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DETROIT – The hits just keep on coming.
The White Sox started the season down Lance Lynn, Yoán Moncada and Garrett Crochet. Before they played five innings of their 2022 campaign, they were down another massively important piece: Lucas Giolito exited his Opening Day start with what was diagnosed as a low abdominal strain that will force him to miss, at best, a couple starts.
Tony La Russa said Saturday that was the optimistic outlook for the staff ace, who is “definitely” heading to the injured list, according to the manager. That means there’s a more pessimistic outlook, too, one with a longer time on the shelf. Giolito kept using words like “strange” and “freak” to describe an injury he said is one baseball players rarely experience.
“It’s definitely not oblique-related at all,” Giolito said, assuring he wasn’t bothered by the same injury that sidelined Moncada. “Given the area, initially it was like, ‘Oh, could this be an oblique?’ But it’s not, and that’s a good thing.
“Very just freak, kind of random, kind of stuff that can happen. I didn’t think I’d ever be dealing with such a strange injury. But here we are … It’s unfortunate. Something like this, it’s like the worst because I worked so hard this offseason and told you guys I wanted to be healthy all year. But that’s the way the game goes sometimes.”
What the White Sox are experiencing is anything but rare, especially compared with just last season, where one significant injury followed another in a year they still won the AL Central by more than a dozen games. They got an immediate education in how difficult it will be to do that again in Friday’s opener, the division-rival Tigers flexing their bulked up muscles in a wild walk-off win.
While the result of Game 1 might have frustrated White Sox fans, that’s nothing compared to the frustration that faces the team for the remaining 161 — or the remaining games in April, at the very least. Giolito’s injury will further test an already tested pitching staff. La Russa announced that Vince Velasquez will get the ball in Tuesday’s home opener, effectively stepping into Lynn’s vacant rotation spot.
But who fills in for Giolito?
“You take the immediate,” La Russa said. “You know there’s a spot in the rotation that has to be filled. But there are games before that spot comes up. You take the immediacy first.”
It’s in line with La Russa and the team’s thinking that they’re taking the “let’s see how things go” approach. Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech could start on regular, four-day rest Thursday and Friday, following Velasquez and Dallas Keuchel on the first home stand of the season. It’s the Saturday game against the Rays that remains a head-scratcher, and with La Russa saying it’d be nice to have someone pitch regularly in that spot while Giolito is out, anyone drafted to take the ball that day might be getting it again five games later.
Reynaldo López? Maybe, but he’ll be on call Saturday and Sunday should the White Sox need an innings-eater behind Cease or Kopech. López would probably be the team’s most confidence-inspiring option after his bounce-back season in 2021, but his success pitching out of the bullpen last year could lodge him into a critical spot among White Sox relievers, especially with Crochet out for the season and Ryan Burr also beginning the campaign on the injured list.
Tanner Banks was one of four pitchers listed as minor league starting depth by farm chief Chris Getz last week. That was hours before it was made known he’d be a part of the Opening Day bullpen. La Russa agreed Banks could be an option to start a game and log some innings in Giolito’s absence.
The most interesting name could be Johnny Cueto, whose minor league deal with the White Sox is not yet official, though expected to be announced soon. Cueto, unfortunately for the suddenly starting-pitching strapped South Siders, won’t be available in the immediate, however. He’ll spend some time in Arizona before heading to Triple-A Charlotte, where it’s estimated he’ll need four or five starts before he’s ready to pitch for the big league team. Right now, the former Cy Young-level pitcher is being viewed as a depth arm.
Of course, depth is just what the White Sox need right now, and past that small handful of names, the organization’s starting options quickly go to minor leaguers Jimmy Lambert, Kade McClure and Emilio Vargas.
“You’ve just got to take the situations for what they are,” La Russa said. “If you script this thing out, this is not the way it would play out, with Lynn and Gio and Crochet (all injured).”
It’s not at all an enviable situation to be in, and the White Sox could find themselves in early trouble after being dealt injuries to the top two pitchers in their rotation.
Despite the complaints on Twitter, these potentially dire straits – or as dire as straits can be this early in the season, anyway – are no function of the front office’s lack of a starting-pitching shake up this offseason. After all, any big-name acquisition the likes of which fans were hoping for would have forced a corresponding move. Any addition prior to Lynn’s injury would have forced the subtraction of someone else, perhaps Keuchel, and the White Sox would find themselves in a similar situation now.
But going through the hypotheticals doesn’t change the situation. The two surest things in a rotation that entered the year with multiple question marks have been yanked away. While there are high hopes for Cease, the question marks remain: Kopech’s workload is being managed, and Keuchel hasn’t pitched in a game that counts since wrapping his career-worst season in 2021. And now there are two even greater question marks added to the rotation, even if Giolito and Lynn will return at some point.
The challenges are suddenly steep for the White Sox, the best news at the moment perhaps being, other than an otherwise loaded roster, that the season is a marathon. It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish, the old saying goes. The White Sox are starting off dealing with some horrendous injury luck. Their World Series aspirations rest on the hope that’s not the case come September.
More immediately, they rest on those oft-cited next men up.
“It’s time for some guys to get tested,” Giolito said. “I think that there’s a lot of talent there, and it’s all about the preparation for these guys going out there knowing how good they are, having that confidence and executing.
“I think they can do it, 100 percent. We are getting tested a little bit. And I think these guys will rise to the occasion and we’ll be all right.”
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