Jake Petricka made the pitches he wanted, but still found himself in a jam Friday night.
The right-hander allowed three hits to begin the ninth inning while holding a three-run lead. He couldn't field Brian Dozier's comebacker, Trevor Plouffe legged out an infield single and Josh Willingham singled up the middle to load the bases with nobody out, bringing the go-ahead run to the plate.
Petricka didn't deviate from his plan, though— which manager Robin Ventura saw as an encouraging sign for the 26-year-old.
"Going out to talk to him this is a different kid mentality-wise than he was last year the first time he came in," Ventura said. "He’s confident out there, he knows what he’s doing. I think even to pound the zone the way he did, we’re pretty impressed with where he’s at right now."
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Petricka said his mindset hasn't changed while climbing the bullpen ladder from long relief to setup to closing duties. He's not tying to strike everyone out — he went through that phase, and it led to quite a few walks — and instead he works to attack opposing hitters and induce weak contact.
If the strikeouts come — he had two to end Friday night's game — he'll certainly take them. But in trying to keep the ball on the ground, Petricka feels he's well-equipped to limit late-game damage. A home run would've been a killer on Friday, but instead Petricka got a groundout and then those two strikeouts to earn his seventh save of the year.
"The key is not to give in to the hitters," Petricka said. "Make them hit the ball, don't give them that 2-0 count to let them drive something. You keep on the attack no matter bases loaded or not, they'll feel a little defensive."
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With Zach Putnam and Matt Lindstrom still on the mend, Petricka has had closing duties to himself for the last week. It's a good opportunity to establish himself as a solid closing option for the White Sox, but Petricka said he's not treating his role any differently than he would if he were pitching in the sixth, seventh or eighth innings.
And because of that approach, Petricka's transition to the ninth inning has been relatively smooth.
"I think it just helps that I had a good mindset when I was in that middle, long relief," Petricka said. "Just attack every hitter like it's your last hitter. These outings are the exact same, at least the way I start them."