White Sox

White Sox fall to Orioles despite late rally

White Sox fall to Orioles despite late rally

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.”

Gio Gonzalez still hoping to throw 'at least one pitch' for White Sox

Gio Gonzalez still hoping to throw 'at least one pitch' for White Sox

Forgive Gio Gonzalez if his short-term goal is pretty basic.

"I just want to throw one pitch in a White Sox uniform. At least one pitch," he said Tuesday.

Gonzalez, 34, has waited 16 years for that one pitch. And he’s still waiting.

Originally drafted in the first round by the White Sox in 2004, he was traded twice – once for Jim Thome in 2006 and once for Nick Swisher in 2008 – by the organization. His reunion with Chicago came last December, when he signed a one-year, $5 million contract with the team.

Then a shoulder injury struck.

And then a global pandemic.

“It's sad to say I did that have that depression, kind of like, am I ever going to get to wear this wonderful uniform in this city that drafted me and get to pitch, finally, an inning with them?,” Gonzalez said.

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Tuesday signified a step closer to making that pitch a reality. For the first time since he was drafted by the White Sox, Gonzalez returned to the home bullpen in left field to throw.

“It was funny, today, after a bullpen session, I was telling (executive vice president Kenny Williams and pitching coach Don Cooper), the last time I threw off this mound was in 2004 (because) when you get drafted, you get to throw a bullpen for the team that drafted you,” Gonzalez said. “I had that little moment with Kenny and Coop and I told Coop, 'The last time you saw me, I was a young kid and I had a lot of maturing to do when you had me, and now I'm an older gentleman with a little bit of mileage in my arm.’ I think it was worth the wait.”

Now Cooper and everyone else with the White Sox are hoping that mileage still allows Gonzalez to throw in actual games during this shortened 60-game season. A shoulder issue prevented Gonzalez from getting much work in during spring training and it’s now apparent that he wouldn’t have been available had the season started on time. Gonzalez said he spent the hiatus getting physical therapy in Pinecrest, Fla., where he lives.

“The staff there really took care of me, really helped my shoulder kind of get to where it needs to be now. From where I started to now, I think I've made a dramatic change,” he said.

But he’s still not 100 percent.

“I think my shoulder has progressed almost 95 percent, which this break really did help in a way where I could rest my arm and kind of get it going,” he said.

It’s possible that Gonzalez will make up that last five percent in the next 17 days before the regular season begins, and with Michael Kopech not even in camp with the White Sox, it sounds like Gonzalez will be needed. But when asked if he would be OK coming out of the bullpen if necessary, two things were clear: 1) Gonzalez would prefer to start, and 2) there’s still some trepidation with the left shoulder.

“It's putting me in a tough spot. I'm coming from a shoulder injury, trying to get into a healthy season as far the 60 games for the guys and trying to get into a postseason for the team,” Gonzalez said. “I don't want to risk it by putting myself on a shorter day rest to kind of get more innings.”

That said, he understands that traditional pitching roles could be in flux during this wonky season.

“If the time comes down the stretch, I think so, but I think it's too early to ask for that kind of help, but we'll see,” he said. “You never know. I'd like to help as much as possible, but again, I have to make sure I take care of my arm before I decide to make those decisions.”

The good news? Gonzalez is talking like someone who plans on pitching for the White Sox soon. The bad news? The shoulder issue might not be completely behind him.

So as Gonzalez still waits for that one pitch with the White Sox, the White Sox will be hoping for a whole lot more.



White Sox pitchers up for any role in short season: 'We want to win'

White Sox pitchers up for any role in short season: 'We want to win'

So how's this whole pitching thing going to work in 2020?

The baseball season has been squeezed down from its typical six-month marathon to a 60-game sprint to the postseason. The sport's been on hold for months, spring training abruptly halted back in March, with "Summer Camp" not starting up until the beginning of this month. Opening Day is two weeks from Friday, and the White Sox have more arms than they know what to do with.

