Notes from pitching coach Ethan Katz on White Sox rotation: ‘We need another starter’

Katz talks Cueto, Kopech, Giolito, Crochet, Lopez, Grifol

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Pitching coach Ethan Katz (left), catcher Seby Zavala and pitcher Michael Kopech (right) of the White Sox. (Getty Images)

Pitching coach Ethan Katz of the White Sox talks with Michael Kopech (right) during a game against Cleveland at Guaranteed Rate Field on July 31, 2021. (DiNuzzo/Getty Images)

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Pitching coach Ethan Katz knows one thing for sure.

The White Sox need help in the starting rotation.

Veteran Johnny Cueto, who saved the rotation after signing a minor league deal, is a free agent and will probably get a multiyear contract elsewhere, the size of which the Sox might be unwilling to invest.

Michael Kopech is rehabbing his right knee after surgery to repair a torn meniscus, and while he is expected to be ready for spring training and is already mapped out for five innings and 85 pitches in his final Cactus League start, his progression “is a little slower than we originally thought,” Katz said, and Kopech is something of a small question mark nonetheless until proven to be 100 percent.

And Lucas Giolito will be in bounce-back mode after regressing in 2022. Next season could be the 2022 Opening Day starter’s last with the Sox as he looks toward free agency following 2023.

“Obviously we need another starter,” Katz said on a conference call Thursday. “That right now is our biggest need from the pitching standpoint. We’re having dialogue. We’ll see how things play out, but we do need another starter.”

Kopech is rehabbing the knee in Texas.

“The whole reason for the surgery was to kind of fix that and get his leg right for this next year,” Katz said.

“He’s doing well and we expect him to have a normal offseason here shortly.”

Katz said Giolito was frustrated with his performance (4.90 ERA over 30 starts after posting ERAs of 3.53 or lower in each of the previous three seasons) and is motivated to return to form.

“He’s working hard currently as we speak,” Katz said. “We have a really nice idea of where he needs to go from here and what his offseason should look like.

“He wants to fix things right away.”

Left-hander Garrett Crochet, who missed last season due to Tommy John surgery, wants to be a starter but “starting is not in the cards” this season, Katz said.

“Obviously the rehab process is still ongoing,” Katz said. “He’s [throwing] at 120 feet. It’s feeling good. He’s progressing nicely and I think it’s just a matter of how he keeps progressing.

“He’s very important to what we do in the big leagues and whatever role that is, that’s to be determined. Right now, he needs to get through his rehab and that’s going well. He should be an impact in some sort of way next year.”

Katz also reiterated what GM Rick Hahn said at the general managers meetings that former starter Reynaldo Lopez, who posted a 2.76 ERA in relief in 2022, is pegged for the bullpen.

“He really loves the role he’s in, being a lockdown guy in the bullpen,” Katz said. “He really thrived at that, I think he really enjoys that.”

Whether that means closer Liam Hendriks could be discussed in trade talks remains to be seen and is something to watch this offseason.

Katz’ and Cueto’s relationship goes back to their days with the Giants. Katz wasn’t shutting the door on Cueto returning, but that is standard operating procedure. Cueto, 8-10 with a 3.35 ERA in 25 games, will be 37 next season.

“We’ve had conversations about bringing him back that’s for sure,” Katz said. “I know Johnny really enjoyed his time here. I have a relationship with Johnny, I like Johnny a lot. So I think free agency has to take its course and have to see where, how it plays out. I don’t get into the numbers and that kind of stuff so, obviously I would love to have him back. He would love to be back from our conversations.”

Dylan Cease, second in Cy Young voting to Justin Verlander, and two-time All-Star Lance Lynn figure to be 1-2 in the rotation. Those are the only certainties heading into next season as the Sox, under new manager Pedro Grifol, aim to bounce back from a disappointing 81-81 season.

“Conversations [with Grifol] have been great,” Katz said. “There’s been a lot of dialogue. Kind of figuring out where guys are right now, just talking about the team, from the pitching standpoint. Other than that, how it’s going to be from last year to this year, I think that comes in due time. But so far conversations have been fantastic, the communication has been really good.”

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