Sizing up the Sox bullpen battle

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Sizing up the Sox bullpen battle

While Hector Santiago has thrown just five innings in three games this spring, he's looked impressive enough to be considered as a fairly safe bet to land a spot on the White Sox Opening Day roster. His previous body of work certainly helps support that.

So as things stand, there are two openings left in the Sox bullpen. One of those will probably go to either Zach Stewart or Dylan Axelrod -- Larry says Axelrod has the upper hand, which I agree with for now. But they're neck-and-neck with comparable innings counts, strikeouts and walks, and neither has a profile within the organization that sets him apart from the other.

It's presumed the Sox will take either Axelrod or Stewart to use as a long reliever, although Santiago could be used in a long relief role. That'd only happen, though, if Axelrod and Stewart struggled while two other relievers impressed to the point where the Sox couldn't leave them off the roster.

But since that scenario hasn't come to fruition yet, the Sox are left with one open spot left. Right now, the player with the inside-most track is probably Brian Bruney, who hasn't allowed a walk or run in five innings while striking out seven. He was able to limit runs for most of his 19 23 innings with the Sox last year, but his success was tenuous and came crashing down toward the end of his major-league run.

Eric Stults has had a good spring as well, striking out five with no walks and no runs allowed in five innings. He's more a long reliever, though, and doesn't have the starter potential of Axelrod and Stewart, so he's lumped in with the last group. If it comes down to Bruney vs. Stults, Bruney probably would be the guy.

Bruney and Stults don't provide much upside, unlike Nate Jones or Jhan Marinez. But Jones doesn't have great upside, either, as a 26-year-old who hasn't pitched above Double-A. He's had some success this spring, but he's untested and doesn't have the high ceiling of most guys who skip Triple-A on their way to the majors. The Sox, though, have given Jones a pretty extended look -- only he and Will Ohman have appeared in five games this spring, the highest total on the team.

Marinez has considerably more upside but has seen considerably less success this spring, allowing two home runs with more walks than strikeouts in four 13 innings pitched. He may find his way into the bullpen at some point this year, but he needs to put in more work in the minors before he could be a possibility.

Guys like Anthony Carter, Leyson Septimo, Donnie Veal, Deunte Heath and Jose Quintana are extreme longshots at this point in camp.

If Opening Day were tomorrow, those three open bullpen spots would probably go to Santiago, Axelrod and Bruney. But just over two and a half weeks of games separate us from April 6's opener in Texas, and plenty can change between now and then.

Chris Sale 'would like to see' Mark Buehrle retire in White Sox uniform

Chris Sale 'would like to see' Mark Buehrle retire in White Sox uniform

While Chris Sale doesn’t know if Mark Buehrle will pitch again, he’s certain about one thing — Buehrle should retire as a member of the White Sox.

His future plans still undeclared, the legendary pitcher made the rounds at U.S. Cellular Field this weekend to visit ex-teammates from two of the three clubs he played for during his 16-year career. Buehrle, who won a World Series title and 161 games and threw a perfect game and a no-hitter in 12 seasons with the White Sox, has yet to sign retirement papers. Whether or not Buehrle would pitch again was speculated upon often this spring even though he struggled down the stretch in 2015 and failed to eclipse 200 innings for only the second time in his career.

Were he to officially call it quits, Sale hopes Buerhle does it here.

“For me personally, I would like to see it,” Sale said. “When you think of Mark Buehrle, you think of him in a White Sox uniform, wearing the black jersey with the pinstripes on the bottom.

“I don’t think he could go out any other way. Especially it would be nice to see him in a White Sox hat when he goes to the Hall of Fame.”

Buehrle spent the first dozen years of his career with the White Sox before agreeing upon a four-year deal with the Miami Marlins in 2012. His stay in Miami lasted only one season before the club held a fire sale and dealt him and shortstop Jose Reyes among others to the Toronto Blue Jays. Buehrle played the last three seasons in Toronto and won 40 games. He won 15 games last season but finished four outs shy of a 15th straight 200-inning campaign.

Sale said he didn’t talk any business with Buehrle during their visit and doesn’t know if he still wants to pitch.

“It was definitely good to see him,” Sale said. “It gives you a little boost. Any time you see guys like that come back around, it’s always fun. He looks good. He looks like he could pitch again.

“We don’t talk about business when he comes around. It was good to see him and whatever unfolds, I think it will be fun regardless of what happens.”

