GLENDALE, Ariz. — It wouldn’t be a White Sox season without some adversity.
It wouldn’t be a White Sox opener without a key player down and out for months.
“It definitely hurts. It’s definitely a blow for the team,” right-hander Lucas Giolito said.
Last year it was Eloy Jimenez and Adam Engel going down for extended time with injuries in spring training. This year it’s All-Star right-hander Lance Lynn and lefty reliever Garrett Crochet. Lynn (knee surgery) will miss at least two months and Crochet (elbow) is out for the season.
The Sox also lost Luis Robert and Yasmani Grandal for long stretches last year but managed to piece things together and post winning records in every month en route to a 93-win season.
This time, injuries are are biting where it really hurts — the pitching staff — posing a different and perhaps more challenging problem.
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a little bit [of a downer],” shortstop Tim Anderson said. “But we know what game we’re playing. There’s always a chance of that happening in baseball. We have to keep our head above water till guys get back.”
“There’s only one way to respond if you want to win,” closer Liam Hendriks said, and that’s keep on plugging on.”
The bullpen also lost Craig Kimbrel via trade, meaning almost a fourth of the Sox pitching staff has been lopped off since the start of spring training, although Kimbrel was known to have one foot out the door since November.
“You deal with it, you handle it, you ingratiate the young guys who can come up and take the spots, make sure they’re doing it the right way and build up the next generation,” Hendriks said. “This happens to every team every year and you just roll with the punches and go for it.”
Even with a healthy Lynn, the depth of the rotation seemed vulnerable, what with Carlos Rodon left to walk in free agency, Rodon’s replacement Michael Kopech starting for the first time in the majors and having his innings monitored and Dallas Keuchel coming off the worst year of his career.
The Sox were in the Sean Manaea derby but finished behind the Padres, who acquired the lefty from the Athletics for two prospects.
General manager Rick Hahn said the offseason extends through the end of spring training, so there’s time to bolster the staff but not much. Free agent Johnny Cueto, 36, who posted a 4.09 ERA over 21 starts for the Giants last season, is still out there. Otherwise, the depth in house will be put to the test.
“We know that we have a ton of depth,” Giolito said. “We know, despite losing key players here and there, we’re still very very talented and we’re very focused on our goals.”
A “ton” is a stretch, but that’s a staff leader talking, supporting his guys when a valued star and leader is on the shelf.
“Lance will miss some time, but he’ll be back for a significant portion of this season and he’s going to be hugely important to our success,” Giolito said. “For him it’s all about getting right and getting healthy. In the meantime, we’ll pick up the slack where need to.”
And keep pushing, as Anderson said.
“Put it together like we did last year through the injuries,” Anderson said. “The guys on the pitching staff have a point to prove as well, it’s just next man up, slide in the slot and make something happen. We’ll be praying for the guys who are hurt but we understand the situation and the task ahead of us.”