Jace Fry

A miserable start for White Sox pitching continues: 'It's not acceptable'

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AP

A miserable start for White Sox pitching continues: 'It's not acceptable'

It's only been 10 games. And what happens in the first 16th of a Major League Baseball season does not determine the remaining 94 percent of the campaign to follow. If it did, Chris Shelton would have won an MVP and the 1987 Milwaukee Brewers would be remembered as the greatest team in baseball history.

So all assessments at the 10-game mark need to be taken with a hefty helping of sodium chloride.

But through the first 10 games of this season, White Sox pitching has been very, very not good. After Tuesday's 10-5 loss to the visiting Tampa Bay Rays, the South Side staff owned the highest ERA in baseball, at 6.72, moving ahead of their Crosstown rivals, whose pitching staff generated sky-is-falling delirium on the other side of town in the season's first week.

Now it's the White Sox turn to experience a string of pitching nightmares. Through the first five games of the current homestand, South Side pitching allowed 44 runs, an average of nearly nine a game. The starting rotation is to blame for 29 of those in an eye-poppingly small number of innings, just 20, an average of four innings a start. Reynaldo Lopez kicked things off with five innings in the home opener, the only win on this homestand to this point. Lucas Giolito followed with 4.1 innings, Ivan Nova with 2.1 innings, Carlos Rodon with 4.2 innings. Ervin Santana's White Sox debut went poorly Tuesday, and he lasted just 3.2 innings, still tagged by the Rays for seven runs. The quintet’s ERA the last turn through the rotation is a hideous 13.05.

The bullpen hasn't been much better, with 15 runs coughed up in the five games. Few innings have gone worse for that relief corps than Jace Fry's startling 46-pitch top of the ninth Tuesday. He gave up two runs on three hits and a couple of walks, one of the bases-loaded variety, watching his ERA balloon to 13.50 in the process. That followed up Caleb Frare's brief appearance that featured a couple aesthetically displeasing wild pitches.

Of the 15 pitchers who have thrown for the White Sox this season — including Dylan Covey and Carson Fulmer, both currently on the roster at Triple-A Charlotte — only five have ERAs below 5.70, while six of them have ERAs north of 7.70 and four have ERAs at or north of 10.00.

It's an all-around ugly situation and one that the White Sox didn't expect. The experience gained by Rodon, Lopez and Giolito in 2018 and the offseason additions of Nova, Alex Colome and Kelvin Herrera were supposed to make this staff better. But questions of reliability have not been answered to this point, even if "to this point" is just a week and a half into April.

No one's suggesting the plug get pulled on any of the young pitchers who still have the talent to work their way into the team's long-term plans, especially in the rotation where guys like Rodon and Lopez have flashed, at times, ace-like potential. But as manager Rick Renteria has said from the start of spring training, the expectations have changed. The White Sox pitching staff, at the present, is not meeting those expectations.

"At some point we have to look ourselves in the mirror and be accountable to our actions, lack of, whether they are positive or negative," Renteria said after Tuesday's game. "Our expectations are very high. We came into spring with high expectations. I think that, at this point, are we disappointed? A little bit. Absolutely. They are a little disappointed as well. They are not guys who are wanting to have had the start we are having right now.

"I get it's early in the season — albeit we're not the only club that's had issues early on — it's not acceptable and we don't want it to be something that's acceptable. We want to make sure they understand that change has to occur."

Don't expect that change to be the kind fans on Twitter are asking for, that the White Sox front office goes out and signs the still-jobless Dallas Keuchel, the 2015 AL Cy Young winner who has been one of two high-profile victims of this winter's glacially paced free-agent market (Hall of Fame bound closer Craig Kimbrel is the other, and it seems unlikely the White Sox would add him to their staff, either). Even if the expectations are different for this year's group of White Sox, it doesn't mean they're expected to contend for a playoff spot. Adding Keuchel might drastically improve the rotation in the short term, but it's hard to see what kind of long-term goals such a move would accomplish. And as the summer goes on, a contender or two figure to find themselves with an opening in their rotation, perhaps a much more attractive situation for Keuchel's camp.

