Bullpen moves to top of worry list

Nate Jones is back on the mound after missing time with a gluteus muscle strain. AP Photo/Paul Sancya

While they had questions on offense, defense, base running, third base and catcher when the spring began, yet another group now is requiring the most attention for the Chicago White Sox.

The club isn’t in a bullpen crisis, exactly, but it is clear that after a week and a half of Cactus League games, there remains a ton of work to do with the relief corps.

Mitchell Boggs is struggling, Scott Downs hasn’t looked sharp yet, Nate Jones and Daniel Webb have barely pitched and Ronald Belisario and Matt Lindstrom haven’t even taken the mound. Belisario, a late arrival because of visa issues in his native Venezuela, is scheduled to pitch in his first game Thursday.

Spring training typically begins to drag on about now, but when it comes to the bullpen, all of a sudden a schedule with 17 warmup games remaining is looking short.

After getting knocked around Monday by the Texas Rangers to the tune of four runs on three hits and a walk in two-thirds of an inning, Boggs has a 14.73 ERA over his first four outings. That’s six earned runs over 3 2/3 innings to be exact.

Suddenly, his struggles from last season are looking less like being out of sorts from participating in the World Baseball Classic, and more like deep-seeded mechanical issues that still need to be ironed out.

Downs, a veteran who knows how to get ready for a season, isn’t a big concern, but he has still allowed two runs and four hits in his first two innings of work.

As far as Webb goes, give him credit simply for being in camp. A death in the family kept him away for only a week and he is back working already. The team said he could take as much time as he needed. Big things are expected from the right-hander, who zoomed through three minor-league levels last season to get a taste of big league action in September.

Jones has only pitched in two games since missing much of the early going with a gluteus muscle strain, but he was solid in a perfect inning Monday. It would be a surprise if he wasn’t the closer on Opening Day.

Lindstrom is throwing on the side again, but an oblique injury is always tricky. Oblique muscles are never quite healed even when discomfort subsides, which makes them easy to aggravate. He’s had one setback already on his road to recovery.

The White Sox’s unique bullpen is essentially a gathering of setup men, and since most of them have experience, getting ready for the season wouldn’t seem to be an issue. As general manager Rick Hahn said earlier this spring when asked about Belisario’s absence, relief pitchers only need to be stretched out to one inning, perhaps two.

But the clock is starting to tick louder now, and where it once looked like the team’s bullpen was set, plenty needs to be done before this group is considered a finished product.