Poetry in Pros: Jenks is a stand-up closer

222612.jpg

Poetry in Pros: Jenks is a stand-up closer

Thursday, July 29, 2010
9:20 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

When fans think of Bobby Jenks, they think of big.

Its not unfair. Jenks is big in every way. His off-field demeanor may be sweet, but hes physically imposing64 with a goatee somewhere north of ZZ Top and 275 pounds you wouldnt want to enrage. His smoke is legendaryyou see him scale the mound and still remember the baby face who stared down mountain man Jeff Bagwell in Game 1 on the 2005 World Series.

Jenks hit 99 on the gun in that matchup five years ago, and hit it again Wednesday night, reducing Seattle Mariners cleanup hitter Russell Branyan to a pillar of salt with 99 mph wickedness. Short of a game-ending home run, theres little else that jacks up a crowd more than a dominant closer performance.

And Jenks has seen his share of them. Hes second on the Chicago White Soxs all-time saves list with 167thats 60th all-time and 12th among active pitchers. Jenkss 9.3 is also 204th all-time in Win Probability Added, a stat that attempts to measure an individuals contributions to wins, as well as 46th among active pitchers.

All fine and good, right? But while Jenkss name is almost always preceded by Bad, his statistics this season so far are bad, and not in a good way.

Jenks has a 4.82 ERA, on track for his first career mark above 4.00. His ERA is less than 100 (below average) for the first time ever. Jenks has a 9.9 H9, which is more than one hit per nine innings-higher than his previous career worst. His 3.9 BB9 equals his career worst, but his 11.3 K9 is a career best, indicating Jenks is pitching less to contact than ever.

The 2010 season is also shaping up to be Jenkss first with a negative WAR (-0.2), and for an arbitration-eligible player making 7.5 million, thats a formula for non-tendering a contract in the offseason.

To his credit, Jenks remains focused on the task at hand, winning games. He sees closing out games as a point of pride, and admits disappointment over the recent is-he-or-isnt-he closer controversy, but only from the standpoint where he feels hes a proven commodity.

Jenks is a standup guy, almost beyond belief. He had a week from hell during the road trip, badly blowing games on July 18 at the Minnesota Twins and July 21 at the Seattle Mariners, yet in both circumstances was forthright, even welcoming, when it came to discussing his performance.

Wednesday night, Jenks had every excuse to crow a string of I-told-you-sos after an impeccable, vintage performance that touched every stone for his return to dominance, including a blistering fastball, a grip-lock on the zone and a complete lack of intimidation give a save situation vs. Seattles 3-4-5 hitters.

Did he? Not even close. In fact, Jenks took pains to credit every member of the White Sox bullpen after his best performance of the seasonas well as his first 1-2-3, three-strikeout save in four years. And thats not just Sergio Santos, Matt Thornton and J.J. Putz, all of whom are embroiled in some manner of scoreless streak, but the little guys like Tony Pena and Erick Threetseven Randy Williams got some love.

This is Bobby Jenks; a stand-up guy who is beloved by his bullpen mates, as well as the entire team. Not a player who spoke postgame Wednesdaya list including Mark Buehrle, Santos, Putz, Gordon Beckham and Juan Pierrehad anything but admiration and support for Jenks. As manager Ozzie Guillen said, were behind Bobby 100, and thats a statement that applies to every man in the White Sox clubhouse.

Castro Comfortable

Backup catcher Ramon Castro credits hitting coach Greg Walker with his resurgent season, one that could see him stealing starts from slumping A.J. Pierzynski if the incumbent doesnt turn his season around soon.

Castro is stroking at an .870 OPS clip, which dwarfs his career .729. His OPS is 129 despite a below-average career figure of 90. Hes boasting a 0.7 WAR, impressive for a player seeing such modest action, and his seven walks12 Ks is a ratio Castro hasnt produced since his rookie year in 1999.

Its just hard work, Castro said of his resurgent season at age 34. 'Walk' helped me with keeping my head still, keeping my hands a little more open.

Count Castro as yet another White Sox player who applauds Walker for developing batting strategies around a players strength vs. forcing a roster to adapt to his beliefs.

