GLENDALE, Ariz. — Manager Tony La Russa agrees with general manager Rick Hahn. The White Sox’ most pressing need going into the season is pitching.
The Sox have other needs — second base and perhaps a good defensive No. 2 catcher — but it was apparent they’d need more championship caliber depth in the starting rotation even before concerns of a short spring training limiting ramp-up time to the regular season came into play.
“Everyone is worried about the arms,” La Russa said.
When staff were finally free to have contact with players after the lockout, pitching coach Ethan Katz learned that Kopech had done some throwing off a mound but wasn’t as far along as Lance Lynn, who threw 34 pitches in a sim game Friday, and Dallas Keuchel, who pitched two innings of sim game Saturday.
Or Liam Hendriks, who went from athletic field to athletic field, facing hitters.
“If you’re not ready right now, it’s on you,” Hendriks said Saturday.
Transitioning to an expected starter’s role and fill the void left by Carlos Rodon, don’t expect Kopech to pitch six innings in his first start in mid-April, that is if he is even ready to start by then.
“How much stamina can he build,” La Russa said. “So we’re just going to take what we’ve got, be intelligent and pull for him. We need him, build him up as healthy and as slowly as we have to.”
As for second base and right field, a higher priority is at second as it becomes apparent the Sox believe in the offensive promise of Andrew Vaughn and Gavin Sheets and include them in the outfield and DH mix. They also have Adam Engel, a former Gold Glove candidate.
There aren’t many second basemen on the free agent market but there are a few potential trade possibilities, although La Russa said he expects general manager’s biggest trade chip, Craig Kimbrel, to be on the Opening Day roster. La Russa acknowledged Kimbrel didn’t fare well not closing last season and his role would be the same, perhaps hinting that a deal might be the best for all involved.
“He really likes it here,” La Russa said. “But he really likes closing.
“If he’s here, another dynamite arm. We’ll see.”
But the biggest concern is the arms of all pitchers, starters in particular. In a normal six-week camp (this one will be less than six), pitchers build up to 100 pitches over about six starts.
“The worry is guys will get to a one o’clock game and try to do more than they should,” La Russa said. “Instead of having a couple of bullpens, three or four batting practices, they’re going to have one or two of each. So then preach preach, preach, stay within yourself.’’
While talking with reporters on the backfields at Camelback Ranch Saturday, La Russa’s phone rang a couple of times and he joked that he was getting calls from Hahn or vice president Ken Williams about deals.
On a serious note, he said knew they’ve been busy because he always has to leave a message when he calls them.
“We’re working, knowing that there’s help and I think we’ve got an attractive situation so I’m hoping, expecting that we’re going to get some help,” La Russa said.
“Whatever we got, we can win with. We’re deep enough. We’ve got talented kids. We’ve got good veterans. If we make a move to get deeper and better, happiness. They’re going to try their best. I know that. Whatever they end up giving us, we can get to October with, if we do our jobs.”
NOTE: Not everyone will be in camp Sunday, the first official day. Eloy Jimenez and Jose Abreu are expected to arrive Monday.