What general manager Rick Hahn labeled last week as the nucleus of the White Sox is more than that to pitching coach Don Cooper.
The rotation, which ranks fourth in the American League with a 3.94 ERA and second in limiting opponents to a .247 batting average, is essential to any success the Sox attain. The starters might have to overcome even greater obstacles in the second half.
Cooper welcomes the challenge.
“We’ve never been sellers before,” Cooper said last weekend in Philadelphia. “We’re just going to deal with the 12 guys we have [on the pitching staff]. If there are more changes, we’ll deal with it.”
There could be plenty for Cooper and the rotation to cope with, whether or not more changes are made after the Matt Thornton trade, involving the current makeup of the pitching staff.
The possibility of trades involve Jake Peavy and relievers Matt Lindstrom and Jesse Crain – with the attention increasing once Crain and Peavy return from injuries.
Such trades would help the Sox stock their depth for the future. As good as the rotation was in the first half, the starters were only 24-33, thanks largely to an unproductive offense that could be challenged further if right fielder Alex Rios is dealt.
“I almost think that [if] they’ve been doing it this long, that it’s always expected that the pitching will be the strong point,” Cooper said. “And I kind of always knew that. It has to be our strong point. It’s just a must. Heck, it’s a responsibility I welcome.”
The Sox absorbed injuries to Gavin Floyd, Peavy and Crain, as well as John Danks, who missed the first 7 1/2 weeks because of a left shoulder surgery last August.
Hector Santiago pitched well enough to earn a permanent spot in the rotation in the wake of Peavy’s injury, and left-hander Donnie Veal hasn’t allowed a run in three appearances since Thornton was dealt to the Red Sox late Friday.
“I’m pleased with a lot of their progress,” Cooper said. “We have more to go. That job is never going to end.”
Danks believes the starters should embrace their responsibilities.
“Make three runs stand up and be believers of this team,” Danks said. “Try to be the leaders of this team. That’s all you can do.”
Trades could create opportunities for Triple-A Charlotte pitchers Andre Rienzo, Jake Petricka and Erik Johnson (currently on the disabled list with a groin strain).
“The good news: We have another 70 games to make it all right,” Cooper said. “When we hit the ground, we’re looking to hit the ground running just as strong as we can. Things always arise.”