Carroll newest elixir for pitching staff

John Danks threw 123 pitches but could not make it out of the sixth for the White Sox. AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

CHICAGO – Player-personnel moves are coming fast and furious for the Chicago White Sox now, and the calendar hasn’t even reached May 1.

The latest was to call up career minor leaguer Scott Carroll from Triple-A Charlotte to make his major league debut Sunday opposite Tampa Bay Rays Cy Young Award winner David Price.

To make room for Carroll on the major league roster, rookie starter Erik Johnson was optioned to Triple-A Charlotte in hopes of getting him on track after a rocky five starts to open the 2014 season. Johnson not only had a 6.46 ERA, he had 15 walks in 23⅔ innings and a 1.77 WHIP to go along with it.

"He just needs to go and get his stuff back, get that competitive stuff that we’ve seen before," manager Robin Ventura said. "He can work on it down there. We’ve got Carroll going tomorrow."

The problem is that the White Sox have too many pitchers who need to work on things -- and it’s causing an innings backlog that is wreaking havoc. Starter John Danks threw 123 pitches in Saturday's 4-0 loss to the Rays, the third time this season a White Sox pitcher has gone over the 120 mark.

The issue has become cyclical. A starter struggles, so the White Sox have to lean on their bullpen, and then, the bullpen struggles. In turn, the starting staff has to absorb more innings to get the relievers some recovery time.

To Danks’ credit, he didn’t mind the heavy workload Saturday despite being less than two years removed from shoulder surgery.

"I love it," Danks said afterward. "I've been on [pitching coach Don Cooper] for a few years now, trying to get the pitch count up. It seems like for a few years there it was 100 pitches and you’re out. I feel like 80 pitches or 120, I’m going to feel the same the next day. I was glad to be able to go back out there and tried to get as deep as possible. I didn’t do myself any favors, but I’m trying to save the bullpen, trying to do everything I can to get us a chance."

The White Sox’s issues with walks are well documented at this point and Danks added four more to the pile against the Rays. Reversing that recent trend might not come so easily.

The rotation's most steadying influence, Chris Sale, is on the disabled list. Johnson and Felipe Paulino have had their issues, and neither is on the starting staff right now with Paulino on the DL due to shoulder soreness.

Andre Rienzo and Charlie Leesman have already been called up from Charlotte, and Carroll will make it a third starter to join the staff with just 25 games gone in the season.

Carroll fills Sunday’s rotation void, but with Johnson no longer with the club, another will come for Wednesday’s homestand finale against the Detroit Tigers.

The White Sox pride themselves on turning reclamation projects into serviceable major league pitchers, but their ability to get the most out of guys is being pushed to the limits. Cooper knows the more guys he can turn around, the longer he will have a job, but he isn’t alone in the project.

"I think one thing that has been the strength of our organization, that predates me, back to when Kenny [Williams] was the farm director, is our continuity of instruction on the pitching side of things," general manager Rick Hahn said. "Coop was the [minor league] coordinator at that time and there was essentially a … I don’t want to say a White Sox way, but an approach to teaching pitching and what we felt we could get out of guys, guys we could get better and guys we would be a little challenged to improve upon.

"And not only has Coop sort of set that tone at the big league level, but it trickles through the system to the messages that guys hear right out of the draft on the pitching side. The messages they hear then are the same messages they essentially hear from Coop. Our scouts know the types of players we feel we can get better and which ones we want to stay away from."

So enter the 29-year-old Carroll as the next project for Cooper. He nearly quit the game after needing Tommy John surgery following the 2012 season, but he continued the journey and his perseverance will be rewarded.

His longevity will likely hinge on his ability to throw quality strikes -- a plan not too many White Sox hurlers have been able to follow to this point.

Danks was simply the latest who wasn’t able to deliver the desired outing. He wasn’t awful Saturday, and the offense failed to provide run support, but Danks was stand-up enough to blame his long innings for keeping his teammates on the field too long and not at the plate, where they could work on getting into a groove.

"I just tried to bow my neck like I always do," Danks said about trying to work out of trouble all evening. "I'm going to do everything I can to give us a chance, and, unfortunately, I didn’t have it tonight. These games happen. They’re not any easier to swallow. But certainly, it’s something that happens every now and again, and you just try to be better for next time."