These are confusing times on the South Side.
One question looms above all others, of course, but there won’t be a lot of time spent here on why this talented group of players has stumbled to a dozen games below .500 as the Fourth of July approaches.
Because no one seems to know why these White Sox aren’t better.
“I don’t have the answer for that, in all candor,” Rick Hahn said Monday. “It’s not for lack of individual confidence. It’s not for lack of support from the staff. It’s not from lack of communication about expectations and what we feel guys are capable of doing.
“We have been digging ourselves out of a hole for a while now, and it’s a little tough to have that edge when you are swimming upstream.”
Frustrated fans could probably come up with a few answers, and another season rife with injuries probably produces the best explanation in the end.
But again, this isn’t about that.
Nor is it about why the heck Elvis Andrus was safe at home Tuesday night.
No, the confusion du jour is the piling up of a few recent moves, decisions and vague injury timelines that have led to a bunch of questions and few answers. I’m not sure how much clarity the explanations below will provide, but they’re here to try to untangle what’s going on at 35th and Shields.
Why did Michael Kopech come out of Wednesday’s game after only 86 pitches?
Kopech didn’t have it Wednesday night, no doubt about it. A quick first couple innings segued to laborious third and fourth innings that jacked his pitch count up to 86 after just 12 outs.
But Kopech is a starting pitcher, and starting pitchers hate nothing more than not going deep into their starts. Even struggling ones usually get sent out over and over again until either their pitch count gets too high or the game gets out of hand.
Neither of those things happened Wednesday night when Kopech was lifted after four innings. He was still 14 pitches shy of that magic triple-digit number, and the White Sox were within two runs of the Rangers, down 3-1 after Kopech gave up a two-run homer in the fourth inning.
Pedro Grifol went to Jimmy Lambert for the fifth, a three-run homer followed, and the game was effectively over at that point with the White Sox’ offense doing next to nothing for yet another night.
So even though Kopech was clearly not at his best, why did he get the hook before the usual time?
“He’s thrown a lot,” Grifol said after the game. “He had to work hard in those four innings. I just decided it’s one of those games where I’m going to give him a break instead of running him up to 100, 105 (pitches). He wanted to go back out. He was good, strong. But it was one of those games I’m going to give him a break today.
“He’s got six days rest, regroup and get back after it. He’s got three more starts before the (All-Star) break. He’s fine. That’s why I took him out.
“If we didn’t have a day off tomorrow, and if we didn’t have some length back there, I probably would have let him go back out. But he’s thrown a lot. … I think all these guys at some point need a little bit of a break. Today was a good day. Since we had a couple of long guys back there, we felt we could cover the game and actually give him a break, especially when he’s going on six days (in his next start). Today was a good day to do that.”
Grifol’s reasoning doesn’t strike as bad or wrong, necessarily, it simply strikes as bizarre. Kopech, even with his unique history of missed time, has been built up over the last two-plus seasons to be a starting pitcher who can handle a major league workload over the course of a full season. Teams getting their starting pitchers rest by giving them extra days off is plenty reasonable, and Kopech will get that extra day thanks to the team’s off day Thursday.
But to give one more inning? Fifteen extra pitches? In the middle of a two-run game?
Kopech, considering his mentality as a starting pitcher, obviously didn’t want to come out of the game. But he understood what his manager was thinking about with the decision.
“There’s a bigger thought process to this season. I can appreciate what he has to say, keeping me resting and everything,” Kopech said. “As a competitor, I wanted it. As a part of this team, I knew I didn’t have it today. So I did understand the move, just wanted to be better.
“He saw a bigger picture, and I can appreciate that.”
As Grifol explained, the White Sox did have the newly acquired Touki Toussaint to provide length in the bullpen, and he dazzled with four innings of no-hit relief work Wednesday. But there was also an off day Thursday to reset the bullpen.
Why is José Rodriguez on the big league roster if he’s not going to start?
Like any prospect having success, Rodriguez has caught the eye and imagination of White Sox fans. Maybe someday, he can be a part of the equation for this team.
Today, however, is not that day.
Rodriguez, the sixth-ranked prospect in the organization, was called up Monday when Romy Gonzalez hit the injured list. With Tim Anderson day-to-day (more on him in a bit) and Yoán Moncada also on the IL (more on him in a bit, too), the pickings were getting slim.
Logically, Rodriguez seemed to earn a shot with a hot streak at Double-A Birmingham. He had a 1.045 OPS, five homers, six doubles, 17 RBIs, 15 runs scored in his last 16 games there before getting the call Monday.
But from Hahn and Grifol’s comments Monday, it didn’t seem like Rodriguez was going to get much playing time while in the big leagues, which struck as odd considering it’s typically considered beneficial for developing players to get daily at-bats, more reps to hone their skills.
Grifol all but confirmed as much Wednesday, saying he wasn’t planning on giving any starts to Rodriguez, preferring to give those opportunities to Zach Remillard, who despite two game-winning hits in his first five days as a fill-in big leaguer isn’t the same class of prospect as Rodriguez.
So why is Rodriguez here, then?
Well, just look at the White Sox’ 40-man roster, and you’ll see Rodriguez was really the team’s only option.
