ANAHEIM, Calif. -– Throw another name in the hopper for potential starting pitchers next season.
In his second career start Sunday, Pena gave up three first-inning runs to the Angels but closed out strong by not giving up a run over his final five innings. He allowed eight hits and two walks, striking out four while throwing 102 pitches over six innings.
“I think I can be a starter,” Pena said. “I don’t know when, and I don’t know how.”
Plenty would have to happen, though, for the White Sox to consider using Pena as anything more than a long reliever and spot starter. Peavy’s delayed return is an obvious factor. Another is the need to get Pena, who will be arbitration-eligible this offseason, under contract for 2011.
There are plenty of other roadblocks too. If the White Sox re-sign Freddy Garcia, that would all but eliminate Pena's rotation hopes. And if the team decides to use Chris Sale in a starting role at the beginning of the year, that could also keep the right-hander from his dream job.
If there is one thing that Pena acheived with Sunday start -- and his Aug. 21 outing at Kansas City -- it was to convince the White Sox to bring him back at least as a reliever for another year. Sox manager Ozzie Guillen liked the way Pena rebounded Sunday after his shaky beginning.
“That’s the way it always is, [when] you haven’t been in that situation before, you’re pumped up,” Guillen said. “I don’t want to say he was nervous, but he was excited about it. He bounced back, gave the team a chance to win and every time you give your team a chance to win you’re going to have a chance.’’
Pena made $1.2 million this season and would surely earn a raise on that if the White Sox offered him arbitration. Scott Linebrink and Sergio Santos are the only relievers guaranteed to come back, although Matt Thornton has an extremely team-friendly club option that is expected to be exercised. Adding Pena to that mix would give the club bullpen stability moving forward.
Pena certainly has shown that he has the mental makeup to be a starter. When he faced the Royals on Aug. 21, he retired the first nine batters before giving up five consecutive hits, but then settled himself back down again to retire the last 12 batters he faced.
Last Monday at Oakland, Pena didn’t start but came in for an injured Gavin Floyd in the first inning and delivered six hitless innings. It was the longest scoreless outing for a White Sox reliever since Melido Perez went seven scoreless innings against Boston in 1991.
Counting that outing, Pena had 9 2/3 scoreless innings over his last three relief appearances.
Against the Angels on Sunday while starting in Floyd’s spot, Pena gave up three first-inning runs on four hits. But he settled down quickly, not facing more than four batters in any of the remaining five innings.
“I felt comfortable and I had to think about coming back with shutout innings,” Pena said. “I was using my changeup and slider. It was good."
With Floyd expected to be shut down for the final week of the season because of soreness in the back of his right shoulder, Pena figures to get one more start Friday at home against the Indians.
This offseason, he might even continue his starting experiment in winter ball.
“It depends,” Pena said. “It depends on how my arm feels. I have a lot of innings in it right now. Maybe I’ll take one month [off]. But I’d like to have about five starts before I come back next year.”
By the numbers
9: Series sweeps by the White Sox this season after winning all three games in Southern California against the Angels this weekend. It was the White Sox’s second sweep over the Angels this season after also winning all four games of a series at U.S. Cellular Field just before the All-Star break. The White Sox were 7-2 against the Angels this season.
“I think so. Going into Minnesota it was a big series that didn’t go the way we wanted, and it’s only human to have a little bit of a letdown because we’ve been fighting for a chance to play in the postseason for so long. And after that series, it was slim-to-no chance. But it’s nice that we’ve come together and started playing well, and hopefully finish this last week strong.” –- Mark Teahen, on whether or not the team got a lift from Guillen’s team meeting before Wednesday’s game at Oakland on the heels of an eight-game losing streak. The White Sox have won four consecutive games since that meeting.
White Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle (12-12, 4.27) will start the opener of a four-game series at home, the final homestand of the season. He needs 1 2/3 innings pitched to become the first pitcher in baseball history to record at least 10 victories, 30 starts and 200 innings for 10 consecutive seasons.
Buehrle will be opposed by Red Sox right-hander Clay Buchholz (16-7, 2.39), who has given up just one run combined over his past two starts (13 innings) after giving up five runs in one inning Sept. 10 against the A’s.