In the penultimate game of the season, manager Tony La Russa got some answers about two of his pitchers as he readies his team for the playoffs.
Lucas Giolito got a vote of confidence, but for Dallas Keuchel, it was more uncertainty about whether he will fit on the postseason staff.
The White Sox came from -behind to beat the Tigers 5-4 on Saturday. Giolito started and tossed five innings of one-run ball, earning his 200th strikeout in the process. Giolito reached that mark for the second time; he had 228 strikeouts in 2019.
Keuchel came out of the bullpen in the seventh, making his first regular season relief appearance since he was with the Astros in 2013. Keuchel was credited with a relief appearance earlier this season when he started the resumption of a suspended game.
Keuchel allowed three runs on four hits and could not finish the inning, leaving with runners on the corners and two outs and the Sox down, 4-0.
Giolito’s outing was important because it continued the run of good pitching he has been on lately. Giolito threw six scoreless innings against the Indians on September 26 and had a 2.35 ERA in September entering this start.
“The strength that [Giolito has[ shown about competing and never giving in, never giving up, that’s exactly the message that you want the team to have,” La Russa said before the game. “He’s been a real leader that way.”
On the whole, 2021 has not necessarily been a down year for Giolito. His numbers are inflated somewhat by struggles in April and June, months in which he posted ERAs of 5.68 and 4.06. Otherwise, Giolito has a pitcher who should give the Sox a chance to win playoff games.
Keuchel might make the White Sox’ playoff roster, but it likely won’t be in his usual role. La Russa was noncommittal before the game about whether he was treating Keuchel’s performance as an audition for the postseason bullpen.
“He’s one of the candidates, leading candidates,” he said. “There are several, without making a commitment.”
La Russa is confident that Keuchel can handle the transition if he decides to use him as a reliever, despite not pitching in relief consistently since early in his career with the Astros. Keuchel made nine relief appearances in 2013. In postseason play, he has pitched out of the bullpen just once, in 2015.
“How quickly he warms up, there won’t be a situation that you would bring him into that he’ll be intimidated,” La Russa said before the game.
Keuchel’s lengthy resume will be a boon no matter how he is used as a pitcher, La Russa believes.
“Look at [Kuechel’s] experience,” he said. “Who’s more experienced in what we’re going to go through than Dallas?”
But Keuchel’s second season with the Sox has been bumpy. His 5.13 ERA entering Saturday was the highest of his career since 2013, and he has especially struggled in the second half.
Keuchel had shown signs of improvement over his last two or three starts this month, but those efforts are probably too little, too late for La Russa to go to him to start a playoff game.
The Sox offense struggled to get anything going against Tigers starter Matt Manning. He allowed two baserunners and struck out seven in five innings. The only Sox batters to reach against Manning were Adam Engel (walk) and Tim Anderson (single) in the third.
The bats came to life against the Tigers’ bullpen, rallying for two runs in the seventh against Jose Urena. Yasmani Grandal and Yoan Moncada doubled, and Gavin Sheets singled before Urena was pulled for Alex Lange. Anderson’s two-out RBI single off of Lange gave the Sox their third run.
In the eighth inning, Moncada hit the go-ahead home run with two outs.