Anthony Swarzak hasn’t allowed a run in his first seven appearances as a White Sox reliever. In that span, the 31-year-old right-hander has retired 18 consecutive batters.
Now, here’s a streak the former Minnesota Twins second-round draft pick wants to end: three straight years of going to spring training as a non-roster invitee, fighting for a job.
Swarzak made the Cleveland Indians’ Opening Day roster in 2015 but was designated for assignment in May after posting a 3.86 ERA. He would make 17 starts for the Korean League’s Doosan Bears that year before going to camp with the New York Yankees in 2016 and getting called up in June. But he pitched to a 5.52 ERA, spent a month on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation and was no longer in the Yankees’ plans.
Since signing with the Sox in January, Swarzak has been nothing less than stellar as a middle reliever, giving him hope about saying goodbye to the non-roster invitee world.
“It’s not a pleasant thing,” Swarzak said. “I’m really pitch-ing toward getting my career back on the right track.”
While he had an excellent strikeout rate of 9.0 per nine innings with the Yankees — and an equally strong 2.03 walk rate — he gave up 10 homers in 31 innings. His homer-to-fly ball ratio was a lofty 27.8 percent. So he adjusted.
“Early in my career, I threw a lot of strikes, almost to a fault,” Swarzak said. “Recently I’m working on throwing quality balls, if that makes sense.
“If you look at my numbers inside the numbers last year, my hits were down, my walks were down, and my strikeouts were up. And my home runs were really up. The fly balls put in the air were homers, and it kind of skewed the numbers. But I knew I was headed in the right direction. It’s like [manager] Ricky [Renteria] says, trust the process.”
We’re talking small sample size, but Swarzak’s 12 strikeouts, one walk and three hits allowed over 9 ⅓ innings with the Sox are striking. He pitched well, with slightly better velocity, from the beginning of camp through his last Cactus League appearance, so it’s no surprise he oozes confidence right now.
“That’s all of it,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what pitch you have gripped — if you have confidence in the pitch, nine times out of 10 it’s going to be the right pitch.”
Swarzak made 32 starts with the Twins between 2009 and 2014, and while starting isn’t something he’d be opposed to revisiting, he says he’s not greedy.
“Of course I think about it. It’s something I did a long time,” he said. “But I’m just entertaining the idea of having a jersey in my locker.”
Swarzak’s Twitter page says “blessed to play a kids game for a living,” so with that perspective, he’s enjoying being one piece of a staff whose 2.92 ERA is first in the majors. He’s contributing to a bullpen with Dan Jennings (0.96), Zach Putnam (1.04 but on the disabled list) David Robertson (1.17), Tommy Kahnle (1.29), Nate Jones (2.53) and Michael Ynoa (3.86). Their combined 1.96 ERA ranks second behind the Yankees’ 1.51.
Swarzak “has been the definition of pounding the zone,” Jennings said. “It makes for quick outs and quick outings.”
NOTE: Released by the Tigers with three days left in camp, right-hander Mike Pelfrey will make his second start for the Sox against his former team in the opener of a three-game series in Detroit.
Called up from Class AAA Charlotte when James Shields was put on the DL, Pelfrey gave up four runs (two earned) in 4 ⅓ innings in the Sox’ 7-0 loss to the Indians on Saturday.
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