REGROUPING AFTER KOPECH’S BOMBSHELL
After surgeries, Lambert, Dunning impress on mound
On the day after it was announced that Michael Kopech would not be participating in the 2020 shortened season, another right-handed pitching prospect softened the blow.
A day later, another one applied some more salve — and encouragement.
Jimmy Lambert, who, like Kopech, is coming back from Tommy John surgery, looked fully recovered, striking out five in two innings in the White Sox’ intrasquad game Saturday at Guaranteed Rate Field. On Sunday, another Tommy John recoveree, Dane Dunning, pitched three scoreless innings against the Sox’ top lineup.
Who needs Kopech?
The Sox might have had a formidable rotation with Kopech, so, yes, let’s say they do. But it’s not like there’s nothing left in the talent supply from the farm system. Nomar Mazara homered against Lambert — after he struck out Eloy Jimenez and Yasmani Grandal — but that didn’t dampen pitching coach Don Cooper’s praise.
“Best I’ve seen [Lambert] up close,” Cooper said. “I’m happy to see it because I know now we’ve got another guy. He’s real. Coming back from an injury, but I know as he maxes out on the command with his God-given stuff, he’s going to be another pitcher for us.”
Lambert, 25, has been touching 95 mph in camp and has a good four-pitch mix. It’s as though he’s saying the Sox have more on the prospect cupboard where Kopech comes from.
“Outstanding changeup, good fastball, knows how to spin the curve and slider,” Cooper said. “Did a really nice job in his two innings.”
Dunning, who’s also 25, shook off some first-inning nerves — it was his first “game” in two years, so this was a big moment for him — and allowed two hits and a walk and struck out Danny Mendick.
“Definitely a confidence-booster,” Dunning said. “All my pitches were playing really well.
“My biggest goal is to debut this year. Hopefully I can be a part of the team.”
Cooper said Lambert and Dunning were overly amped up in recent live batting-practice sessions.
“Their energy got the best of them,” Cooper said. “They really wanted to show, ‘Hey, look at me. I can do this.’ We already kind of know what they can do. Their energy got the best of them, and they were thinking more about stuff than locating that stuff. We talked about it. You have to control that energy, bring it to the glove, and if you do, it will take you to heights you’ve never seen.”
A fifth-round draft choice in 2016, Lambert had a 2.94 ERA with 39 strikeouts in 33⅔ innings in his first six starts at Class AA Birmingham last season before elbow soreness set in. He had surgery in June. Dunning had a 2.76 ERA at Birmingham in 2018.
How Lambert and Dunning fit in the Sox’ plans for 2020 is something to be figured out. The Sox have six starters — Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Carlos Rodon, Reynaldo Lopez, Dylan Cease and Gio Gonzalez — to work with already. The season starts in 12 days.
“We’re going to have to make decisions on how we utilize people, but we’re not there yet because we’re too busy focusing on what we have to do today,” Cooper said. “Later, we’ll have a lot of discussions about the team, how many and who we’re taking and some strategy meetings, for sure, on how we’re going to approach it.”
Gonzalez, 34, said Kopech was a big loss, but he loves the mix of veterans, young pitchers and prospects.
“We have some young guys filling in the spots,” he said. “Mike is huge for this organization and huge for the clubhouse. His decision, and we respect it 100 percent. I wish I would have had an opportunity to play with him, but . . . we have to focus on people who are here, and after watching Dunning pitch and some of the guys coming in and showing their stuff, it is exciting to see guys stepping up and doing their part to be recognized and earn their spot.”
White Sox right-handers Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert (inset) showed their stuff in weekend intrasquad games.