Sox Reporter

No Game 3 starter for Sox yet, but all hands on deck

Sox Reporter

This was not the best scenario for the White Sox.

They have two elite pitchers at the top of their rotation in Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel and figured to have the starting-pitching edge in this best-of-three playoff series against the Oakland Athletics.

But then the A's hit Keuchel unusually hard in Game 2 on Wednesday, Chris Bassitt did to the White Sox what Giolito did to the A's in Game 1, and a Game 3 is happening after all, the White Sox going from a potential sweep to a potential elimination.

So who the heck is going to start Game 3 for the South Siders?

RELATED: Why White Sox late rally in Game 2 might win Game 3 vs. A's

The only thing we know for sure is that we won't know before Thursday, with manager Rick Renteria saying after Game 2 that the White Sox will talk things over Wednesday night and make an announcement Thursday morning. The A's, in case you were wondering, are taking a similar gambit in this chess match.

So all we can do is spend the next several hours playing a guessing game when it comes to who will be getting the ball with the season on the line.

If it's going to be a traditional starting pitcher, the logical pick would be Dane Dunning. Though he didn't perform very well during a final-weekend audition for the job against the Cubs, neither did the other two candidates, Dylan Cease and Reynaldo López, the latter of whom isn't even on the White Sox roster for this postseason series. Cease, meanwhile, threw an inning of relief in Game 2.

 

Renteria made sure to make clear that Cease's 14 pitches in a 1-2-3 inning won't stop him from calling on Cease again Thursday if need be. Whether that means he'd be the first pitcher the White Sox use remains to be seen.

Dunning, again, seems like the most logical pick. But is he the best one? And could the answer to that question send the White Sox in a less traditional direction?

It's no great stretch to say that the White Sox best arms outside of Giolito and Keuchel are in their bullpen, a unit that's been stellar all season long and has continued to be excellent in the first two games of the postseason. Renteria needed just six outs from Evan Marshall, Aaron Bummer and Alex Colomé in the Game 1 victory. He needed far more after Keuchel lasted just 3.1 innings in Game 2.

Enter Jimmy Cordero to save the day for the White Sox. He logged 2.2 scoreless innings in relief of Keuchel, doing an enormous job to keep the bullpen usage low ahead of a day in which the White Sox might desperately need to turn to the 'pen early and often.

"That was one of the keys, probably, for us to still keep us in the ballgame and stave off using some of the other guys," Renteria said. "Lord willing we’re going to be all right. We have enough to patch it through."

In fact, it seems a bullpen day could provide the White Sox with the best chance to win Game 3 and advance to the ALDS.

The White Sox used that strategy a couple times during the regular season with less than encouraging results. But there's no doubt that they have the number of reliable arms required to get through nine innings in a must-win game.

Matt Foster started a pair of bullpen days in the regular season, delivering two scoreless innings each time. Codi Heuer, who pitched Wednesday but remains available for Thursday, has logged two innings at a time. Even Garrett Crochet, who has just five professional appearances under his belt, pitched two innings in his most recent outing.

All those guys are rookies who would be pitching on the playoff stage for the first time. But what they showed during the regular season has even the guy on the roster with the most playoff experience confident that they can get the job done.

"Throw them out there. I have total confidence in those guys at any point of the game, it doesn't matter," Yasmani Grandal said. "Those guys, they've shown that they can do it. They've shown that they want to be in those situations, and by the looks of it, it looks like they like to be on the big stage.

"So I'm 100-percent positive that they're going to do a really good job tomorrow and moving forward."

 

If all three of those rookies could log two innings, that makes six. An inning apiece for Marshall, Bummer and Colomé at the back end, and you've got nine innings.

Of course, Renteria would also have Dunning, Cease and Carlos Rodón at his disposal, as well as Jace Fry. That's plenty of options to cover nine innings.

"I've seen some very talented bullpens in my tenure as a major leaguer, but for the amount of rookies that have come up and impressed beyond belief, it's something that I've never seen before," Dallas Keuchel said. "I mean, honestly, we have anywhere from 100 to 97 (miles an hour), so there's no lack of velocity there. There's put-away pitches, it seems like every guy that comes out of the bullpen has a put-away pitch and that high-velocity heater.

"If we go opener tomorrow, I really feel confident. If we go Dane Dunning, I have the utmost confidence in him, as well, just based on how he's performed in this short season. I think we're going to rest easy tonight and we're going to wake up with some confidence tomorrow for Game 3."

Considering these are the playoffs, it's likely that no matter which route the White Sox go — starting a traditional starter like Dunning or a reliever like Foster — a bullpen day of sorts will be the outcome. Keuchel got the hook after 3.1 innings in Game 2, the same number of innings A's starter Jesús Luzardo logged in Game 1. Starters aren't given the opportunity to stick around in postseason games like they are during the regular season, with managers leaning heavily on their 'pens.

So while there will be plenty of focus on who throws the first pitch for the White Sox on Thursday, just as important is who throws all the other ones.

When it comes to that, the answer is easy. All hands are on deck. Expect anyone and everyone.

"We’ll have a starter," Renteria said. "Whether it’s classified as an opener or not, the truth is that all hands are on deck.

"We will try to do what we can, the best we possibly can, to minimize damage from the other side. And we have quite a few arms within our bullpen to try to accommodate that."

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