BALTIMORE — Dylan Covey has looked a lot like you’d expect a Rule 5 starting pitcher to at the major league level.
While the White Sox rookie has sporadically offered glimpses of his talent, he also looks like a pitcher who entered this season with only six starts above Single-A. Covey experienced another round of struggles against a deep Baltimore Orioles lineup on Saturday night as the White Sox lost 6-5 in front of 28,718 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The right-hander allowed six earned runs and 10 hits in four-plus innings for the White Sox, who need a win on Sunday to avoid a series sweep. Jose Abreu hit his fifth home run in the loss.
“I felt like I was making pitches and they were kind of just putting them in the right spots on the field,” Covey said. “I felt pretty good overall. I’ve just got to avoid the long ball. It’s been my kryptonite.”
Though they intended to give him a good look in spring training, the White Sox originally had no plans to start the season with Covey in the rotation. But a March injury to Carlos Rodon altered everything and put Covey into the rotation as the fifth starter. A later injury to James Shields left the starting pitching-thin White Sox — who don’t want to forgo critical development time for prospects to fill a big league void — with few options for the rotation.
That’s meant tough times for Covey, who has six or more earned runs in three of his last four starts. While he was effective in two of his first three turns, Covey has struggled in his other three. He allowed eight runs and 10 hits, including three home runs, at New York on April 19 before yielding a pair of home runs and six earned runs in a loss at Kansas City earlier on the road trip.
Saturday night at Camden Yards was no easier of a task against an offense that came into the contest fifth in the American League with 34 home runs. Covey allowed three straight singles to load the bases before he recorded an out. He bounced back to strike out Chris Davis but faked a throw to third and was called for a run-scoring balk. Manager Rick Renteria said the balk was a result of a miscommunication from the bench.
Mark Trumbo’s RBI single and an RBI double by Trey Mancini made it 3-0 and had Covey’s night in jeopardy after only six hitters. But somehow Covey worked around another walk and stranded three base runners without further damage.
Covey retired four in a row before Manny Machado blasted a solo shot in the bottom of the second, the seventh homer the pitcher had allowed this season. Covey pitched out of a jam in the third inning and retired the side in order in the fourth, which allowed the White Sox offense a chance to rally.
While the White Sox pulled within 4-2 in the fifth inning, the Orioles immediately countered. Trumbo singled to start the fifth inning before Mancini crushed a two-run shot to deep left for a 6-2 Baltimore advantage. The blast drove Covey, who has an 8.28 ERA in 25 innings, from the contest.
“He kept working to minimize the damage,” Renteria said. “He kept going through it. We tried to get him through five. He left one more pitch up they were able to capitalize on.
“The two-run homer got him there in the fifth.”
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Though the topic is likely to come up soon, Renteria didn’t comment about whether or not Covey’s spot in the rotation is in jeopardy.
Either way there are no easy answers.
Already thin on depth at Triple-A Charlotte, the White Sox already promoted Mike Pelfrey to take the place of Shields, whose return date still is to be determined. With prospects Carson Fulmer and Reynaldo Lopez seemingly off the table, the White Sox have limited options. Cory Luebke just made his first start of the season at Charlotte this week after returning from extended spring training. Rookie Tyler Danish has a 3.14 ERA through five starts for the Knights but also may fall under the same umbrella as Fulmer and Lopez.
“We have to sit down and calmer heads should prevail and see where we’re at,” Renteria said. “See how we all see it and see what it is we can do to either improve his outings or see what decisions we’re making moving forward. But right now he is where he is.”
If the White Sox didn’t look outside they could schedule a bullpen day for Covey’s next potential start (Friday at home) and give him time to work out the kinks. Or, with a day off Monday, they potentially could push back Covey’s next turn one day and work with him in the bullpen.
“I just need to execute a little bit better, maybe five to seven pitches a game,” Covey said. “It has kind of been — obviously with the home runs I haven’t really executed those pitches. Hanging breaking balls, especially two strikes, I need to get those in the dirt. Just keep battling.”