The season ended Saturday. So it was already figured that the rest of the post-mortem season would be spent figuring stuff out. Stuff like 'who's replaceable?', 'what will the outfield look like?', 'who deserves to suffer for all the horror that we have endured?'
Also, there will presumably be time spent figuring out the back end of the 2012 rotation.
Monday's doubleheader against Minnesota would feature both players in that conflict; Zach Stewart and Phil Humber. Stewart brought his uninspiring toools and thoroughly mixed results, while Humber was returning from the DL after fatigue was thought to be sapping the momentum of his renaissance season.
Essentially, with Stewart already looking like bullpen fodder, all Humber had to do to nudge into the lead was show some resemblance to the man we all loved.
Philip did that. Humber threw a metric ton of strikes (71 out of 100), K'd 6 batters, and got through 7 shutout innings. He isn't overwhelming, and he doesn't pile up the innings, but Humber's control and price tag is everything one could hope for out of the back of a rotation.
With Zach Stewart being Zach Stewart, the spot was Phil's.
Unless Zach Stewart isn't Zach Stewart. That would just throw off everything.
That is what at least appeared to happen. Stewart spun a 1-hit complete-game shutout, which sounds less remarkable than "he took a perfect game into the 8th", which is what happened. In any case, alongside the relatively whopping total of 9 strikeouts, it blows all other Zach Stewart presentations out of the water, and raises a bevy of questions.
Is it wrong to dismiss Stewart for his limited complement of pitches? Could the last few times he was hammered just be the pains of maturation and not the pains of being mediocre? Even if he's just some magic Twin-killer, isn't that worth having around?
It also raises other questions.
Just how bad are the Twins? How wide was that strike zone? Does this even count? And of course; 'was that Zach Stewart or Mark Buehrle wearing a wig and throwing right-handed for funsies?'
Optimism!: Of course Stewart is maturing, and developing his approach every start. Jim Margalus credited Stewart in his recap for throwing his slider in unexpected situations, which allowed him to rack up 7 whiffs with it. Given how much he's struggled trying to get by just through locating the hell out of his low 90's fastball, this would be a major development for him. And every great control night is a step closer to him becoming reliably consistent.
Pessimism!: The Twins offense is abysmal even when they don't sub out their two above-average hitters. While Stewart might be lucky Ozzie didn't make him intentionally walk Brian Dinkelman off reputation alone, he was hardly consistently threatened. PitchFX shows Stewart picking up 5 called strikes completely out of the zone, while only having the slightest bit of beef with a single pitch.
More than anything, Stewart is down as throwing 77 four-seam fastballs, 36 sliders, and one change-up. At that rate, the single change was in all likelihood a hanging slider. This stripped-down approach really demands him to be more fine with his control and effective with his slider than anyone believes him capable of.
Earlier, it seemed foolish to tinker around and see what Stewart could shake out of his curls during a pennant race. Now there is no pennant race! Tinker on! Shake more one-hit shutouts out of those curls!
With Jake Peavy still mediocre and blaming his months-old relief appearance, and Ozzie just wishing to shut him down, there's a probably a spot for Zach unless the White Sox are going to do something really exciting like crazily stretching out Chris Sale.
The results might not be great, and I remain concerned that he'll drastically out-perform his peripherals somehow and be overrated by the organization. But that's not a good reason to not give Stewart a month's worth of run.
Virtuoso starts like Monday night deserve reward, and Stewart will undoubtedly get it. Until he dulls the shine off this performance, the Sox should continue the 5th starter audition.
You know what they say, better to have a month cycling through back of the rotation starters than an entire season. Seriously, they do say that, and it's always depressing.