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Keuchel set to pitch in relief, could make Sox' playoff 'pen

/ by Vinnie Duber
Presented By Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
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Here's something you might not have expected to see in the Chicago White Sox' final series of the regular season:

Dallas Keuchel pitching out of the bullpen.

Certainly it's not something Keuchel expected to see after he turned in a stellar first season on the South Side in 2020, posting a 0.99 ERA and finishing in the top five in the American League Cy Young vote. But that's where a disappointing campaign has led the veteran lefty.

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The silver lining here, though, is that a planned relief outing Saturday against the Detroit Tigers could lead to Keuchel grabbing a spot on the White Sox' playoff roster, something that has looked unlikely for weeks as the southpaw stumbled through August and a relatively better September and found himself on the outside looking in when it came to the projected four-man postseason rotation.

"What you do is you take the most versatile and deepest pitching staff," White Sox manager Tony La Russa said during his pregame Zoom session Friday. "I do think, without talking about anybody in particular, if there's a starter who's not in the first three games (of the first-round playoff series), he can come out of the bullpen.

"Probably this (weekend), you'll see quite a few appearances by — we're going to try to win the game, for sure. But we've got to make sure we set the pitching up right for the playoffs. So you could see a starter come in as a reliever, pitch an inning or two."

 

There's still plenty up in the air for the White Sox when it comes to their postseason pitching plans. While Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn and Dylan Cease figure to be locked into starting spots, Carlos Rodón's late-season health issues have made things more difficult to project.

The White Sox are still waiting to find out what Rodón, who's been mostly excellent when he's been on the mound this season, can give them in the AL Division Series, his persistently sore left shoulder making recovery from one start to the next a lengthy ordeal with plenty of question marks.

"I think we're still looking into it," La Russa said Friday, two days after Rodón threw five shutout innings against the Cincinnati Reds. "He's playing catch sometime this weekend. We'll see. Nothing official or definite yet.

"It's more a level of curiosity. ... I'd hate to comment one way or the other because there's not enough info yet."

Should Rodón not be able to go in the playoffs, there are alternatives for La Russa to turn to, and Keuchel would figure to be among the options. Reynaldo López has, frankly, looked better than Keuchel as a starter this season. The White Sox might also like the idea of a modified bullpen day, with Michael Kopech pitching multiple innings as an opener, though it was a bullpen day of sorts that resulted in the team's elimination in 2020.

Keuchel might find a way to contribute out of the 'pen. Obviously, it's difficult to predict how he might fare, as he hasn't made a major league relief appearance since 2013, if you don't count him starting a suspended game earlier this season. He did make one playoff relief appearance in the 2015 ALDS, pitching for the Houston Astros against the eventual-champion Kansas City Royals. He gave up three runs in the decisive Game 5 in that series, which was played six years ago.

Of course, a more important questions to ask is, "What have you done for me lately?"

Keuchel has been better of late, when comparing it to the rough patch that came before, allowing a total of only six runs in his last three starts. A 3.38 ERA in his last 16 innings is indeed an improvement over the woes that preceded it. But there likely aren't many White Sox fans who would clamor to see him in a big spot in a playoff game when seeing that opposing hitters hit .364 against him, with a .434 on-base percentage, in the same span.

Keuchel's season ERA of 5.13 does describe the kind of year he's had, which has featured a career-high 25 home runs allowed and a career-high 58 walks issued.

 

But even given those results this season — Keuchel, a ground-ball pitcher, has frequently suggested he's been the victim of some poor luck — the White Sox could benefit from his playoff experience, winning history and the kind of veteran knowhow that was so trumpeted when they inked him to a multi-year free-agent deal two offseasons ago. He's pitched in 63 postseason innings and has a World Series ring on his finger from his time with the Astros.

Now, the White Sox will have to make the decision of whether they want him facing those same Astros in the first round of the playoffs.

That's what Saturday's scheduled relief outing is for, to see if Keuchel, the $55.5 million man, can help this team in October.

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