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What happens when the control you desperately wanted turns out to be a thing you didn’t really want?

Yes, the end of the Rick Hahn Era goes down with a shoulder-shrugging whatever

Pedro Grifol: Making it up as he goes along.
| Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Michael Kopech was removed from his start on Wednesday after four innings and 86 pitches. Far from his best effort, 21.5 pitches per inning and three walks over four frames just isn’t enough. And Kopech knew it:

Besides the tepid performance, a 6-3 loss to Texas and his flaccid effort isn’t really on Kopech, who by all stretches has been stronger and healthier than anyone expected him to be in 2023. He is on pace for 175 innings this season, and there isn’t a sane White Sox fan in the Greater Chicagoland Area who wouldn’t have blinked at such a prediction in January.

No, this is on the wavering decision-making of manager Pedro Grifol and the brain trust (presumably, Rick Hahn-Ken Williams, but who in hell really has any idea any longer, it could be Tony by remote).

The White Sox are woefully, embarrassingly barren of starting pitcher talent — and with the exception of four-hitless-innings superarm Touki Toussaint, who the club literally picked up off the street yesterday and spent all night stitching that long surname on a few unis, long relief talent. And yet, with an off-day tomorrow giving Kopech a possible five days of rest, or at worst normal rest if the club smartly skips [redacted]’s rotation spot, Grifol wanted to spare Kopech a fifth inning and possible encroachment of the precious 100-pitch threshold.

This is not strategy or “load management.” It’s dartboard managing.

On Sunday, when asked after the Seattle series why presumptive Monday spot-starter Jesse Scholtens was not only used as a reliever over that weekend but was then called in to save an extra-innings lead, Grifol offered some Ozzie-esque grit about “being here to win games.” OK, cool, damn straight, dig it.

But then Grifol went on to say that, regarding Monday’s starter to open the series with Texas, it would be figured out “during the two hours on the plane ride.”

Now, only a very angry writer would take those words literally (although, Grifol could have merely said “we have a plan” and opted not to share it, rather than the colorful “we’ll pick a guy in-between hands of cards 25,000 feet in the air”). But the reason Grifol was hired — and we have this as fact, literally, through exit interviews of unsuccessful White Sox manager candidates — was his acquiescence to Hahn’s management of the roster, and even the lineup.

We can poke fun and say, “Rick Hahn hired himself as manager,” but of course that is not true. That Hahn has a firmer hand on his woebegone roster than ever, however, is absolute fact. And yet, with plenty of time (the [redacted] injury looked severe, there was no way he was going back out to pitch in five days) to figure out a plan, Hahn had none — unless “starting Tanner Banks” is a plan. Sure, an 11-inning game on Sunday ghosted the machine a bit — but to see the spaghetti snapped over two extra relief innings makes you wonder if there is a single, responsible adult in the room.

To wit, Jimmy Lambert, mauled by Texas on Wednesday and moving the game from winnable-with-breaks to pack-it-in by relieving Kopech and immediately doubling the Texas scoring. Lambert was scuffling through a Charlotte rehab assignment (five earned in 10 outs) when whatever combination of injuries to Liam Hendriks/[redacted]/Garrett Crochet forced a move too quickly back to Chicago. He’s not ready. But he’s on the 40-man! And if the defense of the move is hey man, they needed pitchers, valid, but why then is the healthy and effective Nicholas Padilla back in Triple-A while Jimmy L. scuffles back to health?

And that wasn’t even the worst abuse of the 40-man roster this week, as the impossibly short-sighted decision to bypass reactivated Lenyn Sosa as infield depth as Tim Anderson sits for several days before inevitably hitting the IL in order to yank José Rodríguez up from his underachieving season in Double-A outpaces it. Ignore the howls that Popeye “should be getting playing time” if he’s in Chicago; he shouldn’t be in Chicago in the first place, and a platinum sombrero is not the chapeau he wants to wear on the bus back to Birmingham.

So there’s not a responsible adult in the room, got it. But to see it play out, in real time, unforced error after unforced error, is galling. There’s a division for the picking, and the White Sox have blisters pocking their fingers.

This era is unique in White Sox history. You younger fans, primarily calloused over a decade of rebuilding and now peering through this broken contention window, will just have to trust: It was not always such.

The closest imaginable was the horrifying darkness of 1921-50, three decades of madness forced on a handful of Hall-of-Famers, seven seasons of winning ball over entire lifetimes of fandom. But even in that, it was the Black Sox who cursed the White, and instead of a White Sox murderers’ row or South Side dynasty, the scandal cleared a path for the Yankees to begin a century of baseball domination.

The 1970s? Wobbly, yes, but even Bill Veeck’s coupon custodianship yielded a miracle 1977, not mere happenstance but the successful execution of Rent-a-Player. The late 1980s? The Larry Himes talent geyser was on the horizon.

We have never suffered this before, not in this way, not in such a clodhopped stumble of stewardship. The Chisox are now laughingstock, and we are forced to wear it.

This is just one week in the life of the Chicago White Stockings. Next week might be better, or might be worse, but most assuredly it won’t be good.


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