GLENDALE, Ariz. — The White Sox’ starting rotation includes two veterans who might be fifth starters on different teams and three young pitchers with pedigree but who are far from proven.
With Carlos Rodon recovering from left shoulder surgery, the Sox’ starting five six weeks from now is shaping up as (not necessarily in order) James Shields, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Miguel Gonzalez and Carson Fulmer. Gonzalez, 33, who was traded to the Rangers Sept. 2 before returning as a $4.75 million free-agent four weeks ago, won seven games last season to tie Derek Holland for the team lead.
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It all starts with pitching and the rotation is perhaps the biggest reason why the Sox are at least a year away from competing. It is a mixed bag of growing pains (Giolito, Lopez, Fulmer) and aches and pains (Shields, Gonzalez and Rodon were on the disabled list for lengthy stretches last season).
As you’d expect, manager Rick Renteria likes his guys and said he is ready to compete with the group he has.
“I’m not going to sell them short,’’ Renteria said Thursday. “I think they’re a competitive group.
“We’re in really good shape.’’
The shape of Renteria’s rotation will be challenged by pitchers pursuing uncharted territory for inning workloads and by veterans trying to stay healthy. Shields, who is 9-19 with a 5.99 ERA with the Sox, figures to get the Opening Day start because of his experience. To say that honor will come by default does not diminish the good things Giolito, Lopez and Fulmer showed last season. Shields has made seven Opening Day starts with the Rays, Royals and Padres.
“Would he be a natural fit? Absolutely,” Renteria said. “When that decision is made I don’t think there will be any surprises on who we end up going with.’’
The rotation will look better if and when Rodon returns to full strength. The No. 3 overall pick in 2014 played catch for the second consecutive day, a positive step in a series of two-week throwing programs.
“Everything felt good. Just felt healthy — for once,’’ Rodon said.
Rodon is throwing with confidence and no fear of impending discomfort, Renteria said.
“We’re very happy where he is at,’’ Renteria said.
Giolito, Lopez and Fulmer are coming off encouraging showings in 2017. Giolito, 23, survived eight home runs allowed over 45⅓ innings to post a 2.38 ERA in seven starts in August and September. The results were strikingly better than his seven appearances (6.75 ERA) with the Nationals in 2016, and his mood and confidence levels this spring reflect that.
Lopez, 24, who came from the Nationals with Giolito and pitching prospect Dane Dunning in the Adam Eaton trade, was 3-3 with a 4.72 ERA in eight starts last season. Lopez possesses possibly the best arm of the bunch. His goals this season are 15 wins, an ERA under 3
and 200 strikeouts.
Fulmer, like Giolito, is a first-round pick who recovered from a rough first season (8.49 ERA over 11 relief appearance in 2016) and one horrendous first start in 2017 to post a 1.64 ERA over six appearances and 22 innings in September. Fulmer also is standing tall in camp, in more ways than one.
“More important was just [gaining] confidence,’’ Fulmer said Thursday. “Mechanically, staying tall, whatever, it clicked for me and I feel comfortable. But being at that level and having continued success was really good for me, and going into this year it’s going to benefit me in a lot of ways.”
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