Manager Tony La Russa defends bullpen after Sox relievers struggle in 4-3 loss to Royals

Michael Kopech and Codi Heuer were strong, but Liam Hendriks blew a save and Aaron Bummer also gave up a run.

SHARE Manager Tony La Russa defends bullpen after Sox relievers struggle in 4-3 loss to Royals

Liam Hendriks wipes his face during Sunday’s game.

AP Photos

Manager Tony La Russa insisted Sunday that the White Sox’ bullpen is a strength.

Once again, the results didn’t bear that out.

Closer Liam Hendriks blew a save in his Sox debut at Guaranteed Rate Field when he allowed a home run to Carlos Santana in the ninth inning after Aaron Bummer had yielded a run in the eighth.

The Royals then pushed across the winning run in the 10th when Garrett Crochet fielded a bunt by Andrew Benintendi but spiked the throw home, allowing Michael A. Taylor to score from third in a 4-3 victory.

The Sox’ bullpen, which was expected to be one of the best in the American League, hasn’t lived up to the billing. Hendriks couldn’t hold the 3-2 edge he got after pinch hitter Adam Eaton hit a two-run homer in the eighth.

La Russa, however, disagreed with the idea it hasn’t been a strength. He mentioned the exploits Sunday of relievers Michael Kopech and Codi Heuer and defended Hendriks after Santana hit a 96.5 mph fastball over the fence in center.

‘‘You can take an incident here or there where they haven’t been perfect, but we had a couple of chances with a runner on third and didn’t get a run,’’ La Russa said. ‘‘The team gets beat. The bullpen is outstanding, a real strength.’’

Kopech, in his first home outing since Sept. 5, 2018, was dominant again. In 2 1/3 perfect innings, Kopech struck out three and kept his ERA at 0.00. He also showed again that he’s transitioning well to his bullpen role, even though it might not be permanent.

‘‘I’m going to continue getting used to it as the season goes on and getting used to using my arm a lot more on a little bit shorter rest,’’ said Kopech, who was applauded by the crowd of 7,695 as he entered the game. ‘‘But if they needed me to go three [innings], I would go three. If [La Russa] needed me to go 10, I would go 10. It’s just the mindset we kind of have as pitchers.’’

Starter Dylan Cease needed 90 pitches to get through 4 2/3 innings, allowing one run and four hits, striking out six and walking three. He said his trust in the bullpen isn’t wavering, either.

‘‘Those guys are nasty,’’ Cease said. ‘‘Baseball’s one of those games where things end up evening out, so we have full faith in the bullpen, for sure.’’

Updates on Anderson, Engel

General manager Rick Hahn said it’s realistic for shortstop Tim Anderson (strained left hamstring) to return from the injured list this week. Anderson went on the 10-day IL on Wednesday, retroactive to April 5.

As for outfielder Adam Engel (strained right hamstring), Hahn said he’s progressing but on a slower path than Anderson. Though he cautioned it might be premature, Hahn said he would project Engel’s return more for the next homestand.

Left out

The Sox’ 17-game streak of victories against left-handed starters ended Sunday, one short of tying the 2004-05 Braves for the major-league record.

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