CLEVELAND – Don Cooper charged through an exuberant and relieved White Sox dugout like a fullback barreling toward the goal line. His objective: Deliver a handshake to Robin Ventura after the Sox’ first victory.
For Cooper, the elation stemmed from defeating the Minnesota Twins to halt a four-game losing streak and from the commanding manner in which closer David Robertson finished it, striking out all three batters he faced in his first save opportunity as the new Sox closer.
“I was fired up,’’ Cooper said. “I was fired up because he threw the ball extremely well. After his first seven pitches, I turned to Robin and said ‘these are the best seven pitches we’ve seen in a row since we’ve met him.’ And it couldn’t have come at a better time.
“I like his stuff, his pitches, his experience and his ability to nail down games for us in the ninth. That’s first and foremost because we haven’t had that in a while. That’s a great acquisition to fill a major hole.’’
The Sox spent $46 million, a hefty sum for a relief pitcher, for four years of Robertson’s services after he registered 39 saves for the New York Yankees last season. Before that, he was an All-Star setup man for Mariano Rivera, perhaps the greatest closer of all time. But during spring training, some soreness in his forearm/elbow area prevented the right-hander from showing the Sox, in person, what they had. He shrugged off the issue, which prevented him from using his full arsenal of pitches in any one Arizona outing. He never did pitch on consecutive days during spring training.
When Robertson got the last three outs — in order — to preserve a 6-2 lead in a non-save situation the day after his first save, Cooper was convinced the closer was “up and running.”
“I was thinking ‘here’s our-back-to back [outings] that we couldn’t get in Arizona,” Cooper said. “It wasn’t a save situation but we needed that game.”
Robertson converted his second save in lights-out fashion Tuesday night, striking out all three Indians batters he faced to preserve a 4-1 victory, the Sox’ third win in a row. Zach Duke also struck out the side in the eighth after Dan Jennings fanned two Indians in the seventh.
“We’ve got a good thing going,’’ Duke said.
Robertson who has not allowed a run in four appearances. He has looked dominant, striking out eight of the 14 batters he’s faced.
“That’s [Robertson’s] track record,” said Duke, also signed as a free agent during the offseason. “It’s great to have him on our side.’’
Cooper couldn’t agree more. The Sox way for much of Cooper’s tenure as pitching coach has been to develop closers, from Bobby Jenks to Hector Santiago and Addison Reed and Sergio Santos in between.
“I can’t remember us ever going out and acquiring a closer,’’ Cooper said. “We’ve always had to work it out. We’ve never really built a bullpen from the back forward but this year we did.
“David has closed before, he closed in New York and he’s a veteran on top of it. He answers a huge question for the team and the organization.’’
With an ineffective bullpen and no proven closer, leads were lost, emotions shaken and tolls taken on a team that finished 73-89 in 2014. Somewhat handcuffed, Ventura worked with what he had, giving Matt Lindstrom, Ronald Belisario and Jake Petricka, to name three, their turns at the ninth inning. Lindstrom got hurt, Belisario failed and Petricka did OK. The bullpen will look fortified when he returns soon after getting through a forearm strain.
“It’s just not quite as easy navigating through a game not knowing who you’re going to have in the ninth inning every day,’’ Cooper said. “Now that the question is answered you move on to some other innings because for the next four years David Robertson has the ninth inning.
“Certainly we loved what we’ve seen the last two days. It’s comforting that you have a guy specified for that role.’’
As Cooper said, a proven one who is comfortable in the ninth.
“We finally had a lead and a chance to get in the win column and I wasn’t going to let it slip away,’’ Robertson said after recording his first save.
The Sox (3-4) continue on their AL Central tour with an early Wednesday afternoon (11:10 Chicago time) game before heading to Detroit for a three-game weekend series.
The three-game streak changed the tenor in the Sox clubhouse. They’re 3-4 but it could be worse if not for their new closer.
“We didn’t start out the way we were hoping to,’’ Cooper said. “The American League champions [Royals] gave us the business, then we lose the home opener [to the Twins]. I wasn’t picturing 4-0 but I wasn’t picturing 0-4. So David nails that down and we’re all happy.
“So now, we’ve played two series and we’ve won one of them and so it’s a different spot we’re in right now. … we’re getting things up and running.’’