The White Sox’ Rick Hahn last weekend — echoing probably every other general manager of a contending team — cited the bullpen as an area to strengthen before the Tuesday trade deadline.
And that was before Reynaldo Lopez landed on the 15-day injured list with back soreness Thursday, before Joe Kelly left the Sox’ disheartening 6-5 walk-off loss Wednesday to the Rockies when his biceps issue flared up and before an apparently gassed bullpen couldn’t protect a two-run lead.
When All-Star closer Liam Hendriks allowed a Coors Field opposite-field homer to Ryan McMahon in the Sox’ 2-1 victory Tuesday, he was working for the third time in four days and was unavailable to close Wednesday afternoon, leaving the task to Kendall Graveman (2.89 ERA).
Graveman, pitching on consecutive days and for the fourth time in five days for the first time in his career, was out of sorts, throwing only five strikes in 17 pitches and walking the first three batters in the ninth inning before giving up the game-winning single. A seventh- and eighth-inning specialist, Graveman suffered his fifth career blown save in 10 chances.
“I think that was the first time I walked off the field in the ninth inning with a loss,” Graveman said. “It sucks, but that’s the nature and beauty of this game as a reliever. You get another chance.”
There will be many more high-leverage chances for everyone in the back end of the bullpen, on whose shoulders the fate of the team’s postseason chances rest. No team wins without a strong bullpen.
The Sox’ pen ranks 20th in ERA (4.07), 22nd in WHIP and seventh in strikeouts, putting it in middle-of-the-pack company. The last 16 games have seen improvement with a 3.10 ERA despite Hendriks (3.48) getting scored on in all three of his appearances since he pitched in the All-Star Game on July 19. Hendriks allowed five runs and seven hits in three innings. Two of the hits were home runs.
“Mechanical things,” Hendriks said. ‘‘Ball is cutting on me a little bit.”
That hiccup in Hendriks’ body of work followed a streak of five scoreless, hitless games coming off a three-week stay on the injured list with a strained flexor in his right forearm.
Which serves to underline the health and strength of the entire group, especially now with Lopez and Kelly — who spoke confidently about avoiding the injured list after Wednesday’s flare-up — on the watch list.
“Guys have battled even when [they] haven’t felt good,” Graveman said. “Guys pitch through stuff every now and then; it’s not easy. I’m proud of those guys.
“You talk about the dog days of August. The body, you go through a little lull sometimes late in the season, but mentally you have to be strong and get over it. We have to be careful and smart with usage, but we also have to win baseball games.”
With Garrett Crochet out for the season after Tommy John surgery and Aaron Bummer not expected back till September with a lat strain, the Sox have operated with one left-hander, rookie Tanner Banks.
“You’re talking about two of the best lefties in the game who were coming out of the bullpen that we don’t have,” pitching coach Ethan Katz said. “The hope is we get Bum back soon. But it’s been nice to see other guys step up and fill the void.”
And while there are other areas that could be upgraded, including second base and right field, it would be nice to see other guys step in from other teams before the trade deadline.
Every team says there’s room for more pitching.
“Primarily in the bullpen,” Hahn said. “We’re not immune to that.”
NOTE: Center fielder Luis Robert, on the 10-day injured list since July 22 with blurred vision and light-headedness, began a rehab assignment with Triple-A Charlotte on Thursday.
ATHLETICS AT SOX
Friday: James Kaprielian (1-5, 4.74 ERA) vs. Lance Lynn (1-3, 6.43), 7:10 p.m., NBCSCH, 1000-AM.
Saturday: Paul Blackburn (6-6, 4.35) vs. Johnny Cueto (4-4, 2.89), NBCSCH, 1000-AM.
Sunday: TBA vs. Dylan Cease (10-4, 2.03), NBCSCH, 1000-AM.