Poetry in Pros: Jenks is a stand-up closer

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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.

White Sox bullpen taking pride in slogging through heavy, high-stress workload

White Sox bullpen taking pride in slogging through heavy, high-stress workload

It might be figuratively held together with chicken wire and duct tape at this point, and it hasn’t been entirely effective recently. But the White Sox bullpen can’t be criticized for a lack of effort. 

Over the last four days, White Sox relievers have had to throw 19 1/3 innings. To recap: Starter Jacob Turner only lasted 3 1/3 innings Friday against the Detroit Tigers, then Chris Sale was scratched from his start Saturday after blowing up over the team’s uniforms and earning a five-game suspension. The White Sox bullpen shouldered Johnny Wholestaff duties and threw eight innings on Saturday — right-hander Matt Albers started and pitched two of those innings despite throwing an inning in the team’s last two games — in lieu of the team’s All-Star ace. 

David Robertson, who pitched a third of an inning in relief Saturday, pitched twice on Sunday (he allowed three solo home runs to the Tigers to blow the save in his second game). Nate Jones appeared in the first three games of the Tigers series, too, totaling 2 1/3 innings. 

On Monday, both Jones and Robertson were given a much-needed rest day. So Zach Duke, Albers and Dan Jennings were called upon by manager Robin Ventura to cover seven outs against the powerful Cubs lineup. Albers blew the save, but Jennings’ strikeout of Jason Heyward with the go-ahead run on second set up Tyler Saladino’s walk-off single to net the White Sox a 5-4 win. 

“We’ve picked up a lot of innings lately,” Robertson said. “Everybody’s just giving it everything they got right now. It’s obviously, we would’ve loved to have nothing but zeros go up, but that’s not the way baseball works. We’re facing a lot of good lineups. And we’ve just hung tough and tried to at least give us a chance to win. Thankfully, we’ve been very fortunate to walk off these last three games.” 

It’s not just the volume of innings that’s taxing the bullpen, though. With three consecutive walk-off wins — the first time the White Sox have done that since Aug. 4-6, 1962 — have come plenty of high-stress pitches. Over the last week, the White Sox bullpen has the highest average leverage index in baseball, and that’s with this group shouldering the generally low-leverage early innings of Saturday’s game in place of Sale. 

“The more we work, the more proud we are of what we do,” Jennings said. 

Still, this group could probably use a breather. Without an off day until Aug. 1, though, the only way to get one is to be ruled out for a game, as Robertson and Jones were on Monday. 

“Hopefully we can rotate, I know there’s some other guys that I know might need a day so maybe hopefully Nate and Robertson are really fresh tomorrow and we can build off that,” Jennings said. “(Or) maybe we can get that eight, nine, 10-run win where we can kind of sit back and relax a little bit, hopefully.”

Manager Robin Ventura said he went with seniority in choosing who to cover Jones and Robertson’s innings Monday, which helps explain why he didn’t use 2015 first-round pick Carson Fulmer against the Cubs. Fulmer’s recent control issues — he only threw 12 of 30 pitches for strikes in blowing a lead against the Tigers on Friday — could’ve played a factor, too. 

“You’re trusting the guys who have been here,” Ventura said. “You’ve got some new faces that are out there, it would’ve been asking a lot to bring them in and put them in that.”

White Sox relievers have squandered leads in each of the team’s last four games, though: Fulmer on Friday, Jones on Saturday, Robertson on Sunday and Albers/Jennings on Monday. In addition to a short outing from Turner and no outing from Sale, the White Sox are missing right-handers Jake Petricka and Zach Putnam from a group that looked to be fairly deep earlier in the season. 

The White Sox relief corps could certainly use a day off or at the least, as Jennings said, a blowout win where some of those young arms — Fulmer, Michael Ynoa and Tommy Kahnle — could polish off some low-pressure innings. But those easy wins have been few and far between this season: The White Sox only have three wins by more than three runs since May 14. 

So if that trend continues, this group is going to have to continue to cover plenty of high-stress innings without a break, at least for the next week. 

“Obviously the bullpen the last few days had to pick up the team, and we take pride in that,” Albers said. “Especially Nate and D-Rob were down today, shoot, they’ve been pitching every day too. Everybody else started to try to pick them up. That’s what we’re here for.” 

