DETROIT — As pleasant surprises went, Tommy Kahnle was way up there for the first month of the 2017 season, although he’s not alone, not even in the White Sox’ bullpen.
Anthony Swarzak, a non-roster invitee to spring training, didn’t allow a run. But Kahnle, who has always had upper-90s stuff with movement while struggling to command it, has thrown with remarkable efficiency since the Sox called him up April 6 because of an injury to Jake Petricka.
“It’s never been about Tommy’s stuff because Tommy’s stuff is electric,’’ bullpen coach Curt Hasler said. “He’s throwing the ball downhill better than he ever has, with angle. When you have that kind of stuff in the zone, with angle, it’s tough to deal with.’’
Yes, it is. With 19 strikeouts in 19 innings, Kahnle leads American League relief pitchers in K’s and in whiffs per nine innings. In the Sox’ 6-4 victory Saturday over the Tigers, he worked a seventh scoreless inning, striking out all three batters he faced in the eighth.
In his last 27 games dating to last season, Kahnle has 37 strikeouts with an ERA of 0.68. He had a 2.63 ERA in 2016 to lower his career mark to 4.04, but the control issues that have plagued his career surfaced during spring training, and he failed to make the Opening Day roster.
He had walked 147 in 268 innings between the Sox and Rockies. This year? One walk.
Kahnle has made minor alterations with a smaller leg lift, which helped him get his arm out sooner and his head in line with the plate.
“At the end of spring training, we saw some signs,’’ Hasler said. “[Pitching coach Don Cooper] and I talked to him, ‘What is your key?’ It’s throwing downhill. Tommy has embraced that, and he’s been outstanding. As far as anything huge or enlightening [mechanically or delivery-wise], no. It’s about throwing the ball over the plate.
“The guy is blessed with unbelievable stuff.”
Said Derek Holland, who watched Kahnle pitch from the visitors’ clubhouse Saturday after starting the game: “I was doing my shoulder stuff and saw one of his pitches, and I said, ‘What is that, a slider?’ And it was no, that was 98. It cut clear across the plate.’’
This and that
Jose Abreu, who homered twice Saturday, tripled in a run and singled in his first two at-bats Sunday and has at least two hits in a career-high six straight games. In his last 22 at-bats, Abreu has five RBI and 12 hits, including two homers, two doubles and a triple.
• Chris Beck’s two scoreless innings lowered the bullpen’s ERA to 1.94, best in the majors. “They’re attacking the zone and getting ahead in the count,’’ Hasler said.
• Miguel Gonzalez is 1-2 with a 9.57 ERA at Comerica Park after allowing six earned runs (seven overall) in six innings.
• Jacob May, who replaced Avisail Garcia (tight groin), struck out in his two at-bats and is 1-for-32.
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