And if theres any doubt in his growth as a hitter, Castro laughed and said, The numbers dont lie. The production doesnt lie.

In his first three at-bats Thursday, Castro had a run-scoring double and two towering, solo home runs.

Gold Gloving

In a surprisingly sedate pregame session, Guillen riffed on Gold Gloves, saying theyre a bit of a sham based only on offensive stats. Rafael Palmeiro winning a Gold Glove in 1999 despite playing only 28 games at first base that season was Exhibit A for Guillen.

Guillen isnt the first to point this out, of course, but he may be the first to use himself as an argument for how silly the selection process is. But the manager also pointed the finger in the mirror, noting that the one season he won a Gold Glove, 1990, he hit really well.

Really well for Guillen counts as a modest, to that point career-best .279with 17 errors. But Guillen also garnered the only MVP votes of his career in that season, so his visibility was at its highest point.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox information.

Prospect Reynaldo Lopez struggles early, but White Sox top Reds

Prospect Reynaldo Lopez struggles early, but White Sox top Reds

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Reynaldo Lopez also struggled in his spring debut for the White Sox on Tuesday afternoon. 

The team's No. 4 overall prospect allowed five earned runs and four hits in 1 1/3 innings before the White Sox rallied for a 10-9 win over the Cincinnati Reds at Goodyear, Ariz. Lopez also walked one in his first performance for the team since it acquired him along with Lucas Giolito and Dane Dunning from the Washington Nationals in exchange for Adam Eaton. 

Another heralded prospect, Michael Kopech, struggled for the White Sox in his lone inning in an 8-1 loss to the Seattle Mariners at Glendale, Ariz. The performances come on the heels of Giolito, the team's top pitching prospect, allowing a run, three hits and a walk in two innings against the Cubs at Mesa, Ariz. on Monday.

"We don't feel that pressure," Lopez said through an interpreter. "We just try to do our job. We have a very good relationship. We are not desperate to show people what we can do because we know what we can do. We just try to do our job and try to do what we are supposed to do. I think that he's doing that too."

"I felt good. I made very good pitches. I throw a lot of strikes. I made a lot of mistakes too. But I think it was good for my first outing, it was good."

[MORE: Michael Kopech frustrated with first step in quest to prove White Sox right]

Leury Garcia went 3-for-4 with four RBIs in the victory. Yolmer Sanchez, Everth Cabrera and Danny Hayes each went 2-for-4. 

Matt Davidson and Tim Anderson each had two hits in the loss to Seattle.

White Sox manager Rick Renteria said Todd Frazier (mild oblique strain) continues to progress prior to Tuesday's split-squad doubleheader. Renteria wouldn't commit to a timeframe for Frazier's return when asked if playing this weekend is a possibility.

"We are going to keep monitoring him but he seems like he is kind of over the hump and trying to push himself into active duty," Renteria said. "We have to get him back into being more explosive in his actions. If he feels good and comfortable, there's every reason to believe that that's possible. I can't guarantee it."

Renteria also said pitcher Carlos Rodon would participate in his first bullpen session on either Wednesday or Thursday. He also believes Jose Abreu would be back in camp on Wednesday from a trip to Miami for personal reasons but isn't sure if the first baseman would return in time for the team's game against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Michael Kopech frustrated with first step in quest to prove White Sox right

Michael Kopech frustrated with first step in quest to prove White Sox right

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Michael Kopech was fairly upset with his performance Tuesday afternoon given how much he wants to make the White Sox look wise for their investment and silence his critics.

One of two highly-touted pieces acquired in the Chris Sale trade, Kopech intends to prove to his doubters that two questionable incidents from the past won't determine what appears to be a bright future chock full of 100-mph fastballs. 

So even though Tuesday's outing was his first with the team and should have little bearing on what's to come, the White Sox prospect hoped to provide his new team with much more. Kopech was instead saddled with a long first inning in which he flashed his dazzling potential and later was hit hard. He allowed four earned runs and three hits, including a three-run homer on an 0-2 pitch, in an 8-1 loss to the Seattle Mariners at Camelback Ranch. Kopech also struck out two and walked one.

