As nice baseball stories go, the one about Tanner Banks making the White Sox’ Opening Day roster is as sweet as they come.
It goes like this: Lifetime minor-leaguer, at 30, comes out of nowhere in spring training to make the team, a team with World Series aspirations at that.
That was last week.
Banks made the story even better with a two-inning, four-strikeout, no-run performance in his debut Sunday, finishing off the Tigers in a 10-1 victory that gave the Sox a series win over an American League Central rival. It was a pleasant moment and a welcome closing act to an otherwise harrowing weekend for a team that put Yoan Moncada (oblique) and Ryan Burr (shoulder) on an expanding injured list before Lucas Giolito (abdominal strain) got hurt during his start in the opener. The opening loss ended with 2015 Gold Glove outfielder AJ Pollock misplaying a fly ball.
All’s well that ended well, and Banks was there to cap the finish.
“I told myself, ‘You are only going to debut once,’ ’’ said Banks, an 18th-round draft choice by the Sox in 2014. “When? I was starting to question. But they said, ‘Hey, you’ve got the next inning.’ ’’
Banks was treated to privileged status in the handshake line and a beer shower from teammates in the visitors’ clubhouse at Comerica Park. As reporters waited to talk, the Utah native apologized for needing to find his wife and kids before they departed the premises.
With the Sox’ rotation in disarray in the wake of injuries to Lance Lynn and Giolito, a next-man-up climate offers a chance for Banks, who made the roster largely because of left-handed reliever Garrett Crochet’s season-ending injury. Banks has started 115 games in his seven minor-league seasons and wasn’t ruled out by manager Tony La Russa to make a start.
Right-hander Vince Velasquez starts the home opener Tuesday against the Mariners, and veteran lefty Dallas Keuchel starts Wednesday. After that, Banks hasn’t been ruled out to start Thursday.
“Everybody’s an option,” pitching coach Ethan Katz said, including a bullpen-day scenario.
After Banks was invited to major-league camp, he opened eyes with stuff that “really jumped,” player-development director Chris Getz said.
He started a spring-training game against the Dodgers and struck out five in two innings, including Trea Turner, Max Muncy and Austin Barnes in a perfect first and Cody Bellinger in the second.
“The Dodgers talked about his stuff; it spoke for itself,” Katz said. “It’s just a matter of he’s here now, and now it’s about finding the best situation for him. He could be starting a game; he could come in and throw three, four innings [in relief]. It’s kind of what’s needed, especially with where we’re at. He could do a bunch of different things. We have a lot of options with him.”
Banks, who had a 4.98 ERA last season at Triple-A Charlotte, described making the team as “surreal” and said he was shocked when he got word.
“When I came out of the bullpen gate Sunday, I just told myself, ‘Deep breaths. Breathe it in. Enjoy this moment,’ ’’ he said. “And I started to get a little emotional. I was like, ‘Keep it together. You’ve got to go perform.’ I wasn’t nervous per se, but I needed to collect myself a little bit. The first strikeout, [Spencer] Torkelson, gave me that confidence boost that I needed.
“After that, I was able to pitch my game and attack the way I wanted to. It was a matter of settling those little bit of nerves.”
What comes next will be worth watching. What is known is the Sox have pitching needs. And Banks will get more chances to show he can address them.
MARINERS AT SOX
Tuesday: Matt Brash (MLB debut) vs. Vince Velasquez (3-9, 6.30 ERA in 2021), 3:10 p.m., NBCSCH, 1000-AM.
Wednesday: Robbie Ray (1-0, 1.29) vs. Dallas Keuchel (9-9, 5.28 in 2021), 6:10 p.m., NBCSCH, 1000-AM.
Thursday: Logan Gilbert (0-0, 1.80) vs. TBA, 1:10 p.m., NBCSCH, 1000-AM.