Young arms in White Sox bullpen to be tested in Jones' absence

Young arms in White Sox bullpen to be tested in Jones' absence
April 6, 2014, 1:30 pm
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After a reoccurrence, the White Sox plan to handle Nate Jones’ injury the same way they have Gordon Beckham’s — with extreme caution.

What that means for the current club, however, is a lot of usage from rookies Maikel Cleto and Daniel Webb in spots where Jones might previously have pitched. On Saturday, the White Sox used Cleto to face Salvador Perez with two outs in the eighth inning, and the All-Star catcher doubled in the winning run.

With a club that figures to play in a lot of close games — the first five have all been decided by two runs or fewer — White Sox manager Robin Ventura must test his young relievers in high-leverage situations or he runs the risk of overusing veterans Matt Lindstrom and Ronald Belisario early in the season.

The White Sox are very high on the young, big arms in the bullpen.

The potential there is real.

But the White Sox have to figure out how to tap into and test that ability to figure out where their young arms will eventually fall in the hierarchy.

“It is untested,” Ventura said. “It is a little bit tricky on who you’re using when and where. We’re still figuring it out. ... You always like to use certain guys when you’re up, certain guys when you’re down. But we play a lot of close games, so there’s going to be quite a bit of going back and forth of who you’re going to use.”

[MORE: White Sox say Gordon Beckham's setback is minor]

The loss of Jones can’t be understated.

He averaged 74 2/3 innings over each of his first two seasons, and Ventura showed he isn’t afraid to use him in multiple innings. Per the baseball-reference.com play index, 38.5 percent of Jones’ 135 appearances the previous two seasons were considered high leverage. That figure would likely be even higher had Jones not begun his rookie season as the low man in the bullpen.

The White Sox are counting on Jones as a setup man. But with him out indefinitely with a strained left hip muscle, there are few defined roles beyond Lindstrom in the ninth and Jacob Petricka as the long reliever.

“We’re still trying to figure out just who is going to do what, especially with Nate going down for a little while now,” bullpen coach Bobby Thigpen said. “We have to move guys up and figure out who can do what innings. We’ve got some good arms, but they’re young and don’t have much experience and they have to figure it out for themselves to a degree.”

The White Sox have already determined that Cleto, who was claimed off waivers from the Royals on Feb. 26, and Webb could wind up taking on late-innings roles in the future. Webb has been a favorite of the staff for his makeup and an outstanding slider to accompany his four-seam fastball. Meanwhile, Cleto has long been determined to have big potential if he could clean up his delivery.

Though the bullpen has a 6.14 ERA in 14 2/3 innings, general manager Rick Hahn said the White Sox aren’t panicking. They’re in the same spot as a lot of other teams are.

“At this point, I think with any club, you tend to be feeling out for roles early in the season and see how guys match up,” Hahn said. “You still have Belisario and Lindstrom back there, and Nate’s absence sort of creates some opportunities for guys to fill the late-inning void when it arises.”