White Sox

Keppinger expects leg will be fine

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Keppinger expects leg will be fine

Jeff Keppinger is in good shape now but admits earlier this offseason he was worried when an X-ray revealed a broken right fibula rather than a sprained ankle.

The White Sox newest addition said Monday he expects to be ready for spring training when the team reports to Glendale, Ariz. in just over two months. The walking boot worn by Keppinger -- who signed a three-year, 12-million deal with the White Sox on Monday -- comes off Tuesday and he will start his rehab shortly thereafter.

It especially wasnt a fun time, Keppinger said. I thought I rolled my ankle and sprained it. I was wearing flip flops coming down the stairs and just slipped and thought I could catch myself and just didnt land right. I come out of (the walking boot) tomorrow and get on my way with walking and get better so I should be all good shortly. It was pretty nerve wracking.

The competition for Keppinger was heavy this offseason.

The New York Yankees were one of many teams in pursuit of Keppinger, a .288 career hitter, who, along with Dustin Pedroia and Albert Pujols, is one of three hitters with more walks and extra-base hits than strikeouts since 2007. Keppinger is tailor-made for the White Sox as general manager Rick Hahn wants his offense to be less reliant upon the long ball next season. He wants his team to be able to score even when it doesnt hit home runs. Hahn said the White Sox were high on Keppinger from the start of the offseason but the broken leg cooled the chase, at least temporarily.

It actually probably slowed things down a beat so that us and the others clubs involved could get the medical records and post-op report and the follow-up report, Hahn said. It may have slowed things down by a week or two, but there certainly was a great amount of interest in him and we were there from there the start. Once we were comfortable with the prognosis on the fracture we were right there back in it and we were able to close something off down in Nashville last week despite the fact that there was a fair amount of competition.

Keppinger heads into spring as the White Sox third baseman, though he said the club hasnt informed him of where he will play or hit. With no more than 36 strikeouts in any of his eight seasons, Keppinger appears to be a strong candidate for the second spot in the White Sox lineup. Hahn received a good report on Keppinger from assistant GM Buddy Bell, who briefly managed him in Kansas City in 2006 and likes Keppingers makeup.

Jeff adds a valuable and different type of offensive player to our lineup, Hahn said.

Keppinger likes the idea of hitting second because of the different aspects to the offensive approach. Hes a career .288 hitter.

Sometimes you have to take pitches to allow the leadoff batter to steal, Keppinger said. Other times you have to just kind of give yourself up for the team and move guys over for the three hitter. I kind of like the challenges the two hole brings. Its kind of tough sometimes to do all those little things, but I pride myself in being able to get them done.

His first task, however, is to get his right leg back up to speed. Keppinger doesnt anticipate any problems.

That was what I told by the doctors, Keppinger said. Im about to be out of the boot and healed up and basically its just strengthening the leg back up. I should be good to go come spring. That certainly all matters based on how rehab goes but I dont imagine there being any tough parts of rehab that are a struggle for me. I just need to strengthen it back up and get the flexibility back in my foot.

Michael Kopech absent from White Sox camp, adding another unknown to 2020

Michael Kopech absent from White Sox camp, adding another unknown to 2020

On the first day of "Summer Camp" workouts at Guaranteed Rate Field, there was one important absentee.

Michael Kopech has not yet reported to the second round of spring training ahead of the abbreviated, 60-game 2020 season, and the team has no timetable on when he'll rejoin the club.

General manager Rick Hahn said Friday that Kopech, who missed the entirety of last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, is dealing with a personal matter. Recognizing that speculation could immediately turn to COVID-19, Hahn assured that the 24-year-old flamethrower is healthy.

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"It's obviously never ideal when any individual is dealing with off-field matters," Hahn said. "It's easy, I suppose, at times, to lose sight of the fact that you're dealing with human beings here. People have lives, people have families. People have all the same assortment of items to attend to that each and every other individual has. And this is obviously a very unique time we're all living through.

"It's not ideal, but fundamentally, we're looking to put all our players in the best position they can be to perform and maximize their abilities on the field, and if there's anything standing in the way of that, we're going to provide them with whatever support and resources they need to help address those matters. ... We fully support Michael and are going to provide him with whatever time and resources he needs and look forward to seeing him in the future."

