Column: Chicago White Sox record back-to-back shutouts for 1st time since 2015 — which is progress, at least

The Chicago White Sox edged the Washington Nationals 2-0 on Wednesday for their first back-to-back series wins since beating the New York Yankees and Cleveland Guardians from Aug. 4-9, 2023.

For context, that was so long ago that former executives Rick Hahn and Ken Williams still had offices at White Sox Park, Nashville was just another city to Sox fans and no one had been accidentally shot in the left-field bleachers yet.

Time flies, and now GM Chris Getz is experiencing the first mini hot streak of his upper-management career.

The Sox won for the sixth time in eight games, posted their first winning homestand of the season and did so Wednesday in only 2 hours, 16 minutes before an announced crowd of 11,008.

So what has changed with these Sox?

“I don’t know what has changed,” outfielder Tommy Pham replied. “I wasn’t here.”

Good point.

“We’ve got a tough schedule coming up, so it’s going to take a lot of good baseball played by us to beat some of these teams,” Pham added, refusing to go with the feel-good narrative.

After an off day Thursday, the Sox travel to New York for a three-game series against the Yankees, followed by three in Toronto. Then they return home for three against the Baltimore Orioles and three more against the Blue Jays. It’s a true test for the Sox as they attempt to dig themselves out of their hole.

This nice little stretch is no reason to shout to the mountaintops, although you might hear that happen on the Sox telecast. But for a team that started 3-22, any signs of progress are welcome.

“It doesn’t mean we’re not going to face that storm again,” manager Pedro Grifol said before the game. “It means we have the strength to get through something like that and know that the sun will shine after the rain.”

At least the man knows his metaphors.

So what are reachable goals for the Sox?

“To win today,” Grifol replied. “If you think long term you’re thinking about the wrong things, because this is not going to happen in one day, it’s not going to happen in a week. There are very few 18-game win streaks out there. You don’t see those too often.”

The sun came out on a cool but gorgeous afternoon on the South Side on a day that began with Dominic Fletcher’s call-up, Rafael Ortega being designated for assignment and Getz acquiring Houston Astros outfielder Corey Julks and sending him to Triple-A Charlotte.

Garrett Crochet (4-4) picked up where Erick Fedde left off in Game 2 of Tuesday’s doubleheader, shutting out the Nationals on three hits over six innings, with six strikeouts and three walks. Like Fedde, he got a big assist from the Sox bullpen, who combined for four hitless innings.

It was the first back-to-back shutouts by the Sox since July 9-10, 2015 — a complete-game shutout from Jeff Samardzija and a combined effort that included six shutout innings from Carlos Rodon.

With 70 strikeouts in his first 10 career starts, Crochet surpassed Chris Sale for the franchise record. Sale had 68 over his first 10 starts in 2012.

It wasn’t Crochet’s best performance, but it was enough to satisfy the left-hander, who has more than lived up to his reputation as a clubhouse leader and dominant pitcher.

“I feel like I’m a really big competitor,” Crochet said. “So, I feel like even without my best stuff, I would still take me 10 out of 10 times. So to go out and put up zeros when I don’t have my best stuff, it’s awesome. Giving up one today might have been a win the way the misfires were. But you know I wasn’t going to settle for that.”

The Sox handed Crochet the lead in the third on Pham’s RBI double and added another in the sixth on Korey Lee’s run-scoring single. Pham, hitting .319 in 18 games since his arrival last month, credited the pitching for the improved record, adding that “offensively there are a lot of things we have to do to get better.”

Lee knocked out three singles to improve to .309, but that’s still not enough to convince Grifol to make him the everyday catcher over Martin Maldonado, who is batting .101.

“It’s a really good balance to not have to overload Korey right now,” Grifol said. “I can’t stress that enough. I know people want to see Korey play every single day. But that’s not in his best interest right now and in reality, not in ours either, because we have a lot of development to do with him. The easiest thing to do is to say ‘OK, get in there,’ but it doesn’t really work that way.”

In other words, the flower needs to be nurtured more before it’s ready to bloom. Or perhaps insert a metaphor of your choosing.

Either way, Grifol is not budging.

Closer Michael Kopech notched his fifth save after his shaky performance Tuesday night. Kopech said he “let my emotions get the best of me” Tuesday after being upset at Eddie Rosario for his angry reaction after striking out on six pitches without swinging.

Kopech was all over the place Tuesday, and the Nats didn’t swing at any of his first 18 pitches, walking twice. But Kopech also hadn’t pitched in a while after being passed over Saturday in a save situation.

“I wanted to go back-to-back-to-back, and he doesn’t want me to do that yet,” Kopech said of Grifol. “Maybe there is a time that will call for it at some point, but it’s not right now.”

Kopech threw 33 pitches Wednesday and walked two while striking out two.

The Sox need Kopech to get on a roll to increase his trade value. He’s one of their most valuable pieces, and if history is any judge, the Sox don’t intend on paying him when he becomes free agent after 2025.

A weekend in the Bronx could be seen as an audition for any and all available Sox players.

This is simply where the Sox are right now, whether or not the sun comes out.