"That's probably part of the reason I'm pretty upset about today," Kopech said. "I'm trying to prove some people right. Obviously that's not the way to do it, but it is early. I think there's some adjustments to be made and once those adjustments are made I can actually be pretty helpful."

The third-ranked prospect in the franchise and 16th overall in baseball, Kopech endured a year-long rough patch beginning in July 2015 when he was suspended 50 games after a positive test for Oxilofrine. Kopech told the Boston Globe last November he didn't knowingly take the substance, but took responsibility for his actions.

His reputation then took another hit last March when Kopech broke a bone in his pitching hand. While it has been reported as an altercation between teammates, Kopech told the Globe he was trying to protect his teammate.

When he returned to action in June, Kopech shined with a combined 2.08 ERA in 56 1/3 innings Single-A Lowell and Single-A Salem. He followed by posting a 2.01 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 22 1/3 innings at the Arizona Fall League. Kopech said his performance to end the 2016 season was critical moving forward.

"Bottom line is you can't take anything for granted," Kopech said in December. "I've missed too much time in my opinion. This half of the year was very important for me. I needed to show people, whoever, that I'm still out here to compete and get better."

Despite his blemishes off the field, the White Sox determined in late November that Kopech had to be included in a package if they indeed were trading Sale to the Red Sox. To reach that point, where they'd ask for Kopech as one of two main pieces in a deal for potentially the best pitcher in franchise history, the front office turned to both their pro and amateur scouts to search every nook and cranny for opinions.

"Any major transaction you try to do as much due diligence as you can," general manager Rick Hahn said. "We were fully satisfied with the explanation that (Kopech) gave, but also what we were able to uncover through people in the know. This is a really good kid and a kid who wants to be great and he's willing to pay the price and put in the work necessary to be great."

Knowing they'd rebuild, Hahn said the White Sox began to focus their scouts on particular organizations in July. That's when the process of digging deep on Kopech started.

The team contacted old coaches and former teammates to discern what they could about the 20-year-old, who often uses his social media accounts to tweet out inspirational messages and talk about his determination. By the time the White Sox elevated Kopech from potential target to definitive piece they had contacted 12-15 sources.

"In all, it kept coming to back to everybody saying he's so dialed in," amateur scouting director Nick Hostetler said. "He's an intense kid. He's so hard core with everything he does. There's no soft with Kopech, that's for sure."

The hard-throwing Texan proved that point on Tuesday when he topped out at 101 mph on the radar gun. His fastball sat at 97 mph and he hit triple digits at least three times. 

Kopech started his performance with a three-pitch strikeout of Seattle's Ben Gamel, the radar reading 99, 100 and 100.  

Shortstop Jean Segura then got enough of a two-strike pitch to hit it in front of home plate, which led to an infield single. Segura stole second base and Kopech just missed outside on a 3-2 offering and walked Robinson Cano. Nelson Cruz followed with a rocketed opposite-field RBI double before Dan Vogelbach lined out to center. With two in scoring position and two outs, Kopech threw two quick strikes to Mitch Haniger and looked like he might escape the jam. But his 0-2 slider caught too much of the plate and Haniger crushed it for a three-run homer to left.

"There were some pitches that needed to be down in some counts and there's some pitches that needed to be way down," Kopech said.

Afterward, Kopech shied away from any possible excuses about his performance, one that ended with a strikeout of Carlos Ruiz. The adrenaline wasn't anything he hadn't dealt with before and he thought his pacing was fine. Even though he didn't get a borderline 3-2 pitch to Cano, Kopech thought it was a makeup for an earlier call that had gone in his favor. And even though it was his first outing in big league camp, Kopech wasn't awestruck by facing Cano and Cruz.

He was just disappointed that he didn't excel from the outset. Kopech knows there are plenty more opportunities ahead and believes he's everything the White Sox think he is. He just wants to prove it.

"The toughest part is to stop caring so much about what other people think," Kopech said. "Everybody wants that pat on the back. That's what I had to shy away from is just not to care so much about that because what's being written about me and being said about me wasn't who defines me. That was what I really had to come to grips with and figure out — I'm going to determine my career and not past experiences."