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White Sox pitch caution but they are anything but

White Sox GM Ken Williams says team is overly cautious with their pitchers but numbers don't back thup.  |

White Sox GM Ken Williams says the team is overly cautious with their pitchers, but the numbers don't back that up. | TOM CRUZE~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 14, 2012 3:36PM

Ken Williams loves a fight more than any general manager in town. So it wasn’t surprising that the White Sox’ GM fired back at critics who wondered what the heck he was doing with left-hander Chris Sale last week.

‘‘If anyone wants to come at me for being overly cautious, fire away,’’ Williams said Friday as he explained how Sale talked his way back into the White Sox starting rotation. ‘‘We take care of our pitchers. And we’re going to shut you down if there is something that indicates you’re not healthy.’’

Though the Sale saga was poorly communicated, the only real issue is whether Williams sticks to his word — because the White Sox haven’t been quite as cautious with their pitchers as Williams thinks.

Though Williams likes to tout his record of keeping players off the disabled list, the fact of the matter is that the White Sox have put pitchers on the DL 10 times in the past three seasons — including Jake Peavy three times, John Danks, Matt Thornton and J.J. Putz.

And that doesn’t include Bobby Jenks, who never was put on the disabled list in 2010, but struggled with a sore arm after the All-Star break (0-2, 5.40 ERA, 3-of-11 blown saves). Jenks threw three innings of relief against the Royals in late August, then saved both ends of a double-header in early September. Jenks never pitched again that season and literally has never been the same. That doesn’t sound like it fits the description of ‘‘too cautious’’ to me.

And it doesn’t include Freddy Garcia, who also never went on the DL as he struggled through the second half of the 2010 season. Garcia, who clearly had to be handled with care after coming off surgery, came up lame in back-to-back starts in September after throwing 111 pitches in a victory over the Yankees. That doesn’t sound like ‘‘too cautious’’ either.

Williams thrives on passion, guts and gumption and loves it in his players But he has to be careful about allowing his headstrong pitchers to make decisions about their health with their heart instead of their head. Ozzie Guillen wanted to put Peavy on the disabled list after an MRI revealed fluid in Peavy’s shoulder in June of 2010. But Peavy talked him out of it. ‘‘He promised he would be fine,’’ Guillen said.

Peavy allowed one earned run in 21 innings over his next three starts before fading in a loss to the Royals and suffering a torn muscle under his shoulder on the second inning on his next start against the Angels that ended his season. How cautious was that?

So please pardon our skepticism, Kenny Williams, when Chris Sale’s relief appearance on Monday is considered a bullpen session. That’s what Peavy called his relief appearance last year against the Nationals, when a 55-pitch ‘‘bullpen session’’ gave him 159 pitches over four days.

‘‘Today was a work day. I would have thrown 30-40 pitches in the bullpen the way I felt today,’’ he said. Peavy was 5-8 with 5.28 ERA after that, and was shut down with arm fatigue after beating the Twins on Sept. 6. But he wasn’t put on the disabled list, which just goes to show you — there isn’t a statistic in baseball that can’t be misleading.

Not that Sox fans shouldn’t trust Ken Williams — or Chris Sale or Jake Peavy or Don Cooper or Robin Ventura. They want to believe it’s all going to work out. But after the last few seasons, you can’t blame them for being a little extra cautious themselves.

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