Depth and dominance: White Sox bullpen off to another hot start

Depth and dominance: White Sox bullpen off to another hot start

As Zach Putnam sees it, the White Sox bullpen is afflicted in the best possible way early this season.

One after the other, White Sox relievers have delivered dominance from a variety of arm angles. Similar to last April, the White Sox bullpen is off to a scorching start with a 1.41 earned-run average through 14 games, third-best in the majors. Over 44 2/3 innings, White Sox relievers have struck out 54 batters.

Though it's hard to imagine any team sustaining this level of production, the White Sox potentially have a deeper pool of relievers to work with to help them avoid their 2016 dropoff. But it's that same depth that also could have opposing general managers flocking to the White Sox in order to remedy their bullpen issues this summer.

"It’s kind of a contagious thing like hitting," Putnam said. "You've got top of the order getting hits and getting on base and the guys just kind of fall in line. That's kind of of how it has gone here. We've got guys that know their role, and they're doing a great job coming in and getting outs and eating up a lot of innings, too. We've had some guys with some pretty heavy workloads and everybody's doing their jobs.

"There's no weak spots, top to bottom."

The White Sox are several months into the franchise's first rebuild in 20 years.

You wouldn't know it by looking at the back end of the bullpen, which is more suited for a team trying to contend.

While closer David Robertson hasn't pitched at an elite level in his first two seasons, he still has converted on 75 of his 89 save opportunities (84 percent) and is off to an excellent start in 2017. Considered readily available on the trade block, Robertson has converted all four save chances this season and struck out 11 batters in 5 2/3 innings.

Nate Jones' success — 112 strikeouts versus 26 walks in 96 innings since returning from Tommy John surgery — also has caught the eye of scouts around the league, many of whom believe he could become a closer if the White Sox were to trade Robertson. Lefty Dan Jennings also is viewed by scouts as a potentially attractive option as he has shown marked improvement in his splits against left-handed hitters in two-plus seasons with the White Sox.

But it's the front end of the group that has given the White Sox a stronger, deeper bullpen so far in 2017.

Less than a year after he had bone chips removed from his right elbow, Putnam, 29, is healthy again and his split-fingered fastball is dancing to the tune of 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings. He's whiffed nine batters in eight scoreless innings.

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Tommy Kahnle — who has 12 strikeouts and one walk in 5 2/3 innings this season — appears to have retained the lessons he learned about command late in 2016. After walking 14 batters and striking out seven in his first 11 1/3 innings with the White Sox, Kahnle has been outstanding. Since Aug. 11, 2016, Kahnle has 30 strikeouts and only seven walks in his 21 2/3 innings with a 0.83 ERA.

And veteran Anthony Swarzak is throwing as hard as he has in his career, his fastball averaging nearly 95 mph. So far Swarzak has six strikeouts and six scoreless frames.

"Good group of arms," Robertson said. "Everybody's getting a lot of opportunities and it seems like a lot of guys have really found their niche.

"You're seeing a whole bunch of different looks. We've got a lot of right-handed arms, power arms, but just different looks. Everybody throws the ball differently. Hitters see it differently.

"That's all it takes in baseball to get guys out."

Putnam said it's a combination of good communication from the coaching staff and the foundation at the back end of the 'pen that has aided the strong start. With Robertson in the ninth and Jones the primary setup man, the rest of the group has a good idea of what its role is.

That has led to plenty of belief in the bullpen.

"It doesn't matter who's trotting out, I think the coaching staff and the team has confidence in whoever comes out of that door," Putnam said. "I think a lot of that too is guys understanding their role and their job and what is expected of them. We're always on call and always ready. But knowing what situations to be extra ready for so that you're not caught off guard is huge."

The bullpen's performance has been critical early as it has allowed the White Sox to work around a poor overall showing by the offense. Despite ranking 13th in the American League in runs scored, the White Sox have played .500 baseball because of their dominant bullpen. And while it could one day be picked apart by opposing GMs, for now the team's relief core has made life easier for manager Rick Renteria.

