9:17 AM CDT, April 17, 2013
Talking baseball while wondering if the Blackhawks can sell out Soldier Field.
1. Don Cooper will be the happiest man at U.S. Cellular on Friday, when he’s officially back to work after a bout with diverticulitis.
In one more cruel twist, however, the White Sox won’t be coming home after tonight’s game in Toronto, their third against the Blue Jays and ninth on this marathon road trip. This is a four-game series and a 10-game road trip, so Cooper will have to watch from Chicago as Chris Sale faces R.A. Dickey at Rogers Centre.
Cooper was hospitalized in Washington on April 8, and initially hoped to travel with the team to Cleveland. That was too aggressive, too optimistic, and doctors and the White Sox convinced Cooper to take some time to take care of himself.
That was always going to be hard but might have been made even more so because Juan Nieves, the Sox’s long-time bullpen coach, left over the winter to become Boston’s new pitching coach. He’s off to a fabulous start there, by the way, with Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester and Ryan Dempster all playing big roles in the Red Sox’s 9-4 start.
To replace Cooper, the White Sox moved new bullpen coach Bobby Thigpen into the dugout and imported minor-league pitching coordinator Curt Hasler to serve as the bullpen coach.
Early returns were ugly, as the Nationals pounded the White Sox for 20 runs in sweeping the three-game series at Nationals Park. But the Sox’s 2-6 record on this trip has had more to do with a lack of run production (five-plus runs in only one game and a total of 20 in the last seven games) than shaky pitching.
Gordon Beckham’s broken hamate has created an issue for a lineup that was already dealing with an early meltdown by catcher Tyler Flowers (1 for his last 28 with 13 strikeouts and no walks) and a disappointing start from Jeff Keppinger (.196/.196/.214 slash line, with no walks in 56 at-bats), who isn’t responding to the chance to be a regular.
Cooper has been missed, but not as badly as runners on base. That has been the missing piece as the White Sox stumbled out of the gate.
2. What a weird dynamic at Wrigley Field. There were definitely more Rangers fans there in the last three innings last night than Cub fans. It was a smaller version of the scenario that played out when the Tigers visited last season, but the 808-mile flight between Dallas and Chicago makes this more impressive. This was only the second series ever for the Rangers at Wrigley Field and support for their franchise has increased dramatically since 2002, when they made their first visit (with John Rocker in the bullpen, by the way). One Dallas-Fort Worth sports radio station has a crew here doing its show from the Captain Morgan Club, and lots of fans planned Chicago visits when the schedule came out. For them, it’s a shame it wasn’t scheduled after our ice had started to melt.
3. Speaking of the weather, you know the Cubs’ hitters are going to be happy when they get to Miller Park on Friday for a weekend series. Thanks to the roof, it will be only the second series in six that the Cubs have played in baseball weather. The game-time temperature Tuesday was 39, which marked the fourth that the Cubs have started with the thermometer in the 30s. It’s hard to remember but the home opener on April 8 was on a 60-degree afternoon. The last six on this homestand have averaged 40.3 degrees, and temperatures for the season-opening series in Pittsburgh were 41, 35, 45. Those are miserable conditions, especially for hitters. The issue tonight and tomorrow could be rain, however, not cold. While the teams would love to get the games in, there may not be the urgency you’d expect as May 6 and May 9 are mutual days off when a game (even a doubleheader) could be easily rescheduled. The Rangers are playing a two-game series in Milwaukee May 7-8, with off days on either side.
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