Of the nine non-Rodriguez infielders on that 40-man roster, five were already on the active roster (Anderson, Andrus, Remillard, Jake Burger and Andrew Vaughn), two were on the IL (Gonzalez and Moncada) and two were not far removed from minor league injuries (Bryan Ramos and Lenyn Sosa). The White Sox needed an infielder, and there was realistically only one guy to call on without designating another player for assignment, especially considering the 40th and final spot was taken by the claimed Toussaint one day later.
Simply, Rodriguez is here because Sosa couldn’t be, which Hahn even alluded to Monday.
So Rodrgiuez’s midsummer promotion from Double-A will serve as an education in what awaits him further down the line in his career. That’s irritating, perhaps, for fans who always hope there’s something better waiting in the minor leagues — or who merely think anything, even an inexperienced kid, has to be better than the guys who sit a dozen games under .500 — but it’s in line with the White Sox’ recent stance of not rushing prospects to the majors, even if odd roster circumstances have landed Rodriguez here anyway.
Why hasn’t Tim Anderson been placed on the injured list?
Anderson came out of Saturday’s game with a shoulder injury and hasn’t started since.
The White Sox’ All-Star shortstop has badly struggled this season, resembling neither the one-time batting champion who made opposing pitchers’ lives a nightmare by spraying balls to right field nor the bat-flipping, uber-confident personality who became a national figure and the face of the franchise.
But right now, he’s just unable to play the field.
As Grifol explained it over the course of a three-game series with the Rangers that saw Anderson appear only briefly, as a pinch-hitter for one at-bat Tuesday night, Anderson was able to do no more than run during pregame work Monday. He added batting practice Tuesday but has still not been able to play the field. The manager said before Wednesday’s game that only an “extreme emergency” would lead him to put Anderson at his usual position, and he didn’t even want to do that.
Thursday’s off day will give Anderson an extra day to recover, and Grifol is somewhat hopeful for a Friday return. But Anderson has already missed four straight games, with Thursday being a fifth straight day, half the length of a stay on the injured list.
So why hasn’t Anderson been sent there to recover?
Well, it sounds simple, but 10 is greater than five, that’s why.
This was a consistent complaint of White Sox fans last season, when the injury bug never let go of the team. It’s popped up again, with the team dedicating a roster spot to someone who isn’t able to play. As mentioned earlier, there really isn’t another infielder the White Sox could call on at the moment without shuffling things up, but still, Anderson has been limited to being a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner for the time being.
But to be without Anderson, who despite a down season is still viewed as the team’s “igniter,” for five days or six days or seven days is preferable to being without him for 10, and the White Sox don’t think they’ll be without him for 10.
It might be maddening to fans, but it makes perfect sense to the White Sox, with Grifol saying Wednesday there has never even been a thought to sending Anderson to the injured list.
“We didn’t think it was going to take (10) days, and we also have value for him to do other things, like pinch-hit, pinch-run,” Grifol said. “In an emergency, we can probably use him, even though we don’t want to. But an IL was just too long a period.”
When is Yoán Moncada returning from the injured list?
Unfortunately, it’s one without an answer.
Moncada has been on the IL since last week, the same back injury that popped up late in spring training, put him on the shelf early in the season and has been a source of nagging trouble all year striking again.
Whether it’s the sole cause of another disappointing offensive campaign for the one-time top-ranked prospect in baseball is unclear.
So too is when it might let up enough to get Moncada back on the field.
“That’s hard to tell because we haven’t started hitting yet,” Grifol said Wednesday. “He was throwing a little yesterday, shagged a little bit. He felt OK. The back is weird. I guess it will let you know when it feels good, and then you can take the next step.
“I don’t have an answer to that. It could be 10 days, could be two weeks. I don’t have an answer. Just depends on how he progresses, and he’s day to day. Just have to see how he gets here and how he feels.”
That could reasonably imply that the White Sox could be without Moncada through the remainder of the first half. Only 18 days remained prior to the break when Grifol made those comments, and it’s possible any comeback for Moncada could require a rehab assignment, especially considering he hasn’t even been able to swing yet.
“He was out there yesterday running around a little bit, fielding, shagging, moving around. He was doing a ton of exercises. It just depends. … It’s just the way the back is. I went through that. I know exactly the way he’s feeling. I don’t wish that upon anybody. That rehab is tough.”
It also heaps more missed time on Moncada’s plate and on the plate of this core, in general. The group of players the White Sox built their future around has rarely been on the field at the same time. That remains the story this deep into the 2023 season.
Why did Touki Toussaint’s driver take the Kennedy?
This one makes absolutely no sense.
Toussaint was claimed off waivers Tuesday, which coincidentally enough was his birthday, and flew to join his new team Wednesday. He landed at O’Hare and hopped in a car.
He didn’t get to the ballpark until 6 p.m., one hour prior to first pitch of a game in which he ended up throwing four innings.
It turns out he was stuck in traffic for a long time, which anyone who lives here knows happens every single day. Things are especially enraging at the moment because of the massive construction project on the Kennedy, which was the route Toussaint’s driver chose to crawl along all the way from O’Hare to Guaranteed Rate Field.
The expressways in this town are basically unusable at the moment, the inbound Kennedy the worst offender. As I type this at 11 a.m. on a Thursday, the quickest way from O’Hare to the ballpark is to take Harlem Avenue to the Eisenhower, which still comes with an unbearable traffic snarl on that expressway.
Toussaint’s driver probably would have been better off taking Harlem to freaking Cermak.
Hell, is there a Divvy station at O’Hare?