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Optioning Carson Fulmer inefficient, but probably for the best

White Sox had to burn an option with top pitching prospect, but it might not be a waste

Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Heading into tonight’s game, the White Sox had their choice of replacements for Miguel Gonzalez, who hit the disabled list with a strained groin after lasting only an inning last Thursday.

Carson Fulmer pitched three innings in relief of Gonzalez and hadn’t pitched since, so he was on track for another extended appearance. Anthony Ranaudo threw a quality start — and homered! -- in his only appearance for the White Sox on July 27, and he last started for Charlotte against Durham five days ago. As choices go for the White Sox in 2016, this is relative luxury.

The Sox named Ranaudo their Wednesday starter before Tuesday’s loss to Cleveland. After the game, they named Fulmer a likely starter for September, optioning him down to Charlotte rather than keeping him as a tandem/backup option for Ranaudo.

It’s not a bad idea, as there will be starts available, whether it’s because Gonzalez is slow to recover from his groin injury, somebody else gets hurt, or the Sox want to send 2016 James Shields to a farm downstate where there will be lots of room to run and play.

It’s just inefficient. With less than a fortnight until rosters expand, the Sox could have waited and saved the option process for next season. Instead, they’ll have to burn one of the three, which could pose complications down the road if Fulmer has a hard time sticking (or staying healthy).

In the Sox’ defense, at least they have a purpose for doing so, and they’re trying to salvage the timing as best they can. Since he threw three innings and 45 pitches on Aug. 11, he’ll be ready to go immediately and maximize the amount of practice frames.

Plus, Fulmer’s demotion to Charlotte has more of a purpose than his promotion to the bullpen. Fulmer pitched only eight times over a month with the Sox, which is slightly more than a starter would throw. It’s kinda like the Sox committed to the idea of Fulmer relieving with the promotion, but didn’t commit to grooming him as one when he got there. Not only did he never pitch on back-to-back days, but he only pitched on one day’s rest twice. It’s not like there was a shortage of situations, as Robin Ventura found a way to use Matt Albers 11 times during the last month (over which he allowed a .340/.393/.600 line).

Then again, the Sox probably envisioned a lot more leads to protect when Fulmer entered the fray. Nothing has been the way the Sox planned since mid-May, so why should this be any different?

Fortunately, Fulmer’s monthlong side project still has some benefits. He shouldn’t be too far off from his starter routine, he'll be armed with knowledge of how big-league hitters see him, and if he starts every five or six days in September, then the promotion will have served as a breather for a six-month-long season. It’s suboptimal, but at least the Sox aren’t letting dire circumstances dictate development here.

And, if it turns out that Fulmer is best-suited for relief work like many believe, the missing option shouldn’t be as pressing. The Sox could’ve used one extra option on Jacob Turner instead of getting boxed in to a $1.5 million contract, but had he been in the bullpen all along (where he’s looked decent), his roster status wouldn’t have been nearly as difficult to negotiate. The Sox basically have one season to keep him stretched and one season to forge a high-leverage reliever at their disposal, and that’s a pretty generous cushion when bullpens are as big as they are. The wiggle room is probably a bigger deal should Fulmer need time on the DL before he sticks.

The demotion was also poor timing for David Laurila, who had just posted his rookie profile of Fulmer at FanGraphs. It’s still worth your time, as most of it still applies.

On the power-pitcher label: "I do like it. As a kid, you want to throw hard. But again, when you get to this level it’s not just about throwing hard. It’s about throwing hard and executing your pitch. And you have to continue to mix up. In college, I’d usually be fastball, curveball. Here, I have to throw my cutter and my changeup, especially early on in counts.

"My velocity isn’t down. I feel it’s pretty good — I’m 93-96 — so I’m right around where I want to be. I throw both a two- and a four-seam fastball. When I’m starting, I start off with a lot of four-seams then mix in two-seams here and there. Relieving, you don’t really have the opportunity to do that. It’s basically fours."