Rookie Jake Petricka steps up for White Sox in closer’s role
BY DARYL VAN SCHOUWEN Staff Reporter August 8, 2014 10:44PM
Updated: August 9, 2014 12:25AM
SEATTLE — For now, what Jake Petricka has got seems to be good enough.
The 26-year-old rookie right-hander is closing games with two pitches, his fastball and changeup, and doing it well. Petricka, who owns a 2.05 ERA over 57 innings covering 48 appearances, has been effective of late especially, a period that for the most part coincides with his becoming the closer almost by default.
So far, the 6-5 Petricka has gotten by with a 95-mph sinking fastball and change because of the movement on both pitches. The fastball is his bread-and-butter.
“The speed and movement, that’s hard combo to handle and that’s probably why I throw it so much,’’ said Petricka, whose ERA was 1.40 over his last 18 outings.
Petricka shows his slider on occasion — he had thrown only a couple over his first three outings of August — but it’s a work in progress, and it would be a useful tool if it becomes an extra pitch. Three pitches always are better than two, and the plan is to develop it during the offseason and during spring training.
“Just to get another pitch moving right-to-left instead of all right-to-left with my fastball and changeup,’’ he said.
In losing 4-1 on Friday for their fourth defeat in a row and their sixth in the last seven games, the Sox had no use for a closer. Catcher Mike Zunino’s three-run homer against Jose Quintana (6-8) in the fifth put the Mariners in front for good. Zunino’s opposite-field shot — the first homer against Quintana (3.04 ERA) in 199 batters faced — wiped out a 1-0 lead provided by Dayan Viciedo’s third homer in three games, his 16th, against Hisashi Iwakuma (10-6). The Mariners (61-54) scored four in the fifth inning, two unearned because of third baseman Conor Gillaspie’s error on Logan Morrison’s pop-up into shallow left.
If the Sox are going to do anything next year, a top priority must be shoring up a bullpen that has been one of baseball’s worst. They’ve lost 29 games after holding a lead, tied with the Toronto Blue Jays for the second-highest total in the majors. Petricka has given up one run in nine save opportunities with seven saves in those appearances.
The last 45 games are Petricka’s opportunity to show that he should be considered as the ninth-inning man in 2015.
“I would love to,’’ he said. “Going into the offseason I know I’ll have to work on that slider more and just develop it into a quality third pitch.’’
Confidence is everything for a closer, and Petricka’s is growing with each outing.
“I’ve got the comfort now of knowing I can get outs, even if it is the fastball every time,’’ he said. “It’s a hard pitch to hit when it’s straight and the majority of time mine’s not straight, which makes it even tougher on them.’’
Petricka is a low-key, take it as it comes type, which might suit him well for high-pressure situations.
“Lately we haven’t had enough opportunities for him,’’ manager Robin Ventura said. “But every time he goes in there, he’s gotten better maturity-wise, knowing he’s going in there in the late innings.
“He’s been great, one of the bright spots, him kind of taking control while [Opening Day closer Matt Lindstrom] has been gone.’’
Much of what the Sox (55-62) do from here on out will be about next season.
“You’re watching everybody, but he’s taken a step forward when you start to foresee things that would happen in the future of guys who are available to do stuff and what you’re planning on for guys,’’ Ventura said.