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.

Preview: White Sox face the Mariners Thursday on CSN

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Preview: White Sox face the Mariners Thursday on CSN

The White Sox take on the Seattle Mariners on Thursday, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Thursday’s starting pitching matchup: Anthony Ranaudo vs. James Paxton

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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James Shields, White Sox lose to Phillies and snap winning streak

James Shields, White Sox lose to Phillies and snap winning streak

James Shields allowed his fewest runs in a month on Wednesday night, but it wasn’t enough to avoid a loss.

Shields yielded two more home runs in six innings and his offense couldn’t keep pace as the White Sox lost to the Philadelphia Phillies 5-3 in front of 15,630 at U.S. Cellular Field. Shields gave up four earned runs and seven hits. Dioner Navarro homered in the loss, which snapped a three-game White Sox winning streak.

“We’ve seen better,” manager Robin Ventura said. “(Shields) got to two strikes, two outs and gave up a couple there and that’s tough. The homer to left, that’s just one you get in this ballpark. The biggest one, for him, mistake-wise was the homer to Joseph. I think that’s the one that he wants back. But as far as going out there and getting us to a point, he’s still got room to improve on. But he got through it.”

The six innings pitched marks the most by Shields since July 26.

In between, Shields allowed 28 runs (27 earned) and 33 hits in 14 innings over four turns, good for a 17.36 ERA.

He fell behind 3-0 by the third inning before he settled in and retired nine of 11 batters. The Phillies pieced together a two-out rally in the second inning to go up two runs as Tommy Joseph and Freddy Galvis doubled with an Aaron Altherr singled sandwiched in between.

Cesar Hernandez opened the third inning with a solo homer just inside the left-field foul pole.

Joseph also homered with two outs in the sixth inning to put Philadelphia ahead 4-0.

Shields has allowed 31 homers in 143 innings this season, including 22 in 75.2 innings for the White Sox. Eleven of those have come in his last four starts.

He walked none and struck out six.

“I think the only pitch I made a mistake on was that last one, the home run in the sixth inning there,” Shields said. “The ball kind of slipped out of my hand a little bit and kind of left it over the plate. Other than that I felt good with my location tonight. I was hitting my spots consistently. They were getting hits here and there. That’s part of it. One of the positives things, I didn’t walk anyone and I was getting some swings and misses. But we have to move on and move forward and build off that.”

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The White Sox didn’t have much success against Phillies starting pitcher Jerod Eickhoff, who retired the first nine batters he faced. Avisail Garcia led off the sixth inning with a single and Navarro belted a two-run homer to right to make it a 4-2 game.

Eickhoff limited the White Sox to two runs and four hits in six innings.

Garcia kept the White Sox alive with a two-out RBI single in the ninth inning. But Jeanmar Gomez retired Navarro with runners on the corners to end the threat.

“Until Dio hit the homer there wasn’t much going for us,” Ventura said. “We got one --- I think Adam was the one that breaks it up and gets it going. But (Eickoff) was tough on us. A great curveball. That’s the biggest thing that sticks out. When he got in trouble, that curveball was the pitch for us. After that, it just wasn’t a good night offensively. I don’t think we swung it that well.”

White Sox starter Miguel Gonzalez felt good in bullpen session

White Sox starter Miguel Gonzalez felt good in bullpen session

If all continues to go well, Miguel Gonzalez could pitch in a rehab start as soon as Friday.

On the 15-day disabled list with a strained right groin, the White Sox starter said he felt good during a second bullpen session on Wednesday.

Gonzalez, who is 2-6 with a 4.05 ERA in 19 games (18 starts), threw 30 pitches. He previously threw a bullpen session on Friday and felt some discomfort the following day. But Gonzalez said he has made progress since he received treatment on Saturday.

“A lot better,” Gonzalez said. “I didn’t feel anything while I was throwing my bullpen, which is great. I’m happy with the results today and come back tomorrow and we’ll see.”

Gonzalez left an Aug. 11 start at Kansas City in the bottom of the second inning. Though he wasn’t yet sure if he’d head out on a rehab assignment, Gonzalez said he was on the third day of a five-day schedule in which he was supposed to start. But it’s also possible the White Sox could have Gonzalez first throw a simulated game.

“We're going to have him go back out there again and do a little bit more, that looks more like starting in a game where he's going to throw for a little while, sit down, get back up,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “Simulate some innings and hopefully after he does that a couple time he can go out for a rehab assignment.”