stuff to do it. We've seen them do it. It's just a matter of trying to get them to consistently be able to effectively get through a ballgame.”

Maybe that consistency will come, but what if it doesn’t? Fans are certainly tired of this already, just a little more than a month into the campaign. Their wishes for the team to sign the still-unemployed Dallas Keuchel or trade for the apparently available Marcus Stroman are probably unrealistic. But can they be expected to just sit through this for another five months?

The White Sox are still in the thick of their rebuild. That is understood. And the growing pains and losing records the team is experiencing right now were experienced by the teams that have rebuilt before. The Cubs and the Houston Astros went through miserable seasons with plenty of bad pitching and came out the other side World Series champions.

And it’s very possible, if not probable, that the bulk of the rotation of the future just isn’t here right now. Michael Kopech and Dane Dunning are on the mend from Tommy John surgery. Cease is still cooking at Triple-A. Hahn speculated that maybe the team will need to go out and acquire a top-of-the-rotation starter from outside the organization in an offseason to come.

While the White Sox talked of increased expectations before the season began, it’s possible, at the very least when it comes to the pitching, that the waiting game is still very much ongoing and these woeful results are just what happens while the White Sox wait.

But let’s address those increased expectations. They were talked up not by a hopeful fan base but by the players and manager and general manager themselves. The White Sox wanted as much focus placed on the present as there has been on the future in recent years. If there are increased expectations, what is the penalty for not meeting them?

It wouldn’t exactly be shocking to see another year of development, another year of losing at the big league level. And it should be pointed out that even after a hideous performance Saturday, these White Sox are just three games under .500, a big improvement in the win-loss department (at the moment, anyway) from where this team was last season. There are brighter bright spots right now in Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada than there were at any point last season.

But the pitching? Oh, the pitching. It’s been really, really ugly and never uglier than Saturday.

As Renteria so often points out, his players are trying to do the things that lead to better outcomes. They’re trying to be more consistent. They’re trying to do what Ivan Nova said at one point earlier this season: “pitch better.”

But as every Jedi in training knows: “Do or do not. There is no try.”

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Lucas Giolito goes to injured list, Sox bring Carson Fulmer and Ryan Cordell up from Triple-A

Lucas Giolito goes to injured list, Sox bring Carson Fulmer and Ryan Cordell up from Triple-A

Lucas Giolito will miss some time after straining his hamstring in Wednesday's game.

The White Sox placed the right-handed starting pitcher on the 10-day injured list ahead of Thursday's series-opener in Detroit. They also brought up relief pitcher Carson Fulmer and outfielder Ryan Cordell to take the roster spots of Giolito and outfielder Daniel Palka, who was optioned to Triple-A Charlotte on Wednesday night.

Giolito exited Wednesday's start after just 2.2 innings after tweaking his hamstring on a third-inning pitch. He was doing quite well in his second start of the season against the Kansas City Royals, with five strikeouts and no hits allowed before his early departure.

Giolito spoke with reporters Thursday morning in Detroit, saying the strain isn't too serious and that he expects to miss just one or two starts.

As for who will start in Giolito's stead, that remains to be seen. His turn in the rotation won't come until Monday's game that begins a series against the Baltimore Orioles. Fulmer arriving from Charlotte, however, points to Manny Banuelos being taken out of the major league bullpen to start in Giolito's place. Banuelos has had success as the White Sox long man so far this season, with a few effective multi-inning outings under his belt. Fulmer hasn't made a start since the White Sox moved him to the Charlotte bullpen last season but could serve as a replacement long man in the short term. This is Fulmer's second call-up this season, he was on the roster for one day earlier this month, pitching three innings of relief against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Meanwhile, Cordell arrives to take the place of Palka, who picked up his first hit of the season Wednesday after starting in a dreadful 0-for-32 slump. He was sent down after the game with the task of figuring things out at the Triple-A level. While the White Sox could have opted to slide Adam Engel into an everyday role in the big league outfield, it appears Cordell might get his shot at more frequent big league playing time. He was in the starting lineup for Thursday's game against the Tigers. Cordell made the Opening Day roster but only got six at-bats (homering in one and doubling in another) and was sent down to receive some more regular playing time, which he might now get in the majors.

