Reading Dylan Covey’s quotes after leaving Tuesday’s start with a sore left oblique, one might get the impression that he can avoid a trip to the disabled list:
"Where I’m at now, doing some ice and stuff, I feel a lot better compared to last year," Covey said. "I could hardly move last year. Trying to stay optimistic. Hopefully this will be a short little recovery.
"The next stop in the timeline is see how it feels in the morning."
Watching him deliver that quote, on the other hand, gives me a different sense:
A big reason Covey is on the White Sox is because an oblique injury limited him to just 291⁄3 innings in Oakland’s system back in 2016. That probably explains the dread that text can’t quite capture.
It’s gotta suck to suffer the same injury twice when trying to establish oneself, and it’s pointless to downplay an athlete’s competitive instincts in spite of mounting statistical evidence. That said, if there’s ever a utilitarian situation for an injury, it’s when a Rule 5 pick is in over his head with four-plus months remaining.
Covey is now 0-4 with a 8.12 ERA. I’ve written a lot about his fifth-inning problems (1.638 OPS against), but he’s been almost as rough in the first (1.253 OPS). The league is hitting .331/.397/.650 against him when summing up all situations, and all attempts to tinker with his approach hit the same dead end. Considering those 291⁄3 innings he threw in 2016 were the only innings he’d thrown above A-ball before 2017, nothing about this should be surprising.
Triple-A would probably be the best for his development, but the Rule 5 draft rules force the White Sox to carry him on the 25-man roster, unless they want to trade a player to Oakland in order to keep him. When it comes to forging a tenable long-term plan with Covey, an injury might be less agonizing than getting pummeled every fifth day, even if it’s a different kind of pain.
The catch is that Covey needs to be active on the roster for 90 days — a team can’t just stash a Rule 5 pick on the disabled list for the majority of the season. He’s accrued 50 days of active service time at this point, and the Sox can borrow a few more days by waiting to place him on the disabled list. Should Covey then go on the shelf, he’d only need to be back for the last week or so of August, after which he can hang out on an expanded September roster the rest of the way.
For the time being, watch how the White Sox go about adjusting the rotation in Charlotte. Carson Fulmer has passed the service time threshold where the Sox don’t have to worry about losing a year of team control, and he also started on Tuesday, although he had his second consecutive underwhelming outing. Reynaldo Lopez looks more ready at this point, and his next turn is Friday, which would make him a candidate to start one of the doubleheader games. However, if my math is precise, he doesn’t reach the same service time marker until Sunday.
That’s not necessarily a big deal considering the Friday doubleheader. The Sox could call up Lopez as the 26th man, send him down, then call him up for his next turn (corrected). They could call him up for a regular spot start, send him back down for the 10 days he’s required to stay in Charlotte, give Covey's scheduled start(s) to Fulmer or Tyler Danish during that period, and then readjust for good if necessary after Lopez is clear.
Those are just two of several scenarios that can make the rotation more intriguing for the foreseeable future, even if it doesn’t change its effectiveness all that much. It comes at Covey’s expense, but the circumstances usually conspire against a Rule 5 pick whether or not he’s healthy.