The Chicago White Sox finally got Jake Peavy back on Wednesday night in Anaheim, good news for a team that needed some sort of pick-me-up after its slow start this season. Picked by more than a few to win the AL Central, the Sox have had to endure an early-season closer controversy, the bats of Alexi Rios and Adam Dunn going missing and an ugly 2-7 record in one-run games -- basically, the sort of stuff that shouldn’t last over a full season. It’s a stathead’s conceit that says these things all even out over a season, but 162 games isn't that much time, and with the Sox bouncing around 10 games back, they can’t just keep marking time.
Unfortunately, getting Peavy back is the sort of news that is entirely like what little good news the Sox have already been getting all season, from the one unit on the ball club that has delivered: the rotation. Without Peavy pitching, the White Sox already handily led the American League in support-neutral winning percentage with a .541 rotation-wide clip, a mark only bettered by the supergroup in Philadelphia (.558). The White Sox were also leading the majors in starter innings pitched, another indication that the staff general manager Ken Williams assiduously assembled is the platform that should project any South Side ambitions for getting back on top.
The nice problem to have now is that Philip Humber, the waiver-claim temp pasted into the rotation in Peavy’s place, has been excellent, notching four quality starts in his six turns. Even so, Humber has been on waivers repeatedly in recent seasons for a reason: although a former first-rounder out of Rice (picked by the Mets as the third overall selection in 2004), he’s a finesse righty, a guy who spins a pretty curve and sets up his changeup effectively, but someone whose fastball isn’t going to overpower anybody. When he’s hit bad patches with the Twins and Royals, the stuff isn’t enough to make an easy case for keeping him on a 40-man roster.
And Humber isn’t alone in earning his keep, because Mark Buehrle, John Danks, Gavin Floyd and Edwin Jackson have all been pitching effectively. Humber has caught a break with the Sox as a 28-year-old, and he shouldn’t be discarded. But do the Sox think he’ll keep this up? Or do they think that he’ll soon more closely resemble the pitcher whose track record in the minors projected him to produce a big league ERA of 4.81 (by PECOTA) or worse (by ZiPS)?
In the short term, what was clear from Wednesday’s game is that this isn’t going to be about carrying Peavy out of mere wishful thinking. Thanks to getting very little help from his defense, it looked like Peavy might not get further than five innings, but a six-pitch fifth earned him a chance to extend his evening. Torii Hunter’s first-inning drive to the left-center gap almost reached the fence, but Juan Pierre got a glove on the ball on the run. That was the basic difference between a good and bad inning, and only within Peavy’s control insofar as he left a fastball up in the zone after Hunter wouldn’t bite on anything outside.
Peavy generally pitched like he can when he’s on: not overpowering in the way that impresses speed-gun nuts, just cranking low-90s fastballs and mixing in cutters, sliders and changeups. He did things that remind you of the kind of pitcher he can be, such as snapping off off-speed stuff down in the count to Mark Trumbo in both the second and fourth innings for swing-and-miss strikes.
What’s manager Ozzie Guillen to do? None of the established four should lose their gigs, but how can a team doing this badly "punish" success such as what Humber has delivered with a reduced role? So perhaps predictably -- for Ozzie -- the Sox skipper is going with an unconventional choice. He’s not going to drop anyone from the rotation, preferring to pitch the full six-pack, at least through June 1, or more than three spins through all six rotation slots.
Like the other things that won't last a season for the Sox, this won't either. Even in a rotation as well-tended as the Sox's staff, it's the nature of pitching that somebody will get hurt, or that somebody will need to be skipped for a turn -- perhaps starting with Gavin Floyd this weekend if his bruised foot needs time off. Or perhaps sooner rather than later, Humber will start living down to his past and his projections, and earn a gig in middle relief, ready to be plugged into the rotation when that next injury arises.
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Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.