As nice baseball stories go, the one about Tanner Banks making the White Sox Opening Day roster is as sweet as they come.
It goes like this: Lifetime minor leaguer, at age 30, comes out of nowhere in spring training to make the team, a team with World Series aspirations at that.
That was last week.
Banks made the story better by making his debut with a two-inning, four strikeout, no-run performance Sunday, finishing off the Tigers in a 10-1 victory that gave the Sox a series win over an AL Central division rival. It was a pleasant moment and a welcome closing act to an otherwise harrowing long weekend for a team with Yoan Moncada (oblique) and Ryan Burr (shoulder) joining a burgeoning injured list, Lucas Giolito (abdominal strain) getting hurt during his Opening Day start and the season opener ending with a misplayed fly ball by AJ Pollock.
All’s well that ended well, and Banks was there to cap the finish.
“I told myself, ‘you are only going to debut once,’ ” said Banks, an 18th-round Sox draft choice in 2014. “When? I was starting to question. But they said, ‘Hey you’ve got the next inning.’ ”
After the game, Banks was treated to privileged status in the handshake line and a beer shower from teammates in the visitors clubhouse at Comerica Park. As reporters waited to talk to him, the Utah native apologized for needing to find his wife and two young children before they departed the premises.
With the Sox starting rotation in disarray in the wake of injuries to Lance Lynn and Giolito, an all-hands-on deck, next-man-up climate offers opportunities for guys like Banks, who made the roster in large part because of lefty reliever Garrett Crochet’s season ending injury. Banks has started 115 games in his seven minor league seasons, and wasn’t ruled out by manager Tony La Russa to make a start if needed.
Who knows, after right-hander Vince Velasquez starts the home opener today against the Mariners and veteran lefty Dallas Keuchel starts Wednesday, Banks hasn’t been ruled out to start Thursday.
“Everybody’s an option,” pitching coach Ethan Katz said, including a bullpen day scenario.
After Banks was invited to major league camp, he opened eyes with stuff that “jumped,” as player development director Chris Getz said. He started a Cactus League game against the Dodgers and struck out five batters, including Trea Turner, Max Muncy and Austin Barnes in a perfect first inning and Cody Bellinger in the second. Banks posted a 4.98 ERA last season at Triple-A Charlotte.
“The Dodgers talked about his stuff, it spoke for itself,” Katz said. “It’s just a matter of he’s here now and now it’s about finding the best situation for him. He could be starting a game, he could come in and throw three, four innings [in relief]. It’s kind of what’s needed, especially with where we’re at. He could do a bunch of different things, we have a lot of options with him.”
Banks described making the team as “surreal” and said he was “shocked” when he got word.
On Sunday, he got his first chance to pitch in a major league game.
“When I came out of the bullpen gate, I just told myself, ‘Deep breathe. Breath it in. Enjoy this moment,’ ” he said. “And I started to get a little emotional. I was like ‘Keep it together. You’ve got to go perform.’ I wasn’t nervous per se, but I needed to collect myself a little bit. The first strikeout, [Spencer] Torkelson, gave me that confidence boost that I needed.
“After that, I was able to pitch my game and attack the way I wanted to. It was a matter of settling those little bit of nerves.”
What comes next is anybody’s guess. What’s know is the Sox have pitching needs and Banks will get more chances to show he can stay.
MARINERS AT SOX
Tuesday: Matt Brash (MLB Debut) vs. Vince Velasquez (3-9, 6.30 in 2021), 3:10 p.m., NBCSCH, 1000-AM
Wednesday: Robbie Ray (1-0, 1.29) vs. Dallas Keuchel (9-9, 5.28 in 2021), 6:10 p.m., NBCSCH, 1000-AM
Thursday: Logan Gilbert (0-0, 1.80) vs. TBA, 1:10 p.m., NBCSCH, 1000-AM