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James Shields out, Mike Pelfrey up, Geovany Soto back, Kevan Smith down

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The White Sox rotation looks more like a rebuilding one now

Mike Pelfrey hasn’t fared well thus far in Charlotte.
Jim Margalus / South Side Sox

Before Friday’s game, the White Sox surprised everybody by putting James Shields on the disabled list with a strained right lat. After Friday’s game, they optioned Kevan Smith to Charlotte.

Today, they confirmed the corresponding moves: Mike Pelfrey will replace Shields, and Geovany Soto will return from his own DL stint. In order to make room for Pelfrey on the 40-man roster, they moved Charlie Tilson to the 60-day disabled list.

Looking at the big picture, I suppose it’s a good sign that a Shields injury is cause for concern. It would’ve sparked an outburst of indifference at most last year. Shields resuscitated his career by posting a 1.62 ERA over his first three starts in 2017. The peripherals underneath them — 10 walks, nine hits over 1623 innings — signal a correction to come, but after a historically putrid 2016, all success is welcomed, even if it may be of the short-lived crafty-righty variety.

Basically, Shields has pitched well enough to the point that somebody like Pelfrey is a clear step down. The White Sox signed Pelfrey to a minor-league deal earlier this month after the Tigers cut him loose halfway into a two-year, $16 million contract. The White Sox needed a bit of insulation between the White Sox rotation and their three closest pitching prospects.

He hasn’t shown himself as more in Charlotte. The Durham Bulls hit him hard the second time through the order when I saw him pitch on April 10, and he wasn’t much better five days later:

  • April 10: 2.2 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 HR
  • April 15: 3.1 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 1 HR

Considering Reynaldo Lopez — improving in Charlotte and no stranger to big-league hitters — is pitching today, he wouldn’t have been a bad idea for this start. Even though Rick Hahn said Shields could miss three starts, the Sox could have entertained fans with Lopez for a night, then optioned him to Charlotte and called on Pelfrey to soak up the rest.

Instead, they’re going the boring route, which will at least spare the Sox a potential service-time headache if Lopez happened to be surprisingly good. With Dylan Covey in the fifth spot for the foreseeable future and Pelfrey being the next man up, it’d be hard to option Lopez arguing on the strength of alternatives.

And it’s likely to be boring, as Pelfrey has the reputation of turning starts into a slog. If you’re looking for chunks of optimism to keep hopes afloat, maybe he adjusted to the pitch clocks in Charlotte. If that doesn’t do it for you, he beat Chris Sale last year. Failing those, I’ve got nothing.

Whether Tilson’s move to the 60-day disabled list is distressing relies on the height of your hopes. The original timetable pointed to late May as a best-case scenario, which this move eliminates, but he just got out of the boot a few days ago and is only starting to test his foot. The first half of June seems more realistic when it comes to major-league readiness, if not later.

There is good news in this cluster, though. Soto made history of sorts by requiring the minimum stay on the 10-day disabled list. He went on the shelf with elbow tightness, but was throwing without pain halfway through the stint. That’s the kind of injury the 10-day DL is designed for, not these three-plus-week ones. Cut it out, White Sox.