CHICAGO -- Sometimes even the baseball gods need a sacrifice, and so it was Wednesday that the Chicago White Sox appeared to hand over their contribution.
Reliever Hector Noesi, who was acquired last week off the waiver wire, was asked to start against the division champion Detroit Tigers, even though he had been used exclusively as a reliever this season and had not started a major league game since May of last season with the Seattle Mariners.
And all he had to do was match pitches with reigning Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer of the Detroit Tigers. No big deal.
And while the results were predictable -- the White Sox dropped a 5-1 decision -- the club’s motive for the pitching strategy was anything but foolhardy.
The White Sox weren’t quitting Wednesday, they needed to keep some roster continuity moving forward.
Before the calendar even reached May, the White Sox have experienced a massive amount of roster upheaval. In addition to Noesi being claimed off waivers, Scott Carroll, Jake Petricka, Zach Putnam, Charlie Leesman and Andre Rienzo all have been called up from the minor leagues. And those moves are merely with the pitching staff.
The team’s options for starters on the 40-man roster were limited, and going to a pitcher outside of that group would require removing somebody off the protected 40-man list. Then there is the matter of removing somebody from the current 25-man roster just to activate a new starting pitcher who might just see action in one game.
“There (have been) a lot of moves,” manager Robin Ventura said. “Guys are hurt. With (Chris Sale and (Felipe Paulino out of there, you need guys to fill in. So we've been mixing and matching trying to do that. Our bullpen did a good job today being able to get through there. It was something that was looked at probably three weeks ago as a weak spot and the bullpen's starting to shape up.”
The arrivals of Petricka and Putnam have helped to settle things in the bullpen, but if a starter was called up Wednesday, one of them might have been the one to go. The team’s reward for its sacrifice is that the emerging bullpen remains intact, while buying some time with the rotation.
The White Sox won’t run into that same vacant spot in the rotation again until Tuesday at home against the Chicago Cubs and by then, another rotation option might emerge.
Sale is on the mend, although his recovery might not be completed until then. Paulino is headed out on a rehab assignment and could be an option there. There is even Tommy Hanson at Triple-A Charlotte, who is trying to round into form after being signed April 7.
It’s never ideal to have the odds stacked against you. It’s even harder to voluntarily put yourself in a situation that likely won’t lead to success. But The White Sox saw where they have been, recognize where they are trying to go and made one day a challenge so that the next two weeks might not be so difficult.
“Well especially with the off day (Thursday) you can sit there and cover (heavy bullpen use),” Ventura said. “With Sale, you don't want to rush him and push it. With where we're at, and where the bullpen's been, you're able to do this. It's set up for us to have a day like this.”
In the process, the White Sox actually saw some things they liked. If some changes to his delivery take hold, the White Sox might be willing to move Noesi back to a starter at some point in the future. His first three innings were impressive, anyway, as he retired nine consecutive hitters after giving up a single to Ian Kinsler to lead off the game.
He faltered in the fourth as his pitch count reached the high 30s and admitted later that he was tired.
“I think he definitely has the skill set to (start) and be very competitive,” catcher Tyler Flowers said. “I think (pitching coach Don Cooper) has a couple of ideas, a couple of things to work on, but I was very impressed with how he threw, with the exception of a couple of pitches. That will happen. It’s his first start of the year and there are a number of things working against him. There is a catcher he’s never thrown to, all those things. All in all, personally I can see the future with him and I like what I see a lot.”
Managers, players and coaches all like to say it’s all about that day’s challenge. Yet sometimes it’s about the entire series ahead, the week, the month or even getting a chance to take a peek at the future.
The White Sox focused on the big picture Wednesday and perhaps the baseball gods were appeased.