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Jenks tries to stay confident amid struggles

Bobby Jenks couldn't close out a game for the second time this week on Wednesday night. AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

OAKLAND -- On Sunday, Bobby Jenks was owning up to his mistakes. By Tuesday he was itching to prove himself again. On Wednesday he was essentially saying that nothing was wrong, that he was the victim of some lousy luck.

If that order sounds backward -- and it was after Wednesday's second meltdown of the week that Jenks should have been talking about his issues -- then perhaps you don't know Jenks all that well.

Nobody has ever accused the burly right-hander of lacking confidence. The question is this then: When does self-assuredness become denial?

Just as spring training is a process to get ready for the regular season, so are the mental gymnastics closers go through when they are having a tough time. One bad day, like Jenks had Sunday at Minnesota when he failed to retire any of the four batters he faced in an eventual White Sox defeat, could be shrugged off.

Jenks was in the midst of a run of 15 consecutive saves at the time, so if he laughed off the outing he would get the benefit of the doubt. Heading into Wednesday's game he was first in the American League in save percentage at 95.2 percent.

After Wednesday's blown save that came on a night when both Minnesota and Detroit won, Jenks was in no laughing mood. Instead, he was telling himself, and then anybody else who asked, that things are just fine. His mental shell had been activated.

Welcome to one of the most thankless jobs in baseball, right up there with the third base coach and the umpire. Only when you err do the microphones and camera lenses get pointed your way.

If starting pitchers fail a third of the time over a full season they are gods. If hitters fail six out of 10 times they are measured to become a bronze bust. Watch a closer melt down twice in a month, much less in a week, though, and watch the roof collapse.

Manager Ozzie Guillen said he is seeing “nothing” from his closer. He will now go to a closer-by-committee situation, or so he said late Wednesday night, using Matt Thornton, J.J. Putz and even Sergio Santos in save situations until Jenks gets his stuff back.

Yet the most damning thing Guillen said amidst the rubble of Wednesday's train wreck is that Jenks' velocity is down. Jenks denied it, saying he was throwing sinkers. This could get interesting.

Following his rough week through his own words, Jenks continues to remain confident. He is becoming more apologetic toward his teammates, saying they played too hard to lose Wednesday.

Jenks, after Sunday's rough outing against the Twins: “I didn't have it. My cutter was coming back. My sinker wasn't sinking. The slider was big. I just didn't have my stuff today. … The more we can eliminate days like that the better, obviously.”

Jenks, on Tuesday, before pitching an inning in a non-save situation against the Mariners: “I've worked some kinks out as far as touch and feel playing catch. It feels good in my hand again. I just didn't have it (Sunday). It wasn't there.”

Jenks, on Wednesday, after his blown save when three of the four batters he faced reached base: “I feel strong. I feel like I have the past month and a half, two months. Things just didn't work out today. The other day in Minnesota, that was on me. But today, I felt good. I made pitches, they just got hit today.”

Guillen has gone the other way, though, saying that Sunday's game was one that just didn't work out. By Wednesday he was saying Jenks' pitches weren't up to the pitcher's usual standard.

“I feel for him, like everyone else here,” Guillen said. “We win together, we lose together. But in the meanwhile, I wish he threw the ball better because of the last couple outings. Not because we lose the game, but because I don't see anything on the ball.”

With the non-waiver trade deadline just over a week away, there is no indication the White Sox are hunting for bullpen fixes, even in the wake of Jenks' recent struggles. Putz and Thornton offer the White Sox as many late-inning options as anybody in the league.

Expect Jenks to get a mop-up inning soon and depending on how he looks he could be saving games again by the time the team returns home. And who do the White Sox play host to when they open a seven-game homestand Monday? It's none other than the same Seattle Mariners that burned him Wednesday.

There's no doubt Jenks aims to close out a victory in one of the four games against the Mariners. It's just the way his mind works.