When everyone predicted last month that the Chicago White Sox would run away with the American League Central, general manager Rick Hahn expressed concern about the prospect of a “little rocky” start.
“Just the nature of the off-season, the short spring, expectations of a faster schedule at the start of the year were going to create some volatility in the roster and the performance was likely to be over,” Hahn said Monday afternoon. “I didn’t anticipate losing six in a row after (winning) eight in a row. But it’s not a total shock that we haven’t found our sea legs or that this team hasn’t got its identity. ,
In fact this Sox team already had an identity that was forged during its run for the post season in 2021. But lately we’ve seen that cocky, against-the-world attitude on display.
The return of third baseman Yoan Moncada and reliever Joe Kelly from the injured list added to the team’s enthusiasm on Monday. But on the verge of their seventh consecutive victory, the Sox took a six-run lead in the ninth inning and lost 12–9 to the Cleveland Guardians in 11 innings before going to 17,168.
“It’s a tough, brutal loss,” said manager Tony La Russa.
“Homestand is not the best way to start,” said closer Liam Hendrix, who skipped a Grand Slam in ninth.
Michael Kopech was dominant – allowing an unearned run on two hits with seven strikeouts in six innings, which matched the longest start of his career – but a slump denied Kopech his first win.
The Sox took an 8-2 lead in the ninth before errors from Moncada and Tim Anderson and some shaky pitching from Tanner Banks forced La Russa to turn to Hendrix with a lead of two outs, two ons and four runs. .
Hendrix stuns the remnants of the crowd, before Josh Naylor’s Grand Slam tied him to a base load off Owen Miller.
After the teams scored in the 10th, Naylor struck again in the 11th with a three-run homer off Ryan Burr.
La Russa said he considered letting Naylor walk but Burr challenged him.
“Some days you’re the windshield, some days you’re the bug,” Burr said. “Unfortunately I had a bug today. I got crushed.”
Switch-hitting Moncada can’t solve all the opening issues of the Sox hitting right-handers, and Kelly will have to prove that to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series nearly 6½ months after suffering a right biceps nerve injury. He is completely back. Still, they are two valuable ingredients for this White Sox stew.
The Sox came home on Monday into the summer season and started a homestand against the Guardians and the New York Yankees. Kopech, who has excelled since joining the rotation following his sabbatical at the bullpen last season, looked well on his way to his first win before the end of the ninth inning.
It is understandable that the Sox have handled Kopech with kid gloves – 29 innings in six starts – despite an impressive 0.93 ERA. But has manager Tony La Russa thrown Kopech in the eighth or ninth inning this entire season?
“If you predict what he’ll get today, you’re fooling yourself or someone else,” La Russa said before the start of Monday. “If he’s running, he can pitch seven or eight if he’s getting out early. If not, maybe half.
“We know the reality is that this is his first (full) year as a debutante. It is a long season and as far as extending that is concerned, we will err on the side of caution.”
Kopech showed his dismay in the dugout after being removed in the fifth inning of his last start against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, although he later said he understood the Sox was looking out for his well being.
It’s hard to come out when you’re almost nonchalant. Kopech restricted right-handers to an average of .114 in Monday’s game, with no extra-base hits against him.
“I don’t think he’s brought anything close to his ‘A’ game yet, and he absolutely dominates,” fellow starter Dylan Cease said on Monday. “When he’s clicking on all cylinders, it’s going to be scary.”
Siege, who could be on his way to his first All-Star selection, said Kopech is learning to be a regular starter for the first time since 2018. He missed 2019 after surgery on Tommy John’s right elbow and sat out. Pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
“He’s clearly a good pitcher already, and he did it to get out of the bullpen,” said Cease. “But now it is the next step in getting through the lineup a couple of times. He has absolutely the stuff to do.”
It’s been a minute since the rebuilding of Kopech and Moncada became the first two prospects achieved by Hahn, when he sent Chris Sells to the Boston Red Sox at the 2016 winter meetings. Injuries and COVID-19-related absences have kept both players from living up to the initial promotion, but it’s easy to forget that Moncada has only played four full seasons, while Kopech has only eight career starts entering 2022 Was.
If the promised land is on the Socks docket, both players should be the key crew on the ride.
The Sox selected Jake Burger for Triple-A Charlotte to open Moncada’s roster spot. Kelly replaced reliever Aaron Bummer, who was placed on IL Retroactive Saturday with a right knee sprain.
“Just a weird thing that happened in Boston,” Bummer said. “Just felt something on the last two pitches. We are definitely playing it smart. We’re playing it safe this time of year and trying not to push anything, and it will be healthy for a long time.”
Kelly finished a scoreless seventh on his Sox debut. Hahn looked after his health after signing the veteran in March to a two-year, $17 million deal with an option for 2024. Kelly once suffered a back injury in 2019 while cooking crawfish for his teammates.
“He was cooking some Cajun food,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “I think he stood a little longer than he wanted. That’s what he told me.”
With their never-ending series of untimely injuries, the Sox will hopefully keep Kelly off the stove in 2022. Hand her some takeout menus from many of our best restaurants.
It couldn’t hurt. The Sox have become experts at overcoming obstacles over the past two-plus seasons, and their opening travails in October may only be a blip.
“One of the beautiful things about this sport is over the course of a long summer, the real talent and the true potential of the team prevail,” Hahn said.
Summer arrived early Monday, interrupting our miserable Chicago spring.
We can only hope it’s a long one.