KANSAS CITY, Mo. — He’s ready to move forward Saturday, but Robin Ventura spent part of Friday night replaying a tough White Sox loss, his role included.
In great position to make a strong statement at the start of a three-city road trip, the White Sox coughed up a four-run lead on Friday night and lost to the Kansas City Royals 7-5. It was another blow for a team in the midst of a long slump, their 12th loss in 16 games.
The bullpen was the real culprit as it combined with starting pitcher Miguel Gonzalez to yield four runs in the bottom of the seventh and allow the Royals to go ahead for good. But Ventura’s bullpen management in the seventh inning — when he used four relievers — left him open for scrutiny, too.
Should Ventura have turned to his bullpen to start the seventh inning clean instead of bringing back Gonzalez, who allowed a one-out double? Did he consider intentionally walking the Royals’ best hitter, Eric Hosmer, with first base open and two outs? How would they have handled it had the game gone to extras with so much of the bullpen used?
“There are plenty of games when you do that, especially when it doesn’t go the way you want it to,” Ventura said. “You always do that. You talk it through. (Don Cooper) and I will talk it through. Rick (Hahn) and I will do the same thing. And when you get back here, you’re back at it getting ready to go for that day.”
The White Sox bullpen was outstanding in April. The group posted a 1.69 ERA that month and the team was 20-0 when leading after seven innings.
But this isn’t April.
The bullpen has struggled mightily since Texas and Friday was no different. White Sox relievers have a 4.05 ERA in May. With a man on second and one out, Dan Jennings immediately fell behind Jarrod Dyson and walked him, bringing the tying run to the plate. Matt Albers took over and Alcides Escobar reached on an infield single to load the bases. Whit Merrifield found a hole against Albers for a two-run single to make it a one-run game. Albers struck out Lorenzo Cain but not before a wild pitch moved Escobar and Merrifield into scoring position.
“You can’t go to Nate every single time in the seventh inning and have him throw the seventh and eighth, or (David Robertson) in the middle of the eighth and ninth,” Ventura said. “We have to get some guys that can get outs and those are the guys you use in that situation.”
At that point, Ventura opted for Duke to face Hosmer with Nate Jones warming in the bullpen.
The numbers favored his choice -- Hosmer had a .580 OPS against lefties while on-deck hitter Salvador Perez had an .862 OPS against righties. But, Hosmer was in the midst of a good game at the plate with an RBI groundout in the first and an opposite-field homer off Gonzalez in the sixth.
“You consider it,” Ventura said. “I mean you load it up, you don’t give (Jones) much to work with there. (Duke) has had some good numbers against Hosmer.”
Duke got ahead of Hosmer with a first-pitch fastball inside for a strike. Though Duke’s next offering, a slider, was outside, Hosmer got enough of it to flip the ball into left field for a two-run, go-ahead single. Kansas City’s bullpen took over from there and the White Sox suffered a cruel defeat.
“When it doesn’t work you’re bringing a guy in and immediately it might not work,” Ventura said. “But it is a long year and you’ve seen what they can do and you want to get back to that. We also went through a stretch where we were using them a lot. Then they get a little rest, and you look at a game like last night where it doesn’t work and doesn’t fit and it always looks different. You can second guess anything at that point.”