No, the change will have to come from the inside, and in most cases, from the guys already on this big league roster. Dylan Cease won't be rushed as he gets his feet wet in Triple-A. It's unlikely Jordan Stephens and Jordan Guerrero would make fans swoon with their major league arrivals like Michael Kopech did last summer. There's a chance that Covey could again find his way into the rotation at some point, with Renteria saying part of the reason the White Sox sent him down was to allow him to work his way into a starting role in Charlotte. The Triple-A bullpen has some pieces that can be brought up to the bigs, but most of those are players the White Sox passed up for their current crop of relievers at the end of the spring.

That might paint a dire portrait in the minds of White Sox fans, but it's as good an example as any that there might be no white knight riding in to save the staff. The corrections are going to have to occur from within. If they do, then we'll look back on these 10 games as merely a bump in the road. If they don't, then this will have been a bad omen that some of the guys hoped to be a part of the long-term future couldn't figure things out. The White Sox, of course, are hoping that latter scenario never rears its head.

Earlier on this homestand, Nova said what he needed to do for his next outing. His response? "Pitch better." That seems to apply to just about everyone who picks up a ball for the White Sox at this point.

"We have to make adjustments," Renteria said. "That's the bottom line."

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Alex Colome unsurprisingly named White Sox closer, though bullpen mysteries abound ahead of Opening Day

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USA TODAY

Alex Colome unsurprisingly named White Sox closer, though bullpen mysteries abound ahead of Opening Day

Though Rick Renteria isn't fond of naming one, the White Sox have a closer.

Alex Colome, acquired in a trade with the Seattle Mariners this offseason, will be the White Sox designated closer when the season starts next week in Kansas City, Renteria shared with reporters Friday in Arizona.

As that tweet shows, Renteria is still very much standing by his philosophy of "having a bunch of different guys who can close out games," not a bad philosophy to have should Colome spend any time on the disabled list, struggle in a significant fashion or just get tired and become unavailable at various points throughout the 162-game season. Regardless of whether Colome is the guy or not — and he is — there will be others Renteria will deploy in save situations. That's just the nature of the game.

But Colome is a no-brainer of a choice here considering what he's done the past two seasons. In 2016, he logged 37 saves with the Tampa Bay Rays. In 2017, he was baseball's saves leader, with 47 of them. He saved 11 more games with the Rays last season before getting traded to the Mariners, where he served in a setup role to last year's saves leader, Edwin Diaz.

In the last three seasons, Colome has a 2.78 ERA and 201 strikeouts in 191.1 innings, many of them high-leverage situations.

Saying Colome is the obvious choice to close is no insult to the other guys in an improved White Sox bullpen. It's a reflection of how good an addition Rick Hahn made this offseason.

Meanwhile, the rest of the bullpen is full of preseason mysteries.

Kelvin Herrera, another offseason upgrade White Sox fans are thrilled is no longer pitching out of the Kansas City Royals' bullpen, is still on the way back from an injury that ended his 2018 season in late August. Nate Jones has had himself a very rough spring (a 15.43 ERA in 4.2 Cactus League innings) and has recently described his outings as "unacceptable." While Renteria said Friday that "the next couple of days are very important" for Jones, it would be quite surprising if he wasn't on the Opening Day roster.

Jace Fry, another projected late-inning option for Renteria, has also had a poor spring, with eight runs allowed in eight innings. Ian Hamilton has made just one Cactus League appearance, recovering from an injury sustained during a car accident this spring. Manny Banuelos, who could be the long man out of the 'pen, has allowed eight earned runs, surrendered three home runs and issued six walks in 14 innings this spring.

Ryan Burr, though, has been a bright spot, with just three runs allowed over his seven outings.

So what will the Opening Day bullpen look like? Assuming it will contain eight pitchers, Colome, Herrera, Jones, Fry, Banuelos and Burr could account for six of them. If Hamilton is healthy, he could get another. Same for Caleb Frare, who also got his first taste of the majors at the end of last season. There are only two other potential relief pitchers currently listed on the White Sox roster: Dylan Covey and Jose Ruiz. Covey could likely only serve as a long man, and with Banuelos out of options, it's Banuelos who seems most destined for that spot after the White Sox made a trade to acquire him this winter. Ruiz could step in in the event Hamilton isn't healthy enough to make the roster out of camp or beat out one of his fellow youngsters for a more secure job.

We'll see how all that plays out. One thing you can mark down in pen: Colome is the ninth-inning man.

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Competition among intriguing young arms could help define roles in White Sox bullpen of the future

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USA TODAY

Competition among intriguing young arms could help define roles in White Sox bullpen of the future

The White Sox bullpen of the future has been assembled rather quickly.

