The White Sox rotation was already down a man with last week’s announcement that Lance Lynn would be undergoing knee surgery. Now it seems it has been dealt another unfortunate blow, as manager Tony La Russa says Lucas Giolito will be heading to the IL, with missing two starts being the optimistic outcome, per James Fegan of The Athletic.
Giolito started last night’s season opener but left after four innings after experiencing abdominal tightness. While the long-term outlook is still unclear at this point, the fact that two starts is described as the “optimistic” downtime suggests that it’s likely to be longer than that. Giolito told reporters that the injury was a “random and freak thing” but not related to his oblique. (Twitter links from Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun-Times)
Regardless of how long he is out, it’s bad news for the White Sox, as Giolito has established himself as one of the better starters in the game. Last year, he threw 178 2/3 innings with an ERA of 3.53, 27.9% strikeout rate and 7.2% walk rate, coming in 11th in AL Cy Young voting. With Lynn and Giolito now both on the shelf, the projected rotation is down to Dylan Cease, Dallas Keuchel and Michael Kopech. There were already question marks around some of those names, as Kopech has only thrown 69 1/3 total innings over the past three years, due to Tommy John surgery and opting out of the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign. Keuchel is coming off a down year where he put up a 5.28 ERA.
Due to those concerns, the club bolstered their depth by signing Vince Velasquez. Although initially projected to be in the bullpen as a long man, these injuries have quickly thrust him into the rotation. He will start Tuesday’s home opener for the club, per Scott Merkin of MLB.com. Velasquez has always provided intriguing results based on his strikeouts (25.4% career rate) but a propensity for long balls has pushed his ERA to 4.95 for his career and 6.30 last year.
That still leaves one spot available in the rotation. Reynaldo Lopez started nine games for the club last year and could be an option, though La Russa says that they will wait and see if he’s needed out of the bullpen in the coming days before making a decision on that, per Fegan. Going outside the box, Tanner Banks, who just cracked a major league roster for the first time at the age of 30, is another possible option. (Per Schouwen) Banks only started five out of his 25 appearances in Triple-A in 2021 and never logged more than four innings in any outing last year.
There’s plenty still up in the air here, but it’s still certainly concerning for the Sox and their fans. The bullpen had also been dented recently by the trade of Craig Kimbrel and the announcement that Garrett Crochet will need Tommy John surgery. The pitching staff will now have to weather yet another notable absence. Johnny Cueto was recently signed to a minor league deal, but he only just arrived at the club’s spring facility in Arizona yesterday, per Fegan. He’ll need to get ramped up at extended Spring Training and maybe pitch in the minors before he’ll be ready to help the big league team.
Elsewhere on the squad, A.J. Pollock will be departing from the team after Sunday’s game for paternity leave, per Merkin. La Russa says that Andrew Vaughn will get increased playing time in Pollock’s absence, per Fegan.