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Zach Putnam gives Sox some closure

Updated: July 30, 2014 6:58AM



TORONTO — The Cubs had the “college of coaches.’’ By mixing and matching in the ninth inning with a stable of young relievers, the White Sox have the “junior college of closers.”

In their 4-3 victory Saturday over the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre, Zach Putnam got the last four outs for his first career save, a day after Jake Petricka got his second.

Who knows, Daniel Webb or left-hander Eric Surkamp might be asked to get his first Sunday, when the Sox go for a third consecutive win after suffering through a 1-7 start on this three-city road trip.

Whatever happens, the Sox’ young bullpen figures to get an education in finishing games, an area this team has failed in significantly after it parted ways with proven closer Addison Reed during the offseason.

Reed got traded for third-base prospect Matt Davidson, Matt Lindstrom got hurt and Ronald Belisario failed to get the job done. That sequence of events over the the last six months left manager Robin Ventura with little choice: The Sox will mix and match in the ninth inning.

Belisario took over when Lindstrom got hurt but couldn’t nail down the job. He was rescued by Surkamp and Petricka and relieved of his closer duty.

“We don’t really have one,’’ Ventura said on the day that officially opened the second half of the season. “We’re going to use whoever we need to use depending on the situation, matchups, usage. We’re going to use what fits best in that spot.’’

Ventura said things could change with a new addition or the emergence of a current reliever, but, for now, anybody can be called on in the ninth inning.

“It’s not ideal,’’ Ventura said.

If not for a bullpen that is first in walks and last in strikeouts in the American League, the Sox (38-44) believe they’d be a .500 team, if not better. The feeling around the clubhouse is they “should have” swept the Orioles and taken three of four from the Twins if they had someone like Reed around.

In spring training, a hip injury prevented Nate Jones from making a run at the job, so Lindstrom — a setup man last season who had closed for the Marlins and Rockies — was the guy.

“You don’t expect Lindstrom to go down with an injury,’’ Ventura said.

And you expected more from veteran lefty Scott Downs, who signed for $4.25 million during the offseason but was designated for assignment Thursday after pitching to a 6.08 ERA.

Relievers prefer having their roles defined, but the Sox’ bullpen must be ready for anything.

“I’m sure they do,’’ Ventura said. “But the role is, when you come in, get some outs. It’s pretty simple.’’

Petricka, who has been used in important seventh- and eighth-inning situations, came to the rescue Friday.

“It’s the same game of throwing strikes and attacking hitters,’’ Petricka said Saturday of pitching in the ninth.

Because Putnam (2.30 ERA) has been effective against lefties with his splitter, he might be the best option of all. Petricka was up and warming in the ninth, though.

”I trust [Putnam] going in there with all the lefties they have,’’ Ventura said. “Petricka was ready to go, too. Gut-wise, it just felt like Putnam’s been doing a good job, and he’s going to close it out [Saturday].’’

“It’s kind of helping each other,’’ Putnam said, ‘‘picking each other up because we have one guy in the bullpen right now who has some closing experience in Javy [Guerra], and the rest of us would be new to it.’’

Putnam said he doesn’t know what the plan is.

“There hasn’t been a lot of conversation about it,’’ Putnam said. “I assume it will be based on freshness and our guys’ stuff against who’s coming up in that inning in that situation.’’

Email: dvanschouwen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @CST_soxvan



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