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Garrett Crochet on Opening Day: White Sox’ latest bold pitching decision opens up new questions as season nears

Vinnie Duber Avatar
March 19, 2024
Garrett Crochet

A month ago, we didn’t even know if Garrett Crochet could be a starting pitcher.

Now, Crochet will be the White Sox’ starting pitcher on Opening Day.

In a ridiculously short amount of time, Crochet has gone from an intriguing question mark to the top of the rotation, a reflection of just how good he’s been this spring – and just how short the team is on reliable options less than two weeks prior to the start of the regular season.

While the White Sox – both under former baseball bosses Rick Hahn and Kenny Williams and new one Chris Getz – have spent the last eight months infusing the organization with a lot more pitching depth than the team had prior, there’s still little in the way of certainty, particularly after Getz dealt staff ace Dylan Cease to the Padres last week. And that uncertainty obviously includes Crochet.

But Crochet has undoubtedly been electric during spring training, with no runs allowed in his four Cactus League appearances, totaling nine innings and featuring 12 strikeouts and zero walks. With Pedro Grifol talking up the level of competition in camp this year and touting an environment where the best players will win jobs, here’s Crochet seeing the fruits of his labor.

While it’s certainly something appreciated by pitchers, the title of “Opening Day starter” ends up being little more than ceremonial once a team has taken the first turn through its rotation. While it typically signifies the pitcher is the best pitcher on the staff, after that first start, they’re merely the next arm in line. Crochet has perhaps been the White Sox’ best pitcher this spring, but given how close the team was to Opening Day when Cease was traded, most pitchers were already on a schedule leading up to their planned first start. Who knows if the White Sox already had Crochet penciled in as a starter elsewhere, but his rapid ascension to “Opening Day starter” could potentially be viewed, too, as the team filling the scheduling hole vacated by Cease, who was without question the top-of-the-rotation guy.

Regardless, Crochet is the one who will be on the mound for “play ball” in Game 1 of 162, solving a portion of the mystery that is the White Sox’ starting rotation in the wake of the Cease trade and Michael Kopech’s move to the bullpen. Erick Fedde, Michael Soroka and Chris Flexen figure to have three of the other four gigs. But the last spot is anyone’s guess, with possible candidates Nick Nastrini, Touki Toussaint, Brad Keller, Jake Woodford and Chad Kuhl still in camp and the White Sox recently linked to a pair of free-agent pitchers, Michael Lorenzen and Mike Clevinger.

But just because a couple big questions have been answered doesn’t mean there’s suddenly a shortage of unknowns, and every time Crochet takes the mound – and perhaps more importantly in the days between those outings – the big lefty will be under a microscope to see if this experiment is actually going to work out the way he hopes it will and he becomes what he expressed an interest to be, someone who can give the White Sox seven innings every fifth day.

If that’s what he’s shooting for, then he’ll expect to surpass his existing major league innings total before the close of May, considering he’s only logged 73 of them, all in relief, to this point in his career.

More pressing, though, than what Crochet’s inning count for the season will be is what his inning count will be nine days from now in his first big league start.

At the outset of the spring and the team’s approval of Crochet’s effort to leap out of the bullpen, White Sox brass signaled the process of stretching him out into a starter would be a slow one, Crochet constantly monitored to determine how his body was physically recovering between outings. In addition to not having a large innings base – his work as a major league reliever began shortly after he was drafted, with no minor league season that year due to the COVID-19 pandemic – he’s spent the last two seasons affected by injuries. Two springs ago, he required Tommy John surgery, wiping out his 2022 campaign, and his comeback was impacted by shoulder issues last season.

Early in camp, pitching coach Ethan Katz said the White Sox would “take it slowly” in terms of adding to Crochet’s workload and called the process “very methodical.” And that’s the way it’s played out during Cactus League play, with Crochet throwing 1.2 innings in his spring debut, then two innings, 2.1 innings and three innings in his next three appearances, respectively.

But Opening Day is now mere days away, and he hasn’t thrown more than three innings in a single outing. How many innings will he be physically capable of throwing next Thursday against the Tigers?

It doesn’t sound like Crochet knows himself, the lefty telling reporters, including the Sun-Times’ Daryl Van Schouwen, Monday in Arizona, “We’ll see when that day comes. If I’m efficient, who knows?” Asked if he could go five innings, Crochet responded, “I think so.”

So, uncertainty.

And that obviously extends past just Start 1 and across the entire six-month season. An earlier spring media session featured Crochet telling reporters he thinks innings limits are a thing of the past. But the White Sox might not be as ready to just let Crochet go and see what happens. While getting quality performance out of him or anyone else might not be of the utmost importance in this rebuilding season, Crochet could still find himself part of Getz’s long-term planning, a former first-round pick controllable through the 2026 season.

Certainly, the team has no intention of letting Crochet burn out. At the same time, this type of season, where the wins aren’t expected to come in bunches and the front office just traded the best pitcher on the staff, is perfect for finding out what sort of piece of the puzzle Crochet can be.

Getz’s White Sox have shown no shyness in decision-making this spring – pulling the plug on Kopech’s time as a starter stands out – and this choice to make Crochet a centerpiece of the starting rotation is another example. It doesn’t mean there’s any greater certainty to how things will play out, but in a season of learning, it’s a critical step to figuring out if and how Crochet can help the next contending White Sox team.

“In terms of taking shape for the future,” Getz said early this spring, “we need to find out what (our players are) capable of doing on a regular basis at the major league level, and that will provide clarity on where we need to go and how we improve moving forward.

“They understand that, they’re looking forward to that, and I look forward to watching, as well.”

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