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Carson Fulmer's latest major league stint lasted just one day, but: 'I think I'm a big part of this whole rebuild'

Carson Fulmer's latest major league stint lasted just one day, but: 'I think I'm a big part of this whole rebuild'

Carson Fulmer will have to wait a little longer to show he can be a reliable member of the White Sox major league bullpen. But Monday was a good start. Or, rather, a good relief.

Fulmer was promoted to the big league team ahead of Monday's game against the Tampa Bay Rays, and a few hours later, he made his first pitching appearance in the big leagues since last May. He was good. But he was never going to get a chance to stick this time.

Manager Rick Renteria revealed that the plan was always to have Fulmer available as bullpen insurance for Monday's game after six relievers were used in Sunday's loss to the Seattle Mariners. The plan involved sending him back to Charlotte immediately after, and that's what happened, Fulmer optioned back to Charlotte to free up a roster spot, presumably, for Ervin Santana, who's expected to start Tuesday's game.

That doesn't mean that Fulmer won't get a chance to stick sometime down the road, and with the rave review he got from Renteria after the game, perhaps that opportunity will come sooner rather than later.

"(The plan) was to get him in and get him back, continue to have him work on the things he's doing. It's obviously working," Renteria said. "He looked very, very good today. His last outing in the minor leagues was 2.1 (innings). We got him a little beyond that and up close to 50 pitches. We were very, very happy with his progress. We're extremely ecstatic about how he looked today."

The last time Fulmer pitched in the majors, pitched on the mound at Guaranteed Rate Field, he gave up eight runs and walked five Texas Rangers in a two-inning start on May 18. He went down to Triple-A after that and continued to struggle as a starter. The White Sox moved him to a bullpen role, and he fared better.

Monday, he had a very nice return trip to the big leagues, retiring seven of the first eight batters he faced in relief of Carlos Rodon, who made it just 4.2 innings in the third straight outing by a White Sox starter to last fewer than five innings. Fulmer ran into some trouble in the eighth, giving up two hits and issuing two walks, needing to be lifted before the end of that inning. It was a somewhat sour finish to an otherwise sweet outing, though it might have only happened because Renteria hoped to squeeze a little more "bullpen saving" out of a guy already destined to head back to the minors.

Regardless of the reasoning, Fulmer's numbers won't end up as nice as they might have. But no matter. He was happy with his performance, as was the team. So for a guy drafted No. 8 overall to be a fixture in the starting rotation, a bullpen role might be the route to being a key contributor at the major league level for Fulmer.

This might not have been the extended audition he was hoping for, but he still managed to show the White Sox something positive.

"I think I’m a big part of this whole rebuild," Fulmer said. "I’ve had a lot of experience at this level, for the most part. And I’m starting to learn a lot of stuff. It’s all a learning experience. The more innings I have under my belt, the more comfortable I’m going to continue to be. I’m definitely looking forward to getting back up here.

"Any situation they need me to pitch in, I’m willing to do it. I've been a guy that bounces back pretty quick. I take a lot of pride in my recovery and being able to be available for them to use me. Any situation they put me out there for, I’m definitely ready for it and I’ll definitely be ready."

Fulmer should sit by his phone. If the bullpen continues to put up the kinds of numbers it has in the season's first handful of games, the White Sox will likely turn to the minor leagues for other relief options. Fulmer is part of the group of young relievers who could factor into the team's long-term plans, and this season could provide the auditions those guys need to pencil their names into that bullpen of the future.

Fulmer believes he's still a big part of this rebuild, and he very well might be, even if it's in a different role than initially dreamed. If he keeps pitching how he did Monday, he'll get another shot — a lengthier shot, one would imagine — a chance to prove he deserves a role in the White Sox future.

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