Summertime trades shipping veteran arms out of town and the annual expansion of rosters that happens this time of year has rapidly changed the look of the relief corps. It’s gotten younger, and there’s a heck of a lot more potential for these guys to form the group that Rick Renteria will call on when the White Sox eventually transition from rebuilding mode to contention mode.

Seven pitchers under the age of 26 now reside out in the White Sox bullpen, with the majority called up in recent weeks: Aaron Bummer, Ryan Burr, Caleb Frare, Jace Fry, Ian Hamilton, Jose Ruiz and Thyago Vieira. Most of those guys put up really good numbers in the minors this season, and as they get their opportunities here in the final month of the 2018 campaign, they conjure the idea of the White Sox potentially constructing a homegrown relief corps for the next roster that will compete for a championship.

“We have brought up some young men which we’re looking at now who show good arm, good command of the zone. We’re going to continue to find out more about them,” Renteria said Tuesday. “Hopefully we are able to put a lot together from within our own system, from the young men that we have and they’re growing into those roles, trusting that they have the stuff to do what they need to do in order to close out the back end of a ballgame.

“I think that the organization as a whole, Rick (Hahn) and the whole front office, has done a great job of the acquisitions and the drafting, so now we’re starting to see some of these kids and they’re pretty exciting to watch.”

The numbers from the minor leagues have been eye-popping for some of these newcomers. Hamilton had a 1.74 ERA with Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte. Burr had a 2.45 ERA with those two teams. Bummer had a 2.64 ERA at Charlotte. Frare, acquired in a July trade with the New York Yankees, had a 0.78 ERA between the two organizations. Ruiz, called up Tuesday, had a 3.07 ERA with Class A Winston-Salem and Birmingham. And Fry, who’s been in the majors for most of the season, has a 2.38 ERA since the beginning of August.

Zack Burdi, who many fans and observers are predicting could be the team’s closer of the future, remains on the comeback trail from Tommy John surgery and therefore hasn’t reached the South Side yet. But the arrival of all these other relievers could signal the assemblage of much of the bullpen of the future.

It ought to have rebuild-loving White Sox fans feeling very good.

“It is something incredible,” Ruiz said through a team translator Tuesday. “I’ve been playing with all of them in the minors, in Double-A, and I know the talent that they have. I think they’re going to have a really good challenge and really good competition between us just to try to see who can do a better job. It’s going to be something good for us to see who has the best stuff, in a good way. We all have very good stuff and we’re all very talented.”

Competition has been a theme for this group. Burr has used the phrase “competition breeds success” a few times since getting called up, and it’s intriguing to think about what competition among these guys will yield.

Much like the starting staff has talked about the friendly competition going on there, competition in the ‘pen could help Renteria and his staff define roles for the 2019 campaign. For a team that’s operated without a closer since Joakim Soria was traded away before the July 31 deadline, finding some set roles at the end of games could be very beneficial. And competition between all these young arms is what could do just that.

“I'm hoping, amongst all the men we have here, if there is a defined role as a closer that we ultimately maybe have it come from within our system,” Renteria said. “We’ve been debuting a lot of guys in that role this year, I think we’ve had nine guys close out games for us this year. I think we’re in that stage now where we have an opportunity to see these guys work, see them work under different circumstances and see how they respond, see how they react.

“And hopefully amongst the group we find those leverage situation pitchers for us working from the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth. That’s what we’re trying to find out.

“When you have depth in the organization and there’s competition for roles in your position, you don’t have time to let down. There’s an edge that you have to develop in order to be able to compete. It’s nice for us as an organization to be having the competition that they’re having amongst each other, to show each other what they’re capable of doing. That’s really an important piece.

“That sense of urgency beyond just being here and competing against another club and trying to win a ballgame on a daily basis, but knowing that, ‘Hey man, if I don’t perform there’s a chance somebody else is going to be able to do what I need to do.’ That’s a pretty important piece of the puzzle.”

Speaking of puzzles, Renteria will have an interesting one to solve on a daily basis as all these young pitchers simultaneously audition for important roles in next season’s relief corps. Fortunately he’s got a lot of pieces to choose from, pieces that will be trying to one-up the guys around them. And if Burr’s maxim proves correct and competition does indeed breed success, then the White Sox bullpen of the future could wind up a strength of the team of the future.