Rick Hahn's fond of saying you can never have enough pitching, and certainly it's the truth, especially ahead of a season where the White Sox, nor any other team, can be certain of what they'll get from any one of their players. But with Michael Kopech, Carlos Rodón, Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert all able to be full-season additions after their various recoveries from Tommy John surgery, the White Sox have a much deeper group of pitchers — starting pitchers — than they were expected to have in March.

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The elements of the long layoff and the 60-game sprint, which certain players have described as potentially having a playoff atmosphere from Day 1, make it so Rick Renteria suddenly has a ton of options when it comes to managing his pitching staff. And the skipper himself, in the past no fan of new pitching trends such as the opener, has admitted that everything is on the table, including an expanded rotation or the art of "piggybacking," multiple starters pitching one right after the other in the same game.

It wouldn't be outlandish to expect creative deployments of the White Sox many arms. Wouldn't Kopech and his triple-digit velocity make a menacing late-inning option? Wouldn't opposing teams be shaking in their cleats if they finally chased Dallas Keuchel, only for Rodón to appear right after?

There are tons of possibilities, and the lines between starting pitcher and bullpen pitcher could get blurred in this most unusual of campaigns.

And another new variable for these White Sox could make things even more different: It's winning time on the South Side.

"We want to win. And in order for us to accomplish that, we have to be open to do whatever it takes to win every game," White Sox starting pitcher Reynaldo Lopez said Tuesday through team interpreter Billy Russo. "We as the starters, I think we're open to help the team in any role or capacity the team needs us to pitch. I think we don't need to be heroes, we just need to do our job."

"This season's pretty unique, obviously, with a 60-game schedule. I think a lot of us are going to have to encompass different roles," Rodón said Sunday. "Plus, we have a surplus of arms that we'll get to use, and I think there's some creative ways we could go about using them. I think all of us are pretty willing to step into any role we can to help this team win. We have a chance just as much as anyone."

That "whatever they ask of me" attitude might not strike as super uncommon, especially when teams get into pennant races and the playoffs. But this season will feature a pennant race from Opening Day to the end of September. Fast starts will be essential, and any losing streak could derail everything.

If the White Sox are going to compete alongside the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians for the AL Central crown, they'll need to do it from the jump.

"It's just going to be 60 games, and we have to win right away," Lopez said. "We have to start winning from the beginning because we won't have any chance to regroup or get better as the season progresses. We need to start in a hot situation and just try to keep it."

"We have 60 games," Keuchel said, "and I figured we’re probably going to be in playoff-mode type of coaching, when you get five or six innings from the starters, depending on how good they’re doing, and you turn it over to the bullpen."

RELATED: White Sox said to have one of MLB's easiest schedules, but not so fast

If Renteria has plans to utilize his pitching staff in a drastically different fashion, he might not have settled on it just yet. "Summer Camp" is still just a few days old, and the White Sox are still figuring out what kind of shape their pitchers are in after the months-long layoff. Simulated games and live batting practice sessions are starting to happen, and the team will play its first intrasquad game Thursday.

And the players are in that same mode of discovery. They usually get a month and a half to work themselves from offseason shape to in-season shape. This year, they got the majority of the way down that road, then went home for three months, and now they'll get only three weeks before the games start counting.

It's far from a perfect setup, and what pitchers can or will do once the season starts remains one of baseball's myriad mysteries.

"It’s such a weird way to say this, but it’s almost like you have to come to work and figure it out as you go," Gio González said Tuesday. "And it’s tough because it’s putting everybody in a situation where no one — we’re trying to make the best of it, but this is all new to everybody. I don’t know what is going to happen, I don’t know how they’re going to start us or move the guys around. We’re just trying to get our feet under us."

The same can be said for everyone involved in putting on the Major League Baseball season right now.

As with the questions surrounding the season's viability itself, the question of how the White Sox will alter their pitching strategy won't be answered for a while longer.