GLENDALE, Ariz. -- After a disappointing season from the White Sox bullpen in 2014, the guys who got an invite to return are actually looking for a repeat performance.
While that may sound like the least desirable option, consider that Jake Petricka, Zach Putnam, Daniel Webb and Javy Guerra all showed, at times, that they have the ability to be significant contributors to a successful relief corps.
Petricka and Putnam showed the most promise. Neither had put in a full season in the major leagues and both were able to deliver in key roles late in games. During a season with no set closer, Petricka led the White Sox with 14 saves, while Putnam had six.
“It’s trying to repeat and build on that,” Putnam said. “Having David (Robertson) in the ninth (as closer) is going to be a huge confidence boost for the staff. What we’re trying to do is whenever we are called upon, just get from the starter to David.”
Petricka has admitted that wanted to come into the season battling for the closer’s job, but when Robertson was added, he knew a good signing when he saw it. As for turning his attention to the set-up role, the right-hander is trying to avoid a narrow focus.
“I treat every inning I go out there the same,” Petricka said. “I give everything I’ve got and not let the inning dictate how I’m going to pitch. It’s still the hitter trying to get a hit and me trying to get him out, it doesn’t matter what inning it is.”
Dan Jennings and Zach Duke were brought aboard to give the White Sox strength form the left side, something they had little to none of last season. Spring training will be about establishing roles, including the commitment to a guy who will handle the eighth inning in front of Robertson.
“I think a lot off us that kind of rotated through that eighth- and ninth-inning role last year are probably looking to secure a seventh- or eighth-inning role,” said Putnam, who had time in the major leagues with Cleveland (2011), Colorado (2012) and the Cubs (2013), but lacked staying power.
“But that being said, we’re also not sure of what the plan is, as far as how many guys we will have to start the season. Obviously David is going to be closing for us, but beyond that, I don’t think anything is set in stone yet. I think everybody will throw as well as we can and we’ll be gunning for that eighth-inning set-up role.
Manager Robin Ventura said there is an option on the table to break camp with a 13-man pitching staff, and while an eight-man bullpen sounds like guys might not get the mound time they are looking for, that extra arm will be welcome early in the season.
“I think it’s nice particularly early on, with cold temperatures,” Putnam said. “The starters are still trying to get their pitch count up, still trying to figure out how to settle in to being able to pitch through six and seven innings consistently, so having an extra guy to be able to hop in there early in a game, if something were to go wrong, is really important. On paper, it’s just one body, but to the guys in the bullpen it means a lot to have that extra guy down there.”
So maybe the closer role is now in Robertson’s hands. Petricka was glad to have had the opportunity there last year.
“It was definitely a lot of fun,” Petricka said. “I didn’t expect it to happen that first year, I thought maybe a few years down the road I would get that opportunity, but to get thrown out there was awesome. It was a confidence builder.