Say what you want about the White Sox offense, but the pitching is second to none. Well actually, the Sox pitching is second only to three teams since they command the fourth lowest American League team ERA. Regardless, that stat is something to be proud of.
The team’s early success on the mound is especially profound considering the bullpen situation during Spring Training. Before the season, White Sox relief was equally as questionable as the starting rotation. Full of talented pitchers who have yet to make any serious impact in Chicago, Robin Ventura certainly had decisions to make regarding the bullpen roles. I had speculated that the decision for closer was between White Sox veterans Matt Thornton and Jesse Crain, with some consideration being given to newcomer Addison Reed. I also grouped Chris Sale into the prospective closer category figuring that he may end up back in the bullpen. After some roster moves, though, Hector Santiago emerged as the closer. While starting out initially strong, he has had some weak outings and has now been moved to middle relief.
One of my preseason predictions did come true as recently as a few days ago in that Chris Sale has now become the White Sox closer in place of Santiago. Even though Sale had been experiencing some soreness, he told WhiteSox.com that he believed it was only a normal ache as a result of the increased number of innings thrown. Be that as it may, the White Sox aren’t taking any chances and want to protect the young hurler’s arm. The move to closer is not a demotion, but rather a strong play that will keep Sale healthy and in a position to contribute to the team. He has certainly shown that he belongs in an important role and the only question now is whether he can handle the high stress/high profile job of a full-time closer. Personally, the only other person I’d feel safe with in that role is Addison Reed, who has now tied the franchise record at 12 straight scoreless appearances for a rookie.
In light of all this young talent, it is a shame that older pitchers Matt Thornton and Will Ohman aren’t turning any heads. Thornton has an ERA of 3.75 and has given up five earned runs in 12 innings. The nice thing about his innings pitched is that he has only walked one batter, which really speaks to his improved control. As far as Will Ohman is concerned…I’ll be honest, I’ve never been a member of the Ohman camp. I’ve always felt the same way about him as I did about former Sox reliever Scott Linebrink. Every time he comes into the game and the Sox don’t have at least a two run lead, I get very nervous. In his 8.2 innings pitched this season, he has an ERA of 6.23 and has only struck out four batters. It is my hope that Jesse Crain can speed up his rehabilitation and give Ventura more options in this respect.
With all the moves the White Sox organization is making, it is hard to say who will be on the roster in two weeks. Since Axelrod was moved to the minors following Sunday’s game to free up space, the Sox have called up Eric Stults from Charlotte to throw against the Indians on Monday night. Stults has a 2.20 ERA in five games this season and his performance on Monday is an important one. If he can outshine Axelrod, he may secure the now available fifth spot in the starting rotation. If Stults does not impress, Ventura may go back to the minors for more talent or he may simply use the four starters he’s got for now. Another alternative for down the road is moving Hector Santiago to the starter role since Santiago has said that he has thrown 45-50 pitch bullpen sessions and thinks he has the endurance to go more than five innings.
Regardless of these changes, the White Sox pitching has remained consistently effective, holding the powerful Detroit Tigers to ten runs over three games. Ventura has many options, but for right now, they just need to focus on moving forward and taking this series from the Indians.