CHICAGO -- Chicago White Sox manager Robin Ventura never did commit himself to a new closer once Matt Lindstrom went down with an ankle injury, which seemingly makes a transition to a new ninth-inning man that much easier to undertake.
That transition figures to be coming now that Ronald Belisario gave up three runs in the ninth inning that allowed the New York Yankees to tie Saturday’s game in the ninth inning. They won it 4-3 in 10 innings after a home run from Jacoby Ellsbury off Zach Putnam.
Belisario was picked to close games after Lindstrom’s injury, because he had been impressive out of a setup role. The right-hander had a running start into the opportunity with 11 consecutive scoreless appearances (15 1/3 innings) since giving up two runs in an April 17 outing against the Boston Red Sox.
But the ninth inning has been nothing like the six, seventh or eighth. Belisario, signed as a free agent this offseason was 2-for-2 as a closer before Sunday, but had given up an earned run in each outing. On Saturday, the Yankees knocked him around with a walk and four hits.
“That ninth inning's the hardest one, it really is,” Ventura said after a game where he was ejected in the second inning for arguing a call on the basepaths. “I think guys' senses are heightened in the ninth inning, just everybody on the field, and hitters are putting it in play and I don't think you see the same kind of at-bats in the ninth inning that you do other times. Hitters are tougher in the ninth inning than they are at any other point.”
It makes Ventura’s job to not only identify what other White Sox reliever is having enough success to take the role over form Belisario, but which one has the mental fortitude to deal with the added bells and whistles that come with the ninth inning.
It wasn’t as if the Yankees hit the ball on the button in the ninth inning, but they kept coming up with hits nonetheless. Belisario was one out away from the victory when Alfonso Soriano poked a ball just over the first-base bag for an RBI double.
Yangervis Solarte followed with an RBI single into the hole at shortstop and pinch hitter Brian McCann followed with the cruelest run-scoring hit of all when he blooped a pitch into short center field to tie it.
“That’s the game,” Belisario said afterward. “That’s the game. I’m making good pitches. They hit it. I don’t even know where. No luck today.”
Ventura still hasn’t said outright that he will try somebody else in the role, but that move seems highly probable. His options are limited.
Scott Downs is the only left-hander in the bullpen so he is expected to continue his role as a late-inning situational man. Right-hander Javy Guerra, who had his contract purchased from Triple-A Charlotte on Tuesday, still hasn’t pitched for the White Sox, but he isn’t expected to be considered for a closer role even though he saved 21 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2011.
Scott Carroll has just been removed from the rotation and has been placed in a long-man role out of the bullpen so he’s not the guy.
Putnam gave up Ellsbury’s home run in the 10th inning, but hadn’t given up a long ball in any of his previous 13 appearances and had allowed just one earned run in his last 11 outings. He also had a 10 1/3-inning scoreless streak that ended May 9.
Webb might have the best stuff of the threesome, but he has given up seven walks over his last five outings, including a one-inning stint at Oakland on May 12 when he walked four batters and gave up two runs. He does have a 1.35 ERA over his last 11 outings, though, and a 1.13 ERA in 10 outings at home.
Petricka, like Webb, has limited major league experience, but is on a roll of late. He has delivered six consecutive scoreless outings and the first batters to face him in each appearance are batting just .063, the second-best mark in the American League. He also entered Sunday ninth in the AL in ground-ball percentage (63.3 percent),although Putnam was fourth (65.4 percent).
“Well, I think we're at a point where we've got other guys that have the ability to do it,” Ventura said. “I mean, whether we're going to do that, it's not the time to (decide) that right now. But (Belisario) was throwing strikes. It's not like he was walking guys all over the park. It's a tough inning. You tip your hat to them for coming back and getting it done there.”