Dallas Keuchel was confident to the end, give him that.
After giving up six runs – and recording only six outs – Thursday night against the Red Sox, the veteran left-hander stood at his locker and said:
“I’m in no way, shape or form out of this thing. If people want to write me off, that’s OK. I’ve been written off before. I’m a competitor and I’m an athlete, and we’ll turn the tide.”
Well, a day later, he was out of this thing.
He’ll get no opportunity to turn the tide, the White Sox designating the former Cy Young winner and World Series champ for assignment before Saturday’s game against the Crosstown-rival Cubs.
In fact, he was given plenty of opportunity, two months’ worth of it, to be precise. Another one of his postgame comments Thursday – that he had “afforded myself some leeway” with his career accomplishments – touched a nerve with White Sox fans, who believed he’d long worn out his welcome, given the sour second half from a year ago and the even worse results he posted through the first two months of the 2022 campaign.
The White Sox, it turned out, were willing to believe in that track record of success and give Keuchel a shot to use a return to full health and a return to personal normalcy to get back to being the kind of guy who was a top Cy Young finisher in his first year with the team in 2020. Speaking after he finished the 2021 regular season with a 5.28 ERA and without a spot on the White Sox’ playoff roster, he said he was as motivated as he’d ever been in his career.
But the bounce back never came.
Though there were recently a couple of fine outings – he allowed a combined two runs in back-to-back starts against the Red Sox and Yankees – he left the South Side the owner of a grotesque 7.88 ERA, having allowed six runs apiece in each of his last two starts against those same two opponents.
“Given the back of the baseball card, so to speak, we wanted to give him the opportunity this season to show that he was able to get himself back on track,” Rick Hahn said Saturday. “There was not a magic number of starts, necessarily, that would have been required before we made that decision, and in fact, though we had been talking about this internally for a period of time, his starts against New York at our place and Boston at Fenway were impressive enough to continue to give him the ball.
“Obviously, the trend from the last couple, especially the other night, was enough for us to say it was time to try something else in that spot.”
While Keuchel was adamant from the day he signed that he was here to continue pitching in the postseason, he made just one playoff start for the White Sox, a clunker against the A’s in 2020, before he denied himself the chance to pitch against his former club last fall.
Though the White Sox are off to a middling start this season, their goals remain at the championship level. In the end, they settled on what quicker-to-judge fans had determined late last summer: that Keuchel wouldn’t be able to help them achieve those goals.
More so, they finally were able to turn to suddenly deep starting-pitching depth and determine that at least five other guys could help them more than Keuchel could.
“It had gotten to the point where he had greater confidence in the alternatives going forward,” Hahn said.
Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech have pitched marvelously this season. Johnny Cueto didn’t allow a run in either of his first two outings with the team. Lance Lynn is on his way back from the injured list. And even swingman Vince Velasquez and minor leaguer Davis Martin got shoutouts from Hahn on Saturday as options that the team would be more comfortable turning to than Keuchel.
In other words, not only did the White Sox have to make this move because Keuchel wasn’t getting the job done, they were able to make it because it didn’t punch a gaping hole in their rotation. After all, Keuchel was far from the lone player on the roster failing to produce at his typical levels. But the White Sox don’t have a wealth of depth that makes DFA’ing the likes of Yasmani Grandal or Yoán Moncada similar options – not that they would dream of doing such a thing with either player.
As mentioned, the White Sox are off to a surprisingly slow start. Pegged as a preseason favorite to once more run away with the AL Central and compete for a World Series, they entered this weekend’s Crosstown series under .500, with a sputtering offense the main culprit. While the pitching has been mostly great, that hasn’t been 100-percent the case, and in their last two home series, they were outscored 65-28 over seven games.
Hahn said Keuchel’s DFA’ing had everything to do with Keuchel and little else to do with the White Sox’ general state, other than that if the team was in a better place, Keuchel likely would have been, too. This was no wake-up call of a roster move. It was a necessary one.
“I don’t think that anything should be read beyond the decision on Dallas Keuchel beyond (that) it was time to move on from Dallas Keuchel,” Hahn said. “No one in there needs a message sent via a roster move to one of their teammates. Everyone knows where they stand. They know what our expectations are and they know where improvement needs to take place.
“That decision was about putting us in the best position to win going forward and feeling like this wasn’t getting it done, this wasn’t cutting it. It was time to do something different.
“My hope, my sincere hope, is that’s the last such decision we have to make along those lines the rest of the way. Obviously if it isn’t, we’ll deal with that in due course, and we obviously, from Jerry (Reinsdorf) on down, have shown the willingness to make that decision when the time is right.”
Hahn made sure to point out Keuchel’s positive contributions to this team, though it will be hard for fans who raged against the lefty for the better part of the last calendar year to remember his 2020 season and the few-and-far-between bright spots in 2021 and 2022.
In the end, that big-money free-agent contract established Keuchel as a featured part of the rotation for at least three years. It’s a matter of personal preference how many of those years you consider part of the White Sox’ championship window, but undoubtedly 2022 is one of them. And it was in that year that Keuchel, earning $18 million, did not pitch well enough to make it through even a third of the season.
The explanation of why Keuchel is gone is obvious. The explanation of when is understood, though too late for some fans. The explanation of what happens to these White Sox from here is entirely impossible to give.
We just know whatever comes next will come without Keuchel.
“You saw it. You watched. You guys saw him,” Hahn said. “I don’t think we need to grave-dance on this too much. The decision has been made, and we’re moving on.”
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