We saw the bullpen strain pretty hard to get through Wednesday and Thursday — although I suppose allowing five runs in three innings in the Thursday loss doesn't necessarily count as "getting through." Part of the problem is that Felipe Paulino only managed 5.1 innings on Wednesday. They were good innings, but between Ventura playing cutesy lefty-righty matchups, Nate Jones' struggles, and Scott Downs walking Mauer and then being pulled, two relievers were used to get zero outs, and there were only six innings in the books at that point.
Indeed, Nate Jones has been at the heart of the issues in Games 2 and 3. Nate Jones is the White Sox' best reliever. The problem is that Jones is not 100%. Evidently he has not gotten past the glute strain that cost him reps in Spring Training, and the injury is probably contributing to the 1.000 OBP posted by the five batters he has faced this year.
Jones being unavailable exposes some of the volatility of the bullpen in general. Scott Downs has been very effective over his career, but he is aging into his late 30s, and so far in three games Ventura has used him once, purely as a LOOGY. Matt Lindstrom doesn't miss bats. Belisario, Veal, and Cleto all have good stuff, but shaky command. Daniel Webb pitched admirably on Wednesday, and has enticing ability that looked good in the minors last year. But, Webb is still a rookie, and he cannot throw 50 pitches every appearance.
Individually, all of these pitchers give reason for optimism, but — as is so often the case with relievers — they have their blemishes, and there's no reason those blemishes can't emerge at extremely inopportune times such as Thursday. The beauty of this bullpen is that all of it was acquired very cheaply, and each player looks to hold the potential for trade value if (when) the playoffs slide out of reach.
The good news is that should Nate Jones need a quick trip to the DL, or should there be another taxing stretch on the bullpen, there are candidates in AAA ready to step in at any given moment with genuine upside.
James and I speculated incorrectly that Jack Petricka was ahead of Daniel Webb in the fight for the last spot in the bullpen. Petricka was a second round pick in 2010, and Keith Law had him ranked higher than where the White Sox took him. Although it has become clear that being a starter is not in his future, Petricka has a live arm and was very strong across AA and AAA in 2013. Petricka also looked great this spring, striking out 11 batters to only 2 walks in 9.1 IP. He could benefit from more time in AAA, and he could stand to shave down his walks, but he could probably handle the majors at this point if the White Sox needed him.
The White Sox also acquired Javy Guerra from the Dodgers prior to the start of the season, who posted strong seasons in 2011 and 2012 before a lost year in 2013. Guerra has had hardly any time with the organization, but one has to imagine that it would not take too many looks at AAA to determine whether he was ready to come up and help the big league club.
The third name that would elicit some excitement on my part would be Andre Rienzo. White Sox fans got a look at him last year purely as a starter. Rienzo is stretched in that role, but scouts have had a rough consensus that he could succeed as a reliever for several years now.
These three stand between the White Sox and the Dylan Axelrods and Deunte Heaths of the world. None of them look like shutdown relief aces (to the extent that such things even exist), but they all look like guys who could realistically work themselves into solid setup arms.
Outside of the now-injured Nate Jones, the bullpen is a mishmash of flawed, but useful relievers, none of whom qualifies as wholly reliable. And, there are at least three more guys waiting in Charlotte who offer the promise of legitimate, quality bullpen arms. It may take some time to sort through all of these players to find the right combination. As is so often the case with re-tooling a bullpen, it will be frustrating. But, it holds the potential to be very effective and deep. If nothing else, we know the bullpen will be cheap, and that has freed the club up to spend money on delightful pieces such as Jose Abreu instead.
One thing to keep an eye on is how Ventura deploys these resources. In his defense, he is dealing with a whole lot of new people and bullpen turnover. It will take some time for him to figure out what he likes them to do. The problem is that Ventura has demonstrated questionable wisdom with his bullpen usage even when he had known commodities in his pocket. Time will tell.
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