PHOENIX – Greetings from the Valley of the Sun!
There is baseball here, White Sox baseball. There is also the sun, the presence of which was a refreshing change of pace from the middle of a Chicago winter. It was in the mid to upper 70s today. Highs next week in the upper 80s.
Please don’t hate me.
I almost thought twice about packing my stack of shorts in a different room Thursday night, not wanting to enrage my fiancé by stoking weather envy.
But that did not happen, and I’ve made it to the Southwest to gloat about how tan I’m getting and tweet videos of Dallas Keuchel throwing live batting practice.
I’m going to try to do one of these notebooks each day I’m here, serving as a last stop for the stuff that happened on a given day following the big headlines, which you can read about all over this lovely website of ours.
You can become a CHGO family member to unlock all of my articles this season (plus get a free CHGO t-shirt and access to our exclusive CHGO Social Lounge on Discord).
So here’s a go from Day 1.
Six-man rotation? Fuhgettaboutit
Rick Hahn raised a few eyebrows during his post-lockout press conference Friday when he refused to take the idea of a six-man rotation off the table, opting to wait until the team got a look at all the starting pitchers they haven’t been able to talk to for the last three months before ruling anything out.
Well, Tony La Russa has made up his mind, and there will be no six-man rotation.
“I’m not sure that it helps you because it just means that the sixth game, you’re going to use your bullpen anyway. I think you go five,” the South Side skipper said. “You’re better off pitching your five guys and using your bullpen depth to cover those games. So I definitely wouldn’t have a sixth one.”
The attractiveness of the option made a decent amount of sense, no matter how practical, with the health of pitchers being the biggest worry in the wake of a shortened spring. La Russa said Saturday that a typical, six-week spring camp is necessary to get even the veteran guys ready to throw 100 pitches on Opening Day. Well, this camp will be significantly shorter than six weeks, and who knows what any pitcher in baseball will be capable of in April. Adding a guy to the mix to spread the rest around? OK, sure.
But La Russa dismissing the idea means the White Sox’ rotation is a firm five, with Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn, Dylan Cease, Michael Kopech and the aforementioned Keuchel the group until further notice. Keuchel is in many fans’ crosshairs in the wake of his woeful 2021 season, and Kopech is the subject of roughly a billion questions as he makes his transition to the starting staff.
Still, even while axing any hopes of a six-man rotation, La Russa echoed Hahn’s description of pitching depth as a crucial element this season.
Yoelqui Céspedes flashing the tools
He was billed as a five-tool player when the White Sox inked him to an international free-agent deal, and the minor league outfielder Céspedes put a couple of them on display in his brief matchup against Keuchel while the major leaguer was throwing live BP.
Céspedes was one of five batters to pick up a hit against the left-hander, though his was by far the loudest and longest, a blast to deep center field that went off a glove and went for an easy double. Not long after, Céspedes stole third base. Power bat? Check. Functional legs? Check.
The focus, of course, will be on Keuchel’s less than sterling results from a relatively meaningless practice session on a March afternoon. But Céspedes is one of the organization’s prospects of note. Though it’s unlikely he’ll make a big-league impact in 2022 – there’s plenty for him to work on in his offensive game, according to evaluators and even farm chief Chris Getz – his goal is to reach the South Side this year.
La Russa’s experience with new Sox pitcher
Joe Kelly is reportedly the newest member of the White Sox’ bullpen, the second very nice addition to a depleted relief corps Hahn has made this offseason.
Kelly has a reputation among fans as the guy who fought back against the Astros after their sign-stealing scandal became public knowledge. But he’s one accomplished reliever, with World Series rings on his fingers from a 2018 run with the Red Sox and a 2020 title with the Dodgers.
According to one LA-based media member, La Russa was integral to the team’s signing of another back-end bullpen weapon.
La Russa, it should be noted, has had ample experience with Kelly, who came up with the Cardinals and made his big league debut the year after La Russa scored his most recent World Series win in 2011. La Russa, too, was part of the Red Sox front office when Kelly pitched there and won it all in 2018. Craig Kimbrel, still currently part of the White Sox’ relief corps, was also a part of that 2018 Red Sox team.
La Russa is a ‘stache fan, guys.
“I like the growth, man,” he said to me while tracing his upper lip on Saturday’s Zoom call. “It looks good on you.”