Jacob Petricka is still pretty inexperienced at this whole closer thing.
He’s so new in fact that the White Sox haven’t even officially given him the title. Instead they seem to be moseying along in experimental mode with the rookie, hopeful he succeeds as he learns on the job without the additional pressure of the ninth-inning label.
Five days after he blew a save in San Francisco, Petricka appeared as if he was in line for another rough outing on Sunday afternoon. But he instead escaped a bases-loaded jam and the White Sox held on for a 7-5 win over the Toronto Blue Jays at U.S. Cellular Field. Petricka’s save was his team-leading ninth in 12 tries and converted a victory for Scott Carroll (5-7).
“You don't want to see him fall behind like he did with (Jose) Bautista and (Edwin) Encarnacion, but he at least battled back,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “That's the biggest thing: he continues to attack and it's a good boost for him to be able to go through that. I think most closers are going to go through that. It's a tight wire act every time a guy goes out there.”
The White Sox bullpen has had more than its share of difficulties this season.
With Addison Reed traded and Nate Jones and Matt Lindstrom injured, the White Sox have had to install a lot of new faces in difficult spots normally assigned to trusted relievers.
It has thrust Ventura into a game of chance this season more times than he’d care to admit as he determines who might be able to get the job that day. Headed into Sunday’s game, White Sox relievers had blown 18 of 44 saves in 2014.
While the bullpen is an area general manager Rick Hahn knows he must address before next season, the one silver lining from the difficulties of 2014 is the chance to audition young pitchers in tight spots.
Petricka has been one of the bright spots, though he struggled Sunday.
Holding a two-run lead into the ninth, Petricka walked Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion with one. Danny Valencia followed with a single to left to load the bases.
But unlike Tuesday, when Petricka blew his save opportunity, this time he endured. First he got Colby Rasmus to fly out to shallow left field before he induced a groundout off pinch-hitter Nolan Reimold’s at-bat. Just as quickly as the game appeared to be in peril it was over with Petricka’s outing a success.
“I got lucky tonight walking consecutive batters,” Petricka said. “You can never do that. I got lucky and made the pitches after that and got the outs I needed.
“It’s really just not putting too much pressure on the situation. It’s the same game of you want to put a zero up. Just put your zero up.
“Last time in San Fran, it was singles all over the park that blew it. Tonight it would have been my walks but I was able to remember: pitch to contact and get the weak contact.
“We are all here for a reason. We can pitch here. We have to remember that when the situation is tough.”
Jordan Danks, who homered along with Conor Gillaspie (grand slam) as part of a six-run first inning that carried the White Sox to victory, previously played with Petricka at Triple-A Charlotte in 2013. He’s seen enough to know the key is for Petricka to trust his arsenal, which includes a 98-mph fastball.
“He has great stuff,” said Danks, who finished with three RBIs. “When he throws strikes, he’s pretty dangerous.”
The situations he’ll face in this trial aren’t going to get any easier. But Ventura said it doesn’t matter if Petricka is inexperienced or not, the job is always complicated. It just depends on how Petricka stands up to the task.
“Most of the time you're going to see the tying run come to the plate or the winning run come to the plate,” Ventura said. “You just have to be able to handle it.
“I think every closer ever, you expect stuff like that. I don't think it has anything to do with a guy being young. There are guys that have done it a long time and it's the same way. It's a tough role. It's unforgiving, and there are a lot of things that go in it where it doesn't matter if you're young or old.”