Cheering section of one: Melky Cabrera adds three highlight plays to the reel

Cheering section of one: Melky Cabrera adds three highlight plays to the reel

The human GIF made quite an impact on the White Sox on Monday night.

A staple of The Melky Cabrera experience the past year and a half has been the outfielder’s personal celebrations that come with every big play. Monday night’s edition included three rounds of festivities critical to the White Sox pulling out a 5-4 victory over the Cubs at U.S. Cellular Field.

Cabrera got the party started almost instantly, robbing Kris Bryant of a first-inning solo home run before he patted himself on the back in only the way he does.

“I think every celebration is a motivation to try to give us a boost to our confidence and for the fans, too,” Cabrera said through an interpreter. “Every time you can make a good play, it’s good for your team and for your fans to try to invigorate the confidence.”

Cabrera not only leads the team with a .303 batting average -- he’s the biggest self-congratulator of the bunch. It’s as if the GIF function was created for the sole purpose of recording Cabrera’s awkward claps or fist pumps after every big play.

On Monday, he opted to clap for himself after he robbed Bryant of what would have been his 26th homer. Cabrera said he watched the ball the entire way off Bryant’s bat and drifted back to the warning track before leaping and snagging the ball just above the yellow line on the left-field fence.

[MORE: White Sox win in walk-off fashion over Cubs]

On his way down, Cabrera landed hard on the warning track before righting himself against the wall, where he sat with each appendage sprawled in a different direction. At that point, Cabrera held up the ball to show the world he had it in his possession before he stood up and clapped for himself with both hands over his head.

“I thought after that play, things were going to be pretty good today,” said pitcher Miguel Gonzalez, the recipient of the play.

It was only the beginning.

Cabrera’s relay throw home in the third inning led to a rundown that netted an out at the plate when Javy Baez made an ill-advised decision to go home. Then in the ninth, Cabrera recorded the first out, which slowed a game-tying rally, when he fired a perfect strike to second base to throw out Bryant stretching a single into a double.

Each time, Cabrera cheered for himself without shame.

“He’s probably his own best (cheering section), but we try to keep up with him,” said reliever Zach Duke, who often views Cabrera’s celebrations from the bullpen. “It’s great. His celebrations, they’re just truly heartfelt, truly spontaneous and he has such a good time playing the game we can’t help but join in and enjoy the moment.”

White Sox: Chris Sale discusses jersey-cutting incident, suspension

White Sox: Chris Sale discusses jersey-cutting incident, suspension

One day after being handed a five-game suspension, White Sox ace Chris Sale spoke exclusively to MLB.com's Scott Merkin about the incident that led to the suspension, his desire to win with the White Sox and his future with the team.

Below are Sale's quotes from Merkin's story, which can be found here:

-- "I want to win a championship in Chicago. That's been my goal from Day 1. It has never changed. I only get more passionate about it because I know that it's not easy winning a championship. There's a lot that goes into it.

"Our main focus should be winning. I know that every single player comes in ready to win every day. I can't speak on anybody else. ... I don't think I would be traded. I don't know for sure. I don't know what they are thinking now or what's going on."

-- "Nothing else matters really. People don't talk about the guys who get paid the most. They talk about the guys with the rings and teams that won the rings. Our guys in this clubhouse deserve, in every single game, the best opportunity to go achieve that goal of winning a championship. That's why we are all here. Nothing else matters."

-- "When I saw that there was something in the way of that 100 percent winning mentality, I had an issue," Sale said. "I tried to bring it up and say, 'Hey listen, these are my thoughts and concerns,' and they got pushed away because of the business deal that was set in place. I'll never understand why we need to do something on the business side on the field that might impede us winning a game.

"[The '76 uniforms] are uncomfortable and unorthodox. I didn't want to go out there and not be at the top of my game in every aspect that I need to be in. Not only that, but I didn't want anything to alter my mechanics. ... There's a lot of different things that went into it. Looking bad had absolutely zero to do with it. Nothing."

-- "I get you have to have the business side, and if you want us to take pictures with these things, whatever. If it's going to affect the style of play or the outcome of the game, I just thought that would be a no-brainer."

And below is a list of CSN's coverage of the Sale incident:

Chris Sale's suspension 'does not move the needle' regarding his value to White Sox

Chris Sale suspended five days by White Sox

Chris Sale will start Thursday against Cubs