Nastrini to stick in Sox rotation, facing Toronto again in five days

May 23rd, 2024

TORONTO -- See you in five days.

Free from the pressures of auditioning for a spot in the White Sox rotation, can focus solely on improving at the highest level. That’s what the club had in mind when it recalled their No. 8 prospect, and that’s what’s expected after a tough first start back.

The realities of the Majors were quick to hit Nastrini against an underperforming-yet-dangerous Blue Jays lineup, as the White Sox were handed a 9-2 loss on Wednesday night at Rogers Centre.

With the Blue Jays scheduled to come to Chicago next week, he’ll get another crack at those hitters soon enough.

“What I told him was this: He's gonna face these guys in five days,” manager Pedro Grifol said after the game. “That's the schedule right now. So he's got four days to make all the necessary adjustments.”

That’s what this moment is about for Nastrini.

The White Sox recalled their top right-handed prospect on Wednesday, two days after DFA’ing Brad Keller to open a spot in the rotation. The club had several options to consider for that role, the obvious one being moving Michael Soroka back from the bullpen. But that wasn’t the plan.

This is Nastrini’s spot now. This whole opportunity was orchestrated to ensure he gets the chance and leeway to make mistakes and learn from them.

“We've had many conversations with him, and he should feel comfortable enough to know that he's a big part of the future,” said Grifol. “One start is not going to make or break his career here.”

One start can still provide plenty of data for the future, though.

Nastrini’s struggles in his return to the big leagues were similar to what ailed him the first time around. He walked six batters on Wednesday, losing command of his fastball for long stretches and failing to establish the upper-third of the strike zone.

It got away from him early, too, as Nastrini faced 10 batters and allowed seven runs in the second inning. After a walk to open the frame and two one-out singles loaded the bases, Nastrini conferred with pitching coach Ethan Katz on the mound. He then got Isiah Kiner-Falefa to fly out on a hanging slider, but the top of the Blue Jays’ lineup was unforgiving with two outs.

Four singles, a triple and a home run put a crooked number on the board. Four of those six hits came on two strikes.

“Definitely not the way we mapped that one out,” said Nastrini. “I did a good job of getting to two strikes … I just didn’t execute. Going back and looking at film after that [second] inning, there were good pitches that were around in the zone, but they weren't good enough. That's the whole day, it just wasn't good enough.”

Nastrini allowed three more walks and two more runs (one unearned) in the fourth before being replaced by Tanner Banks.

It was all very reminiscent of the issues Nastrini faced in his start against the Phillies on April 21, when he allowed six runs (five earned) on six hits and five walks. These early challenges are part of the development, and a good example of why the White Sox are looking to give Nastrini a wider avenue toward progress.

Looking at film is one step, dialing into the next bullpen session is another. But this is also about building a big leaguer’s mentality.

“If you play this game long enough … you’re going to face adversity,” said Nastrini. “I don't want to have a loser’s mentality about this -- it kind of comes off that way -- but you have to accept failure. You can't really run from it, because it's gonna happen. You're gonna get punched in the face, and it's really just how you respond from it.”

Rarely do young starters get such an immediate chance to respond against the same lineup.

Nastrini’s next turn in the rotation is set for the White Sox home series against the Blue Jays, which starts on Monday. According to his manager, that’s the only thing the 24-year-old Nastrini needs to worry about right now.

“You can look at this two ways,” said Grifol. “You can look at it as, ‘Damn, I’m going to have to face these guys again and I just gave up nine runs,’ or as, ‘I can't wait to face them again.’ …

“He knows what he’s got to do.”