It's one step forward, two steps back in the Chicago White Sox bullpen.
The good news is that Michael Kopech is back in action, returned from an extended stay on the injured list after he strained his hamstring at the end of May.
The bad news is that the White Sox lost two other pieces of their back-end mix, with both Aaron Bummer and Evan Marshall landing on the injured list. Bummer is there, in a placement retroactive to June 28, with a hamstring strain of his own, while Marshall hit the shelf with a strained right flexor pronator.
According to White Sox manager Tony La Russa, Bummer's stay is expected to be a brief one, lasting just the requisite 10 days, while Marshall's is expected to last longer.
"Aaron is one of our strong, most important go-to guys. But that’s just part of the game. It looks like it’s just a 10-day thing and we’ll get him back," La Russa said. "The impression I’ve been given is Marshall will take longer."
But getting Kopech back is huge for the White Sox, who at times looked to badly miss a guy who's been arguably their best reliever this season. All-Star closer Liam Hendriks has, for the most part, lived up to his free-agent deal. But Kopech has been right there with him, owning a 1.72 ERA and 45 strikeouts in his 31.1 innings of work.
La Russa has used Kopech as a multi-inning weapon, and it wouldn't be surprising to see that type of usage translate to October. Between his own stellar performance in his first year after back-to-back missed seasons and the loss of Bummer, who had been looking far more like his typically dominant late-inning self of late, Kopech could certainly see more high-leverage usage.
"Honestly, my arm has felt great. I haven't really had to worry about that this year," Kopech said Wednesday. "There's been a few ups and downs as far as velocity goes and recovery from day to day. But for the most part, I feel like it's been great this season.
"I really just try to go out there and do my job every time. I've had a lot of distractions in the past, and probably caused me to not be 100-percent authentic on the mound. Right now, my only focus is on the mound and supporting my family in that way.
"With me being able to kind of go out there with one goal in mind and one objective in mind, I just feel like I've been able to stay in my focus. ... I'm just grateful I've been doing well and I hope to keep that going.
"I feel like I've been able to maintain my focus, and hopefully I can continue doing so."
But while getting Kopech back is an obvious boost for the bullpen, losing two of their established back-end pieces is quite the opposite. The White Sox brought Jace Fry up from Triple-A Charlotte to step in. And Ryan Burr has been a pleasant surprise, quickly becoming a late-game option for La Russa.
What was projected to be a dominant bullpen that could rank as one of the best in the game has not been able to accomplish that nearly halfway through the regular season, with a 4.02 ERA coming into Wednesday night's game.
Injuries, which have bedeviled the White Sox up and down their roster for the entirety of the campaign, don't figure to help with the goal of shrinking that number and becoming the elite group that was forecasted back in the spring.
"Just had a run of bad luck," Kopech said of all the White Sox injuries. "And being on that side of bad luck the last couple of years, I can sympathize.
"I really hope we can turn that corner and get everybody healthy and back to being the team we are. We’ve done well with a lot of guys down, but we’re capable of a lot more. Really hoping everyone gets on the field healthy and we don’t have any more setbacks."