Roles in White Sox’ bullpen waiting to be defined
BY DARYL VAN SCHOUWEN Staff Reporter March 17, 2014 10:13PM
Updated: April 19, 2014 6:27AM
PHOENIX — With less than two weeks left before Opening Day, the White Sox’ bullpen is far from a finished product.
There is no closer or defined roles, and jobs are out there to be won or lost. Because of late starts for Nate Jones (glute strain), Matt Lindstrom (oblique strain), Ronald Belisario (visa issues) and Daniel Webb (death in the family), the pen has progressed at a snail’s pace.
“Jones, Webb and Belisario are still getting untracked, and Lindstrom won’t pitch in his first game until [Wednesday],’’ pitching coach Don Cooper said. “The good news is everybody is going to be ready.’’
If healthy, jobs for a seven-man bullpen seem all but assured for right-handers Jones, Lindstrom and Belisario and lefties Scott Downs and Donnie Veal. The other two openings likely would be filled by Mitchell Boggs, Maikel Cleto, Webb or Jake Petricca, although Andre Rienzo, Dylan Axelrod and lefty David Purcey would like to have a say in that in the last nine games of spring training.
Cooper and manager Robin Ventura kept everyone in the dark, pitchers included, about the closer competition in spring training of 2012 until Hector Santiago emerged as the surprise winner on the first weekend of the season. This one might go the same route, which is OK with Jones, who appears to be the favorite, even though he hasn’t closed in the majors.
“It was cool because it kept us all on our toes,’’ said Jones, who made the team on the last day of camp that season.
“If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen, and we’ll all fall into place and do the job wherever we’re assigned.’’
Jones, who ranked fourth among American League relievers in strikeouts and tied for first in batting average against (.131), had 12 saves for Class AA Birmingham in 2011. His 4.15 ERA in 2013 looks large next to the 2.39 of his rookie year in 2012, but he got things untracked after a rough start. It was 2.94 after May.
The departure of closer Addison Reed is a significant loss, but Cooper has molded closers before. General manager Rick Hahn added veterans who have pitched in the ninth inning, just to give Ventura and Cooper options and take pressure off the young guys such as Jones, Webb and Petricca as the pen sorts itself out.
“They brought in some veteran guys to help us out, and they were very smart moves,’’ Jones said. “Belisario has a heavy sinker, and Scotty Downs has that veteran presence and he’s got the job done for as long as he’s been pitching. And Boggsy brings some World Series experience, and he’s not too bad himself.’’
An intriguing addition might be Cleto, who was claimed on waivers during camp and has impressed with four scoreless innings. He has a big arm but a history of command issues, which Cooper is trying to fix.
“We made a couple of adjustments — we’re trying to get him over and behind the ball and out front — which seemed to help,’’ Cooper said. “He’s doing a great job with that. The next thing we need to do is shore up his secondary pitches. He seems to be throwing more strikes and with real good stuff behind it. He’s an interesting cat, and he’s moving along pretty well.’’
“I was impressed with the arm action on his changeup, and his slider was pretty big,’’ said Josh Phegley, who caught Cleto’s scoreless eighth and ninth innings against the Dodgers on Saturday night.
Cleto is out of options and would go back on waivers if he doesn’t make the roster, so the Sox could lose him. Boggs’ $1.1 million contract is contingent on him making the team. Boggs, Jones, Webb and Veal each pitched a scoreless inning against the Brewers on Monday.