White Sox’ rookie-laden bullpen has stepped up
BY DARYL VAN SCHOUWEN email@example.com May 31, 2012 11:36PM
White Sox rookie closer Addison Reed, high-fiving catcher A.J. Pierzynski, is 6-for-6 in save opportunities. | Al Messerschmidt~Getty Images
MARINERS AT SOX
The facts: 7:10, CSN, 670-AM, 97.5-FM.
The pitchers: Felix Hernandez (4-4, 3.17 ERA) vs. Jake Peavy (6-1, 3.07).
THE REST OF THE SERIES
Saturday: 3:10 p.m., Ch. 9, 670-AM, 97.5-FM. Hector Noesi (2-6, 5.01) vs. Gavin Floyd (4-5, 5.02).
Sunday: 1:10 p.m., CSN, 670-AM, 97.5-FM. Kevin Millwood (3-4, 3.56) vs. Chris Sale (6-2, 2.34).
Updated: July 6, 2012 10:33AM
When the White Sox’ poorly rated farm system becomes a topic of conversation Monday during the amateur draft — and, rest assured, it’s a sore subject with them — they, in turn, will invite the experts who rate such things to closely examine their young pitching, particularly in the bullpen.
Everybody knows about American League ERA leader Chris Sale (2.34), 23, who left the bullpen to become a starter. But the Sox want you to know there are more where Sale came from — drafted and brought up through their system. Rookies Addison Reed, Nate Jones and Hector Santiago have turned the pen, a question mark going into the season because of the unusually high number of young arms there, into a strength.
Two months into the season, the red-hot Sox have won eight consecutive games and 12 of 13. They open a homestand Friday night against the Mariners in first place in the AL Central with Reed, 23, wrapping his power arm around the closer role. Jones, 26, has extended his “big arm” into key sixth-to-seventh-inning stints, and Santiago, 24, after failing to keep the closer role out of spring training, has recovered nicely with scoreless performances in middle and late innings in his last seven outings.
“They’re climbing,’’ pitching coach Don Cooper cautioned. “But they’re not at a point where you say, ‘OK, they’re veterans.’ Maybe down the road you say that, but we’re not close to that.
“They’re still trying to make their way. They’re still trying to be more consistent.’’
Reed (4.41 ERA) is 6-for-6 in save opportunities, and if you toss out his six-run ERA-crusher May 13 against the Royals, the ERA is 1.13. Jones (3-0, 1.73) has not allowed a run in 16 of his 18 appearances. Lefty Santiago (3.79 ERA), bitten by five homers during his closer stint that nonetheless produced four saves in six chances, has allowed one earned run in his last seven outings. And no homers in his last eight.
In other words, two months into their first full seasons, the rookie-laden pen is anything but a liability. The bullpen has a 3.20 ERA, a full run better than where it was last year at this time, with a 1.89 ERA over the last 10 games. The kids are a big reason why.
“The bottom line is this: They have good arms, and what we’re doing with them is a process,’’ Cooper said. “They’re getting the job done. But this is a seasonlong process. There will be days when they trip and fall.’’
During spring training, Jake Peavy and other veterans pointed to the bullpen as the biggest question mark surrounding the team. The players thought Adam Dunn and Alex Rios would bounce back from poor seasons, but leaning on 31/2 rookies (Zach Stewart, 25, started the year with 13 games under his belt) working late in games was another story.
“The game comes down to the bullpen a lot,’’ veteran reliever Jesse Crain said.
Peavy calls Crain and veteran left-hander Matt Thornton “consummate professionals” and said their role-modeling of how to prepare before and during games is “invaluable” for the young guys. Veteran Will Ohman also is showing them the ropes. Crain said the biggest challenge for the rookies is consistency.
“It’s definitely between the ears,’’ Crain said. “There are tons of guys in the minor leagues with great stuff and great arms. It’s putting it together and being consistent enough to stay here.’’
The rookies know a lot rests on their shoulders. They haven’t wavered.
“Early on, we were aware of that,’’ said Stewart, who considers himself a rookie because he’s treated like one by teammates. “Obviously, we were the question mark. We understood that, but we knew what we could do.’’