The White Sox will skip Dallas Keuchel's next turn through the rotation as the veteran lefty continues to deal with the back stiffness that knocked him out early in his most recent start.
Keuchel completed just five innings despite throwing well against the Kansas City Royals on Sunday. He departed with the back issue that's bothered him throughout the season and will now cause him to miss a start entirely.
Manager Rick Renteria said Wednesday that the White Sox made the decision "out of an abundance of caution" and will get Keuchel ready to start during next week's important four-game set against the Minnesota Twins.
"Out of an abundance of caution, we’re going to skip him and get him ready for the Minnesota series," the South Side skipper said. "He actually came into the office today, said he was feeling better. So he’s going to go out there, play some catch, and we’ll continue to treat him up and get him ready for his next start, after we obviously skip this one."
Keuchel's absence, though, even if brief, as Renteria said he expected it will be, creates some mystery heading into this weekend's series against the Detroit Tigers. Lucas Giolito is scheduled to throw in Friday's game, but Renteria said the Saturday and Sunday starters are to be determined.
Dylan Cease could be the choice Sunday, as he'd be on regular rest after starting Tuesday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates. But it's possible, too, that the White Sox would prefer he started during the important games against a fellow AL Central contender, as opposed to the sub-.500 Tigers.
As for candidates to fill in in the rotation, there aren't many to choose from. Perhaps that means that Reynaldo López could be back starting after being sent down to the team's alternate training site in Schaumburg just last week after a third brief and ineffective start since his return from the injured list. Renteria said it's a possibility.
"The whole thought when we first sent him out was we wanted him to work on his rhythm and timing," Renteria said. "That’s part of the reason we sent him out. I think he’s continuing to improve. The reports have been good. At this point, if everyone feels he’s doing well and improves the things he needs to in order to put himself back, at this point we’ll determine the appropriate action in terms of bringing him back."
With Carlos Rodón's status still unknown, López might be climbing the list of the White Sox most logical options to fill in for Keuchel.
The team could also go with a bullpen day, perhaps starting the recently returned Gio González before moving on to other potential multi-inning relievers like Matt Foster or Bernardo Flores Jr. González wouldn't seem to be a candidate to make true starts on a regular basis, with Renteria describing the veteran Tuesday as a "Swiss Army knife" who had only been stretched out to two innings as he worked back from his injury.
Of course, it's possible this isn't just about one spot start against the Tigers. The White Sox play 17 games in 17 days to end the regular season, that stretch beginning Friday. And so the period of taking advantage of off days and working with only four starting pitchers will come to an end. Even if Keuchel misses just the one start, the White Sox will need another starter to pitch in important games, with 11 of their final 14 against the Twins, Cubs and Cleveland Indians, all contenders.
Rodón's cloudy status complicates how the White Sox would go about filling a fifth spot, and it might be a combination of López and a heavily used bullpen that makes the most sense to get them through the next two and a half weeks on the few days not accounted for by Giolito, Keuchel, Cease and Dane Dunning.
But before they can turn to the problem of filling the fifth spot, they've got to fill Keuchel's spot this weekend.