Short starts strain Sox’ bullpen
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Pop quiz: Name the eight pitchers in the White Sox’ bullpen.
Can you do it?
Veteran closer David Robertson no longer qualifies as a correct answer. Neither do Tommy Kahnle, Anthony Swarzak and Dan Jennings, all of whom have been shipped to playoff contenders.
Injured relievers Nate Jones and Zach Putnam are on the shelf.
The left-behinds in the pen include an anonymous but often effective group of converted starters, international signings, draft picks and waiver pickups. A decent chance exists that any of the remaining relievers could walk past you on the street, and you’d have no idea who they were.
Take David Holmberg and Aaron Bummer, for instance. They’re the southpaws out of the pen.
From the right side, newcomer Tyler Clippard carries the most name recognition. Other righties include Jake Petricka, Juan Minaya, Chris Beck, Brad Goldberg and Gregory Infante.
Petricka is the only Opening Day reliever still on the roster.
“Some people have said it will be tough to watch the bullpen the rest of the season,” Beck said. “But I think it’s the complete opposite. I think it should be an exciting moment to watch the bullpen.
“Guys are going to get opportunities they may not have had if those other guys stayed here. Guys are going to have pressure situations. You’re going to be put in environments you might have never seen.
“It’s a chance to grow. It’s a chance to prove yourself. It’s a chance to fail. You’ve got to accept each opportunity and be thankful and make the best of it.”
Those opportunities could be in large supply the next two months.
Sox starters frequently have struggled to work deep into games. The rotation has only two quality starts in its last 17 outings.
Because of those short stints, the bullpen has been forced to absorb a bigger workload. From
May 22 to Friday, Sox relievers logged 213‰ innings, the third-highest total in the majors.
No one in the group is complaining about being needed.
“When we run in from the bullpen and there are runners on, we want to pick up the starter,” said Holmberg, who has experience in both roles this season. “Everybody’s on the same team here. Everybody’s on board with what we’re trying to do. You have to be mentally ready every day. Anything can happen. Anybody can pitch in any situation.”
The bullpen opened the weekend series against the Indians ranked fourth in the American League in strikeouts (360), seventh in ERA (3.96) and seventh in opponents’ batting average (.236).
But how can the bullpen stay sharp amid heavy use?
“If we had a true answer to that question, I think all of the bullpens would be good,” Petricka said. “But it’s just a matter of whenever you’re asked, you’ve got to go out there. Whether someone might be a little tired or not, the game begets what happens, and we’ve got to react to the game.”
Relievers also react to results as the game unfolds.
“Some guys, as the game goes on, they’ll get a little quieter,” Beck said. “Some guys will keep it loose. There’s got to be a blend. You’ve got to balance each other out.”
Beck prefers to talk during the game instead of going stone-faced.
“In the end, it’s a game,” Beck said. “You’ve got to enjoy it. Even in some situations that aren’t the best, you have to remember you’re playing baseball for a living. It’s a good spot to be in.”
Follow me on Twitter @tcmusick.