DENVER -- The words "subpar" and "pitching" rarely have found their way together during Don Cooper's highly successful 15-year-tenure as White Sox pitching coach.This 2017 campaign has been the anomaly, struggles Cooper quite possibly envisioned with the team beginning a full-fledged rebuild. But he probably didn't budget for the problems
DENVER -- The words "subpar" and "pitching" rarely have found their way together during Don Cooper's highly successful 15-year-tenure as White Sox pitching coach.
This 2017 campaign has been the anomaly, struggles Cooper quite possibly envisioned with the team beginning a full-fledged rebuild. But he probably didn't budget for the problems faced by the starting pitchers through the first half.
Chicago's rotation entered Sunday's first-half finale in Colorado with the second-most losses in all of the Majors at 40, trailing only the Giants' 43. Its 4.89 ERA over 86 starts placed them 26th, while the one-time quality-start machine entered Sunday having produced 10 over the past 44 games and sitting 28th in the Majors with 29.
There are some legitimate excuses for these issues. Carlos Rodon made start No. 3 of 2017 to close out the first half Sunday, missing most of the first three months due to biceps bursitis. James Shields and Miguel Gonzalez missed time on the disabled list, and replacements such as Mike Pelfrey and David Holmberg, who performed admirably, had to be built up on the fly to get deeper into games.
Cooper acknowledges those reasons but won't hide from the struggles.
"Starting pitching is not close to being good enough, not close to what we are used to," Cooper said. "Putting a lot of pressure on the bullpen to go a lot.
"We've had too many games where our starters are not giving us length, either through poor performance or unable to be stretched out. It's all part of the building process, and the building process can be trying. Some of the games we've had have been miserable. [Friday] night was a miserable game."
Tommy Kahnle, Anthony Swarzak and closer Player Page for David Robertson top a strong bullpen unit that entered Sunday ranked fifth in the AL in ERA (3.86), opponents' average (.228) and WHIP (1.24). But as Cooper knows, a good staff begins with quality starting pitching.
"Everybody says you have to have a good bullpen. Well this is a perfect example why they are wrong," Cooper said. "You have to have a good bullpen, a couple of guys out there. I always thought a starting staff, a good one, leaves little or nothing to the bullpen.
"But again, some of it is poor performance for sure. Some of it is injuries and some is we are stretching guys out at the Major League level with Holmberg, who was pitching one inning an outing or two in relief and now we have to get him up to five. That's not easy. Pelfrey, who basically came from his house after one or two starts in Triple-A.
"It used to be a challenge to say we are up by a lot here or ... down by a lot in the game, piece a game together," Cooper said. "We are doing this a lot of times, and that's due to what I said. The starting pitchers' performances have not been nearly enough."
Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Read his blog, Merk's Works, follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin, on Facebook and listen to his podcast.