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The White Sox are running out of time waiting for a Dallas Keuchel turnaround

Vinnie Duber Avatar
May 27, 2022

“I’m in no way shape or form out of this thing.”

Dallas Keuchel answered the question, the one asking if he had any concern about his long-term place in the White Sox’ starting rotation, with a resounding “no.”

Whether it was the competitor in him, the accomplished pitcher who still believes in his ability, or just a guy not wanting to lose his job, he might not be as secure in his footing as he seems to think he is.

At least he shouldn’t be. Not with the way he’s pitched so far in 2022, a season the White Sox entered with championship-level expectations.

The White Sox aren’t going to come out and say that one of their highest-paid players better figure things out quick or he’s going to be hitting free agency a lot sooner than expected. That’s not the kind of thing that happens.

But that’s usually what we’ve had Keuchel for, to make blunt assessments about his situation and that of this team.

He did it just last year, when he outlined exactly what he was facing in the middle of a career-worst season, that without a significant change in his performance, he wasn’t going to land a spot in the White Sox’ playoff rotation. That change didn’t come, and he didn’t make the roster for the ALDS matchup against his former team.

Now, things are even worse, at least from a numbers standpoint. Keuchel was knocked around Thursday, departing after recording just six outs and giving up six runs for the second consecutive outing. Though the White Sox believed Keuchel was building momentum toward a hoped-for turnaround with solid performances against the Red Sox and Yankees, he reverted in a hurry, those same two opponents touching him up for 12 runs over just six innings of work.

Given the White Sox’ early season rotation concerns – chiefly Lance Lynn’s extended stay on the injured list after preseason knee surgery – Keuchel’s place on the staff looked safe, no matter how made up the minds of fans were after he posted a 5.28 ERA in 2021. But things have changed for the White Sox, who are suddenly blessed with rotation depth, all while Keuchel’s ERA has ballooned to 7.88.

But with options to turn to should they decide they’ve seen enough of The Keuchel Show — no easy choice, by the way, considering the many millions it would cost them to make him go away — the veteran left-hander still sees a change in his fortunes just over the horizon and believes that the guy who has a Cy Young Award, a World Series ring and a closet full of Gold Gloves on his resume can get back to pitching like one of baseball’s best.

Or at the very least, no longer pitching like one of baseball’s worst.

“I’ve got to do my job. That’s first and foremost,” Keuchel said after Thursday’s 16-7 loss to the Red Sox. “If I don’t do my job, then I’m the first to admit we’ve got other options. I’ve afforded myself some leeway, and 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. It’s not the first time (that in) back-to-back starts this has happened. It can turn right back into our favor.

“It’s going to get there. As much as it hurts tonight and last start, it’ll get there. We’ll be talking differently soon.”

Those words struck plenty of fans — at least the ones who were still awake after four hours of ugly baseball Thursday night — as insanity, that is the dictionary definition of doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Though Keuchel is not wrong in suggesting he has earned some “leeway” with his career accomplishments and a stellar season coming as recently as 2020, a career-worst campaign followed up by two months of even worse numbers don’t count to many as something that deserves any further leeway.

The White Sox, as mentioned, have championship-level expectations this season. They want to win the World Series, and achieving that goal means being the best team in baseball. They currently sit below .500 and are staring up at a Twins team that has figured things out after falling on its face last year. Though there’s a ton of baseball left to be played, they’re running out of time to be giving early-season leeway to a veteran pitcher searching for a bounce back.

It’s starting to get not early.

And that they have options makes a big difference. Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech have been generally excellent, locking themselves into rotation spots they were never going to lose anyway. Johnny Cueto has been a remarkably pleasant surprise through his first two scoreless outings in a White Sox uniform. And Lynn’s relatively imminent return makes five.

Vince Velasquez was recently shuffled to the bullpen, and he threw three stellar relief innings Tuesday night. But he could always jump back into a starter’s role, if needed in another emergency. Rick Hahn even made a point to shout out Davis Martin earlier this week after the minor leaguer’s successful spot start in Kansas City.

That’s depth. And depth not only helps a team weather injuries but can be called upon in the event of underperformance, too.

The White Sox might not feel like they have to make this decision with Keuchel immediately, if for no other reason than Lynn’s timeline. He’s heading out on a minor league rehab assignment this weekend, and he’s slated to make at least three starts as he builds up his pitch count. Given the days of rest he’ll require between those starts, it will likely be a little more than two weeks before he returns to the big league rotation. Perhaps that is the day circled on the calendar to make a decision on Keuchel.

But until the White Sox do make such a call, they risk more nights like Thursday, as Keuchel has, even with some good outings sprinkled in, not gotten to where he wants to be this year in the wake of a frustrating 2021. The frustrations aren’t going away, and even while he believes he’s one pitch, one inning and one good start away from turning everything around, that hasn’t come yet, with plenty of fans confident it’s not going to come any time soon.

Speaking of where Keuchel wants to be, he was particularly affected by missing out on pitching in the playoffs last season, speaking of it as a motivating factor this past offseason. He signed up with the White Sox to pitch in October, relaying often that he informed Hahn he had no intention of interrupting his personal trend of reaching the postseason.

But one way or another, Keuchel continuing to pitch for these White Sox could have a substantial impact on the opposite coming true, whether it’s because he’s not good enough to make the playoff rotation for the second consecutive season, or because his poor performance drags the team further and further from where it was expected to be – keeping the whole bunch away from the bright lights of October.

Maybe the White Sox haven’t seen enough to end Keuchel’s tenure as soon as possible. But they can’t afford to keep the show running indefinitely. They need to start winning ballgames.

And Keuchel, right now, is making it harder for them to do that.

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