For the second time in as many weeks, a pitcher the White Sox traded away over the summer underwent Tommy John surgery.
Zach Duke joined Erik Johnson by getting his elbow repaired last week, although there’s little uniting them beyond that fact. Duke did the Cardinals the favor of helping them as much as he could over the final two months. He appeared in 28 games for St. Louis, posting a 1.93 ERA while holding opponents to a .205 average and a .217 slugging percentage over 231⁄3 innings. He did issue 13 walks, but as was the case with the White Sox, they seemed to be in exchange for hits, rather than in addition to them.
When it comes to elbows, it’s often difficult to pinpoint at what point surgery becomes an inevitability. Duke appeared in 81 games between the White Sox and Cardinals, and he was on that kind of pace before the trade, so it’s possible the Sox would’ve lost the last year of his services — for which Duke is owed $5.5 million -- even if they didn’t deal him.
Then again, the White Sox wouldn’t have had anything to play for in September, whereas the Cardinals missed the wild card by a game. A noncontending team probably could have stepped off the gas pedal, but Mike Matheny needed Duke six times in a seven-game stretch leading up to the final weekend of the season, during which Duke was unavailable.
“You look at his usage and I’ve used him almost every single day because at some point we’ve needed to. It’s catching up,” Matheny said. “I’m just assuming we’re all going to be ready to roll (on Sunday). Everybody else has been used to me beating them up so I’m pretty sure they’re going to be prepared for what we have to do.”
That’s a pretty severe usage pattern, although one that wasn’t alien to Robin Ventura, because who can forget Addison Reed’s six saves in six games? But with nothing to play for September, Ventura didn’t need to wear out guys who worked hard over the first five months. For instance, Dan Jennings only appeared in consecutive games once over the final three weeks, even though he was the only lefty in the White Sox bullpen.
I wouldn’t say the White Sox dodged a bullet, especially since moving an affordable left-handed reliever at the deadline is about the easiest thing a general manager can do. Plus, it’s not like the Sox fared better with their immediate returns, what with Charlie Tilson’s hamstring rolling up on him like a window shade in his very first game.
We had become accustomed to White Sox rookies exiting their first game on a gurney by the time Tilson went down. Filter out the jadedness, though, and that injury might have dealt the Sox their biggest blow. For all that was made of Austin Jackson’s injury, the White Sox had already wasted their hot start by the time Jackson went down, losing eight of the last nine games he started. Jackson made the Sox a little easier to watch by keeping Adam Eaton in right field and J.B. Shuck out of the starting lineup, but Jackson didn’t distinguish himself with his own play.
Tilson might not have been much better than Jackson, but the two months of MLB reps in a low-pressure situation would have benefited everybody greatly. The White Sox still might consider Tilson a center field solution for Opening Day 2017 and be OK for doing so — it helps that he’s left-handed — but it sucks that Tilson, the Sox and Sox fans weren’t able to get better acquainted. Perhaps another right-handed outfielder who can cover center is in order. That sounds a lot like last winter — again, Yoenis Cespedes would be great, but it’ll end up being Carlos Gomez — except this version of Jackson would be supplementary, rather than necessary.