"It's been really nice," Renteria said. "Obviously those guys have emerged being very effective. Hopefully it continues. It's one of those things as we continue to move forward, we have to continue to play clean baseball and we give ourselves a chance to stay in a ballgame. Anything can happen late, and if we have the guys in the pen — that's been working very, very well for us."

Preview: White Sox kick off 10-game homestand vs. A's tonight on CSN

Preview: White Sox kick off 10-game homestand vs. A's tonight on CSN

The White Sox take on the Oakland Athletics tonight, and you can catch all the action on CSN and live streaming on CSNChicago.com and the NBC Sports App.

Coverage begins at 7 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Mike Pelfrey (3-5, 3.56 ERA) vs. Jharel Cotton (4-7, 5.40 ERA)

Click here for more stats to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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— Latest on the White Sox: All of the most recent news and notes.

How White Sox players managed the 'chaos' of Thursday's record-setting rain delay

How White Sox players managed the 'chaos' of Thursday's record-setting rain delay

MINNEAPOLIS -- Some guys played cards. The soccer ball got kicked around in spite of the close quarters in the visiting clubhouse. There was dancing. A magic trick or two was attempted. A few players even tried to get in a nap.

White Sox players found myriad ways to keep themselves occupied during Thursday’s draining 4-hour, 50-minute rain delay -- the longest in Minnesota Twins history.

Yet despite not knowing what time the game may start, White Sox players found a way to overcome the uncertainty and stay engaged. Similar to May 26 when the first game of a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers was cancelled, the White Sox figured out how to go from zero to 60 in mere seconds. Though there’s no exact formula for success, the White Sox seem to have figured out a way to endure the elements and get out quickly. On early Thursday evening, the White Sox overcame the rain and misery to jump ahead of the Minnesota Twins en route to a 9-0 victory at Target Field.

“We keep it real loose whether,” veteran third baseman Todd Frazier said. “We have a good time. We enjoy each other’s company. Win lose or draw, tomorrow’s a new day. Today we kept working hard and we knew we had a game to play and eventually we were going to play it. We turned it on at the right moment.”

Jose Quintana saw so much of his iPad that eventually he had to turn it off out of sheer boredom. Thursday’s starting pitcher was almost able to complete two feature-length movies during the rain delay. Quintana, who excelled with nine strikeouts in 6 2/3 scoreless innings, watched ‘Fast and Furious 7’ and ‘Get Out’ on his iPad during the delay.

While he liked the action movie, Quintana wasn’t as fond of the latter, though he admits he’s not a big fan of horror movies.

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“I think it was bad because too much time in front of the iPad,” Quintana said. “It made me bored.

“I just tried to stay relaxed, focused on the game. … Tried to come back and work a little bit. It’s a little hard, but we don’t have control so stay focused on the game.”

Whereas the White Sox determined when they played last month at home -- they cancelled Game 1 of a doubleheader at 1 p.m. and pushed the second game back to 8 p.m. because of rain -- this time was in the Twins’ hands. The forecast called for rain all afternoon before things cleared up around 5 p.m.

While the White Sox were in limbo as to when they would play, they had a pretty good idea that eventually they would.

“It’s miserable,” Frazier said. “You try and find some things to do, play cards, hang out with the guys. If you had a set time it would help. But we came out banging in that first inning. It’s huge.”

White Sox manager Rick Renteria is impressed with how his team has handled both long days. The White Sox also defeated the Tigers 8-2 on May 26th. While Renteria and his coaching staff spent a lot of his time preparing for their upcoming home series against the Oakland A’s, he’s pleased with how his players managed themselves through the uncertainty.  

“They’re the ones who are dealing with the chaos,” Renteria said. “They’re the ones who play the game and who have to have their minds to be ready to go out and perform. They’ve been able to respond well. It’s part of who they are, their character, and hopefully it’s something they continue to be able to do and build on.”