Weekend provides much-needed rest for White Sox bullpen

Weekend provides much-needed rest for White Sox bullpen

A cold beer in hand and shower shoes on his feet, Zach Duke was the epitome of relaxation Sunday afternoon as he leaned back in his chair in the White Sox clubhouse.

A selfie of his feet with a tropical destination in the background is all that was missing.

The chance to relax isn’t wasted on Duke or his relief brethren. After a span in which they combined for 18 appearances in seven games, Duke, Nate Jones, Matt Albers and David Robertson received a weekend pass. While Robertson’s break was interrupted Sunday, the rest of the group is set for three consecutive days without an appearance.

It couldn’t have come at a better time.

“It’s a nice shot in the arm, if you will,” said Duke, who entered Sunday tied for the major-league lead with 39 appearances. “It’s good. To have a little rest time to get through this next stretch of games is big.

“I’m not sure what we’ll be doing (Monday). Maybe we’ll go out to the beach.”

Life has been anything but easy for the trusted members of the White Sox bullpen.

The workload of the bullpen recently included 30 innings in the eight games leading up to Sunday. While the bullpen’s innings pitched this season ranks low (they’re 21st among 30 teams), it’s the type of work they have been asked to perform that has begun to add up.

An inconsistent offense that has failed to put games away has the White Sox tied for the fourth-most one-run games in the majors (26). Of the 78 games played by the White Sox, 41 have been decided by two runs or fewer. The bullpen has the second-highest leverage index -- a statistic that measures how much pressure each pitcher faces -- in the majors.

Basically, only San Francisco Giants relievers face more tight situations than in baseball than the White Sox.

With that in mind, White Sox manager Robin Ventura prescribed mandatory rest for Jones, Albers, Duke and Robertson on Saturday.

“They need it,” Ventura said. “They need a break, it's that simple.”

What has magnified the team’s issues is the losses of Daniel Webb and Jake Petricka for the season and Zach Putnam, who is out indefinitely with elbow soreness and said to be weighing surgery as an option.

Last season, Putnam and Petricka combined for 100 2/3 innings. The season before it was 127 2/3 innings.

With those trusted arms down, Dan Jennings and rookies Chris Beck, Michael Ynoa and Matt Purke will likely have to consume big innings at times. The scenario arose on Saturday when the White Sox rallied after it appeared they had been blown out by the Toronto Blue Jays. Even though they trailed by as many as five runs twice, the White Sox found themselves down a run headed into the ninth inning. But with their veteran arms down, Ynoa was asked to work an inning and surrendered a pair of runs.

“It’s tough to watch those games,” said Robertson, who earned his 20th save in 22 tries on Sunday. “When we’ve thrown six or seven games out of eight days, you need a day because the chances of you going out there and hurting yourself are possible. And you’re looking at the longevity of this team and the arms we’ve got, you don’t want to lose any of your valuable pieces in one game when you might need them later on in September to make that push to get into the playoffs or even in the playoffs themselves. When you get those days off you have to take them, enjoy ‘em. It’s hard to watch those games because you feel like you should be in there. But it’s just part of baseball. Every now and then you need a day off.”

Chris Sale added another day of rest with his dominance in Sunday’s victory. He consumed eight of nine innings and held Toronto in check until he surrendered two solo homers in his last frame. Though the homers forced Jones to warm up, Sale recovered in time to get through the eighth. Two days after he pitched out of a bases-loaded jam, Robertson needed only 10 pitches to record his second save of the series.

But because Sale worked as late as he did, Duke didn’t have to lift a finger. He had a chance to relax and determine what he and his family might do Monday. “Hopefully,” Duke will get to the beach.

No matter what, he knows what he won’t do.

“There’s going to be no baseball involved,” Duke said.

White Sox Road Ahead: Heating up on the South Side

White Sox Road Ahead: Heating up on the South Side

CSN's JJ Stankevitz and Siera Santos discuss the struggles of James Shields while also going over a difficult upcoming series for the White Sox in this week's Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland & Northwest Indiana Honda dealers.

On the back of Chris Sale and his 13th win, the White Sox are back to .500 after taking two of three from the Toronto Blue Jays.

The South Siders have now won five of their last seven games, and won back-to-back series for the first time in nearly two months. They're now 2.5 games behind the Blue Jays for the second Wild Card spot and are playing much better baseball as they head toward the All-Star break.

Hear what JJ Stankevitz and Siera Santos had to say about their big week, as well as their upcoming three-game series against the Twins, in this week's Honda Road Ahead video above.