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White Sox bullpen seems to be coming around despite loss to Tigers

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Updated: April 30, 2014 10:21PM



An eventful April came and went for the White Sox, who closed the curtain on the first month of the season with a 5-1 loss Wednesday to the Detroit Tigers at U.S. Cellular Field.

Since breaking camp in Arizona five weeks ago, the Sox have experienced the highs of leading the league in runs per game and OPS for most of the month — a year after they were one of the worst hitting teams in baseball — and seeing free-agent prize Jose Abreu lead the majors in home runs and RBI while also being treated to watching the normally slow-starting Alexei Ramirez break the franchise record for hits in April.

They’ve endured the lows of having right fielder Avisail Garcia, a key piece to general manager Rick Hahn’s makeover, go down with a season-ending injury; finishing the month with three-fifths of the starting rotation on the disabled list or demoted to the minors; and watching a bullpen that, until the last week or so, couldn’t throw the ball over the plate.

Considering they’re going through a stretch of 24 consecutive games against teams that had winning records in 2013, coupled with the aforementioned trouble spots, a 14-15 mark in April is far from terrible.

“You’d like it to be better, obviously,’’ manager Robin Ventura said. “When you’re dealing with injuries and stuff like that, at least you’re still in the mix. Guys, offensively, had a good month, and you just want to keep that up and play better. [But] you want to win more games.’’

Getting Chris Sale, the Cy Young candidate who went on the disabled list two weeks ago with a sore elbow, back at full strength would help. Sox fans hoping for feel-good signs of progress from the ace lefty have their fingers crossed as he and the team take more time than when Sale had similar, temporary setbacks the last two seasons.

Reigning Cy Young winner Max Scherzer completed the Tigers’ two-game sweep of the Sox, but the encouraging development for Ventura is the recent progress of a bullpen that had been a mess during the first three weeks. After waiver claim Hector Noesi gave up four runs in his start on a “bullpen day” for a pitching staff plodding through injuries to Sale and Felipe Paulino and the demotion of Erik Johnson to Class AAA Charlotte for fixing up, four Sox relievers pitched in for 51/3 innings without allowing an earned run.

The bullpen hasn’t allowed an earned run over the last 14 1/3 innings and boasts a 1.87 ERA in the last 12 games. On Wednesday, Jake Petricka pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings and Zach Putnam pitched a perfect inning, a night after Ronald Belisario stayed in his good groove. Petricka and Putnam didn’t make the Opening Day roster.

Piecing together a bullpen is one tough task for a manager and pitching coach, and there are signs it could get done with assists from fresh faces such as Putnam, whose split-finger pitch has been golden.

“They’re fairly new to us, but guys kind of move their way up the chain, sometimes down, by how they perform,’’ Ventura said. “Putnam has worked his way into being able to do that. And that’s part of understanding what guys throw, what their strengths are and if they’re capable of doing it.

“Bullpens are always a tough thing [because] they’re pass or fail every time they come in. It’s not like a hitter who can go 0-for-8 and get a couple of hits in the next game. Anytime they don’t do well, it’s immediate, and sometimes the results make you lose a game. You’re seeing Petricka, [Daniel] Webb and Putnam the last week or so come in and kind of calm things down and throw well.’’

Email: dvanschouwen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @CST_soxvan



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