CHCAGO – Eventually the White Sox would like to have a bullpen that is the envy of the league, or in other words, have one that closely resembles what the back end of the Kansas City Royals' relief corps looks like.
Thanks to a solid start by James Shields, the Royals only needed two innings from their relievers to hold back the White Sox in a 2-1 victory Wednesday, but those final two innings are where Kansas City does its best work, with setup man Wade Davis and closer Greg Holland.
Don’t be fooled by the Royals’ 3.48 ERA in the bullpen that is 13th-best in all of baseball. There might not be a finer setup man than Davis, who improved to 6-4 on Wednesday, and they have a dependable closer in Holland, who recorded his 26th save. Holland was an American League All-Star earlier this month.
“That's a good bullpen,” said White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers, who had two hits off Shields and never got a chance against Davis or Holland since they combined to retire all six batters they faced. “It seems like once they get to the seventh, it's a challenge to get a runner on base, much less try to get a run in. That makes it more important to take advantage of the situations early on.”
Contrast that to the White Sox’s plan and there couldn’t be two more different scenarios. The White Sox rotate their closer and setup man on a daily basis, a plan done out of necessity since nobody has been able to hold down the ninth-inning spot.
Zach Putnam, Jake Petricka and Daniel Webb have been trusted with the late innings for White Sox manager Robin Ventura, with none of the three holding a steady major league job before this season. Matt Lindstrom had the closer job first before an ankle injury, with Ronald Belisario taking it over only to struggle and be removed, even though the White Sox didn’t have a set replacement.
Bullpens can typically be rebuilt easier than other parts of the roster, but getting a dynamic back end won’t come easy. A key target area for the White Sox at next week’s trade deadline will be the bullpen. And what they can’t fix at the end of the month will be addressed moving forward and on into the offseason.
Since the calendar last year has been about revamping the offense by getting Avisail Garcia, Jose Abreu and Adam Eaton, the same type of targets, only on the pitching side, will be sought next. It will tough to find an arm like Davis' though.
When the right-hander walked Conor Gillaspie to start the bottom of the eighth in Tuesday's game, it snapped his streak of 18 consecutive batters retired. He also had eight consecutive hitless innings before Paul Konerko singled in the same inning Tuesday. Davis still didn’t give up a run in that game and came back with another scoreless inning Wednesday.
Konerko’s two-out hit Tuesday also prevented the Royals’ relievers from putting together a streak of nine consecutive hitless innings, otherwise known as a bullpen no-hitter.
Royals manager Ned Yost, who isn’t afraid to boast about his bullpen, was asked if he could think of anybody in baseball who has a better group of relievers.
“Not off the top of my head,” he said. “We're pretty good.”
Ventura would like to say the same one day, but it’s going to take some growth of from the current group, much better health and some key new additions heading into next year.
“They’ve got some good arms out there, so early on you’re wanting to do anything you can to add a little pressure and push a little bit to score,” Ventura said. “Not only to defend, but to be able to score.”