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Veteran battling two young arms for spot in White Sox’s rotation

Three’s company for fifth starter

Dylan Covey is one of three pitchers vying for the fifth spot in the White Sox’s rotation this season.
Dylan Covey is one of three pitchers vying for the fifth spot in the White Sox’s rotation this season.

When spring training
got rolling last month, the White Sox had three
candidates vying for the fifth starters’ job.

Veteran Ervin Santana is the obvious choice despite signing a minor-league contract, but he has yet to pitch in a game with 2 weeks before opening day. Prospect Manny Banuelos, acquired from the Dodgers over the winter, also is in the mix and out of options, but has yet to prove he belongs in the big leagues.

And then there’s Dylan Covey, who spent much of last year in the Sox rotation and has performed well this spring.

But Covey has yet to get a start in four appearances in the Cactus League, and after throwing two-thirds of an inning Monday against the Brewers, he headed back to the bullpen to get some extra work in.

So where does the competition stand?

“We’ll continue to see how Ervin continues to throw,” manager Rick Renteria said Tuesday before the split-squad games were rained out. “He seems very sound. We obviously have Manny and Covey still throwing very, very well. We’ll continue to allow it to play out and see where we’re at.”

If Santana gets stretched out in time, the job will be his. He stands to make $4.3 million if he makes the team, and he has the best résumé of any Sox starter, so it’s a no-brainer.

Santana signed early in camp after being left unwanted on the free-agent market following a subpar season with the Twins in which he underwent surgery on the middle finger of his pitching hand. But don’t feel sorry for him.

“The way the game is right now; it’s difficult for everybody, not only for me,” he said of his job search.

Still, only 2 years ago Santana was named to the American League All-Star pitching staff.

Covey was given a prime opportunity last year
with 21 starts after being called up from Triple-A Charlotte.

But it wasn’t smooth sailing, or the Sox wouldn’t have had to sign Santana. Covey began his Sox career with 13 straight winless starts in 2017 and ’18, the longest such stretch of any starter in franchise history.

He finally broke the streak last May 23 against the Orioles.

Covey was up and down all season, flashing glimpses of dominance one day, then following up with a clunker.

He finished with a 5-14 record and a 5.18 ERA.

“I was just as good as I was bad last year,” he said. “There was not too much of that middle ground for me, and that’s where that consistency comes into play. The games I had that were good, there was no struggle. And the games I had that were bad, were bad. It was either pretty dominant or the other end of the spectrum, where I’m out of there before five innings.”

Covey has excelled in his relief role this spring, allowing no runs on four hits and no walks over 6 2/3 innings. Starter Ivan Nova said Covey has the been the most impressive young pitcher he has seen in camp.

With 3 off days in the first nine days of the season, the Sox could go with four starters and give Santana time to get ready at extended spring training or in the minors. They don’t really need a fifth starter until April 8 against the Rays.

But the Sox are in no hurry to make any decisions regarding the rotation, even declining to name Carlos Rodon as the opening-day starter. Everything is top secret
for now.

You can probably deduce Rodon, Reynaldo Lopez, Lucas Giolito, Nova and Santana as the starting five at the outset of the season.

Good luck predicting who will be there at the end.

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