Kopech missing more time is certainly unfortunate, especially when considering the long layoff he had following the surgery at the end of the 2018 season. He spent all of 2019 in recovery mode and participated in spring training earlier this year, throwing one inning of Cactus League action — and a pretty spectacular one at that — before baseball was abruptly shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under normal circumstances, Kopech was expected to begin the season in the minor leagues, building arm strength with so much time between competitive games. When the season was squeezed down to 60 games in two months, it appeared Kopech, three more months removed from the surgery, could have been utilized as a full-season option for the White Sox. Other pitchers, such as Carlos Rodon and Dane Dunning, could also be part of expanded pitching depth for the White Sox that they wouldn't have had if the season started in March, as scheduled.

But with no idea how long Kopech will be away from the team, those plans could again be forced to change.

RELATED: White Sox do not expect Mayor Lightfoot's travel order to impact MLB season

It's already a huge question what shape starting pitchers will be in after a halted spring, a three-month layoff and only three weeks' worth of ramping up before the regular season begins. Pitchers might be only capable of throwing three or four innings per start as opposed to their usual six or seven as they take time to get back into in-season mode. Who knows how Kopech, individually, has kept himself in shape during the layoff, or how large a benefit "Summer Camp" will provide for pitchers.

While the White Sox continue to have options with guys like Rodon, Dunning and Jimmy Lambert to go along with their starting rotation of Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Dylan Cease, Reynaldo Lopez and Gio Gonzalez, Kopech was expected to play a role of some significance either as a member of the rotation, a "piggybacking" starter out of the bullpen or even, potentially, as a late-inning option.

Any of that can still happen, but Kopech's beginning-of-camp absence adds another unknown into a season already full of them.


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White Sox do not expect Mayor Lightfoot's travel order to impact MLB season

White Sox do not expect Mayor Lightfoot's travel order to impact MLB season

Mayor Lori Lightfoot issued an emergency travel order Thursday that requires travelers visiting Chicago from states experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases to quarantine for two weeks.

By the end of the month, a certain group of travelers — Major League Baseball teams — are scheduled to visit Chicago to play games against the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field. Likewise, the White Sox will be traveling to play road games in other states, as well, from which they will eventually return.

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But the White Sox say they aren't expecting the new order to impact their upcoming 2020 season.

"Based on our current understanding, we do not expect this to impact our operations as presently planned," a White Sox spokesperson told NBC Sports Chicago on Thursday.

Currently, no states that are home to Central Division teams from either the AL or NL are impacted by Mayor Lightfoot's order. But as has become extremely apparent, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic can change things quickly, and there's no knowing which states might be impacted come Opening Day or at any point during the two-month baseball season.

At the moment, the mayor's order, which goes into effect Monday, applies to visitors from Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah. Landing on that list involves a specific metric. Per the city's website, "a state will be designated if it has a case rate greater than 15 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 resident population, per day, over a 7-day rolling average."

Major League Baseball is imposing a geographic schedule to minimize travel for teams during the shortened, 60-game season. Teams will only play their division rivals and teams from the same geographic division in the other league. The White Sox will play their four AL Central rivals and the five teams from the NL Central.

As of the mayor's order being issued Thursday, the states of Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were not part of the travel order. But every one of those states except Missouri, as well as Illinois, is currently experiencing a week-to-week increase in the number of new cases. The number of new cases is also rising in Iowa, where the White Sox are still on schedule to play in the Field of Dreams game on Aug. 13.

The city has the ability to grant exemptions, though, and Major League Baseball's extensive health and safety measures could come into play. According to the city's website, "the Commissioner of Health may additionally grant an exemption based upon an organization’s or business’ testing and other control policies or in extraordinary circumstances, which warrant an exception from mandatory quarantine."

So the city has the power to let the MLB season, as it pertains to teams traveling in and out of Chicago, to operate as planned. It can allow the Cleveland Indians come to town, or allow the White Sox to return from a trip to Detroit, even if other travelers from Ohio or Michigan, for example, are mandated to quarantine for two weeks.

As mentioned, the evolving status of the pandemic and the response to it, not just in Chicago but across the country, can change everything in a hurry. Major League Baseball faces its own internal hurdles when it comes to safely getting the season off the ground and completing it.

But as the White Sox understand it, there might not be reason to believe Mayor Lightfoot would be throwing a separate wrench into the difficult task of playing the 2020 baseball season.


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