CHICAGO – Neither the Chicago White Sox coaching staff nor the front office will put on their hard hats at the moment to attempt a reconstruction of the bullpen.
Nate Jones is ailing, fellow right-hander Matt Lindstrom blew the save in Thursday's 10-9 defeat to the Minnesota Twins, and everybody else, outside of Daniel Webb, could find something he could have done better in the opening series.
If there is a time when a manager needs to show his team patience, it is the early season, when positives and negatives tend to get overhyped. Yank a closer or a setup man now and panic sets in. Give a pitcher a little faith to work out his issues, even as the noise grows from the outside, and it can go a long way.
And so it was that manager Robin Ventura said he isn’t going to rush to make changes, even after a bullpen meltdown Thursday erased what would have been a second consecutive comeback victory.
“I think it's a pretty small sample [size],” Ventura said after the defeat. “If you look around the league, there's been a lot of stuff happening with bullpens, so I'm not going to sit here and overreact to it. Would you like it to be better? Yeah, sure. But I'm going to give the Twins credit. They battled and they're the ones that put up the runs. They had a good offensive plan today and they did well.”
Jones battled Lindstrom for the closer role this spring, getting a late start because of a left gluteus strain. It turns out that those issues have returned, with Jones confirming it after the game.
“I felt a little discomfort out there today,” Jones said. “I got some treatment on it and tomorrow we're going to reevaluate and see how it feels.”
Jones walked both runners he faced in the seventh inning before he was removed from the game. He faced five batters total in two games of the opening series and hasn’t recorded an out. Four of the five runners he put on base have scored.
“I think starting out in spring training, just him being hurt, he hasn't been able to get it back,” Ventura said. “I know he said something's been bothering him. You have to be 100 percent to go out there and do it and having confidence in that.”
Jones has the stuff, when healthy, to be the closer of the future. That had to be what the White Sox were thinking when they traded former closer Addison Reed to the Arizona Diamondbacks this winter for third-base prospect Matt Davidson.
But the start of spring was worst-case-scenario country, with Jones and Lindstrom nursing injuries. Lindstrom had an oblique strain that limited him to three Cactus League outings, but it was enough for Ventura to name the veteran his closer one day before Opening Day.
Lindstrom was an out away from victory Thursday with a runner on first base after a walk. He then got Trevor Plouffe down 1-2 before he started to nibble, taking the count full. Plouffe singled in the tying run and Oswaldo Arcia tripled in the go-ahead score.
“I tried to get him to chase,” Lindstrom said. “That's where the [closer] mentality comes into place a little bit that I'm not used to. You can't really make a mistake 3-2 like that. Walk him and take another chance with the next guy. That's just something I'll store in the memory bank and use for next time. I was making my pitches early and I just didn't get the job done. It was kind of rough right there trying to get them to chase something.”
Lindstrom saved 23 games in 2010 with the Houston Astros, so getting that closer’s mentality should come more quickly than for a player learning it for the first time. For now he will have to have a short memory, and the entire bullpen will have to put early issues behind it.
“The biggest thing that I’m feeling right now is the guys battled so hard in the cold weather,” Lindstrom said. “We put up some runs on the board, we came back when we were down, guys putting together great at-bats, playing good defense, so it feels bad kind of letting the team down in that sense.
“But we’ll battle back. I feel like we’re a resilient team and we played our guts out today. That’s the feeling as a closer when you don’t get the job done. That’s what really kind of hurts, but we’re looking forward to getting on this road trip [to Kansas City and Colorado] and seeing if we can be a good road team.”