As the White Sox enter the month of June, manager Pedro Grifol is able to set his lineup with essentially a roster at full strength. Reliever Jimmy Lambert is the only notable player currently on the injured list. A fully healthy locker room of White Sox has been a rarity on the south side over the past two seasons.
Before the series opener Friday night against the Tigers, the Sox reinstated Mike Clevinger from the injured list, who had missed a pair of starts with wrist inflammation. Earlier in the week, Liam Hendriks returned to the bullpen. In his lineup, Grifol wasn’t missing any of the core pieces.
“I am excited that we have a full roster. Now the challenge is going to be getting everybody in. But it’s a good challenge. It’s a good problem to have,” Grifol said. “One of the most important things for us is to continue to try to keep everyone healthy. Having a full roster like this and having some depth is going to allow us to rest some people more often than we have been able to.
“That’s important for us, to allow bodies to recover while we still have the depth in our lineup and the depth in our pitching.”
On Friday, the Sox beat the Tigers 3-0 with the right mix of good pitching, timely hitting, and sturdy defense. Along with health, each of those elements has been absent from the team at different points this season.
But against Detroit, all the pieces came together. Clevinger returned and pitched five innings, striking out six and allowing four baserunners. He was perfect through the first three innings. The bullpen of Keynan Middleton, Reynaldo Lopez, Joe Kelly, and Kendall Graveman kept the Tigers scoreless while the offense broke up Reese Olson’s no-hitter in the sixth, eventually scoring two runs that inning and tacking on a third in the seventh.
Good health might go a long way toward this group getting their season back on course. Injuries played a role in the team’s historically bad start in April, and as the Sox gradually got healthier in May, they won more games. The Sox posted a 15-14 record last month. But they will need a much better June to make up for a terrible first few weeks of the season.
Regardless, Grifol won’t entirely blame injuries for his team’s bad start, and he believes going through the struggles of the first month of the season may have done some good.
“We had some injuries in April that certainly affected us, but there’s no excuse for that,” he said. “We’ve still got to perform through injuries and you’ve got to battle through adversity. But we’ve learned from each other. We’ve made mistakes, that’s me included, but we were a better ballclub in May and we need to improve here in June and continue to improve in July and finish the year strong.”
Friday’s win could be a nice measuring stick for what the Sox are capable of. Obviously, when they check the boxes of good pitching, defense, and hitting, they are going to be hard to beat most nights. But when they add on to that by doing the little things well, that may do more for them to right the ship than simply getting healthy.
For example, getting three consecutive singles in the sixth inning scored the first two runs, but their insurance run in the seventh was partially the product of quality baserunning. Jake Burger pinch hit for Gavin Sheets after Yasmani Grandal drew a leadoff walk, and he hit a groundball that looked off of the bat like a sure double play. Instead, Burger beat the throw, making it a fielder’s choice and giving the Sox another out to keep the inning going.
Two batters later, Tim Anderson hit a two-out double, and Burger was able to score from first base and give the Sox the desired insurance run.
“Going first to home? He’s pretty good once he gets going, pretty damn good,” Grifol said. “His numbers once he gets going are pretty good percentile in baseball. First to home doesn’t surprise me, but out of the box caught my attention a little bit because that’s normally a routine double play. We needed him to stay out of that double play and he did.”
Along with Burger’s baserunning, Romy Gonzalez broke up the no-hitter in the sixth and made multiple impressive plays at second base, and Luis Robert showed off his range in center field. Both earned Clevinger’s praise.
“He made probably three plays that helped define the game tonight, let alone breaking up the no-hitter and getting the momentum started on the offensive side. He did it all tonight,” Clevinger said of Gonzalez.
And of Robert:
“Oh my goodness. I want to play wherever that man is playing. He’s unbelievable. Especially his first step. You should watch his first step and look at all the ground he covers. It’s like he’s standing at shortstop reading the ball off the bat. It’s crazy to see.”
The pieces for a winning team have always been there. One of the problems has been getting them all on the field at the same time. Another has been syncing up good performances. On Friday, the Sox had all of that, and the result was a textbook win.
They will have to keep doing that, day after day, series after series, for a long time in order to recover the lost ground in the division standings. As things stand after Friday’s win, the Sox are still eleven games under .500 and 7.5 out of first in the American League Central.
But it’s only June 2. The Sox have a healthy roster that performed well against Detroit. And they have over a hundred games left. Time is still on their side.
“We know it’s a long season. We have a lot of professionals who have done it for a very long time,” Middleton said. “It’s just the beginning. It’s a long season. We have a lot of making up to do but we are going to put in the work and make it happen.”
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