White Sox believe bullpen can be major strength

White Sox believe bullpen can be major strength
February 16, 2013, 4:45 pm
Share This Post

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It’s easy to detect the pride in Matt Lindstrom’s voice when he discusses the impressive performance of the Baltimore Orioles' bullpen last season.

For five months, the new White Sox reliever was an integral piece of a unit that propelled Baltimore to an American League wild card spot as they controlled nearly every close contest they played.

The key ingredients to a relief corps that helped the Orioles reach their first postseason since 1997 -- or any good bullpen for that matter -- are chemistry and a singular mindset, Lindstrom said.

Though camp only opened Sunday, Lindstrom -- who in January signed a one-year deal worth at least $2.8 million -- believes the White Sox have similar potential. Whereas the unit was limited on experience in 2012, the development of young arms and a mix of veterans with strong track records and good personalities have the White Sox bullpen primed for a big season, perhaps one which will lead to the team’s first postseason appearance since 2008.

“We were out in the bullpen, not really trying to pump each other up, but trying to keep it light and cool,” Lindstrom said. “Every time we came into a close game it was ‘make sure you get those three outs’ and hand the ball to the next guy. I think we have the group down here to do that as well.”

Lindstrom’s optimism is shared throughout the complex at Camelback Ranch.

General manager Rick Hahn believes the club has the potential for an elite pitching staff. Bullpen coach Bobby Thigpen has said his group can be the best in the majors.

The foundation for the positivity comes from last season’s group and the 3.75 ERA it posted even though nine rookies appeared in games and three -- Addison Reed, Nate Jones and Hector Santiago -- played featured roles.

Reed converted 29 of 33 saves, Jones had a 2.39 ERA in 71 appearances and Santiago (3.33 ERA) handled himself well in a variety of roles. Donnie Veal also established himself as a potential left-handed specialist.

Their experience has instilled confidence in the managerial staff that was absent at the start of 2012. Left-hander Matt Thornton’s early workload -- 26 appearances in the team’s first 51 games -- aptly demonstrates Ventura’s early lack of faith in his rookies, something the manager doesn’t expect to be the same this season.

“Matty got used probably more than you would have liked to because you weren’t sure what was going to happen,” Ventura said. “And then you start seeing the progression of Nate and Hector and Addison and after that it was different by the middle of the year. But early on, you’re kind of putting them out there and seeing what you’re going to get.”

[Related: Thornton looks to keep rolling for White Sox]

What the White Sox discovered is a wealth of talent to add to Thornton (who has a 3.25 ERA in seven seasons here), Jesse Crain (130 strikeouts in 113 1/3 innings the last two seasons) and Lindstrom, who has a 3.14 ERA or better in four of six seasons.

Jones’ fastball averages 97.6 mph, according to Fangraphs.com. Reed’s fastball averages 94.6 mph, Veal’s curveball has proven difficult for left-handed hitters to pick up and Santiago’s five-pitch mix includes a screwball.

“We’re more established,” Crain said. “We know what to expect. We have a piece for everything pretty much, it seems like, and it’s exciting. It’s going to be fun to be a part of this bullpen.”

The depth of reliable arms is something Hahn stressed early and throughout the offseason.

Hahn knows how much last year’s relief corps benefited from the July 23 arrival of Brett Myers, who appeared in 35 of the final 67 games, often in high-leverage situations. Knowing Myers wanted to return to a starting rotation and would leave via free agency, Hahn began a search to replace him that ended with the Jan. 25 signing of Lindstrom, whom Hahn believes profiles well for U.S. Cellular Field. Now the White Sox have plenty of choices for Ventura.

“You have multiple options available on a given day that can fill various roles,” Hahn said. “We again have four guys we feel who are strong power arms who can do things for us. It was certainly a priority this offseason to make sure we remained strong. Lindstrom’s a nice fit. He’s a veteran guy who can kind of calm that back end.”

[Related: Crain won't be affected by WBC]

The team’s bullpen depth also acts as insurance in the case of health issues.

With the uncertainty surrounding John Danks, Jake Peavy’s previous injury history and both Chris Sale and Jose Quintana coming off sharp increases in their workload, some are skeptical about the rotation’s endurance.

But with a full stable of relievers, the White Sox theoretically can work around any potential issues.

Last season, Orioles relievers thrived even though they averaged 3 1/3 innings per game and had only one starter pitch more than 118 innings. Five Baltimore relievers had more than 55 innings pitched with ERAs of 2.64 or better and the group combined to go 32-11 with 55 saves.

Along with a 29-9 record in one-run games, including 13 straight victories from June 20 to Aug. 31, Baltimore was also 16-2 in extra innings.

Much of the credit for the team’s surprising play goes to the bullpen.

“Baseball’s recognized that if you don’t have five starters that are horses and can go eight innings at a time, then yeah you’re probably going to need a bullpen that is going to be able to pick up the slack and keep it where it’s at,” Thornton said. “You just see that change going and it’s so frustrating when a bullpen gives up a lead, especially when it’s a three-or-four-run lead. That’s tough for a team to swallow.”

The White Sox contend talent isn’t all they possess among those in the relief corps. Even though Crain and Thornton are intense competitors, they’ve been described as quality characters. Reed agrees with Lindstrom, who can already tell he appreciates the laid back nature of his fellow relievers.

“Everybody’s having fun out there, keeping it light,” Reed said. “Jesse’s intense, but he’s sneaky funny. He’s real sarcastic. Matt (Thornton) is goofy. We have a good bunch. There’s not just one guy that everybody goes after; everybody goes after everybody. It’s fun down there.”

The unit definitely has the potential to carry their enjoyment onto the mound. As the longest tenured member of the bullpen, Thornton, who has been here since 2006, believes the White Sox possibly have one of their best groups over that period.

“We all had great years at one time or another,” Thornton said. “It’s a matter of going out there and putting it together as a group.”

Lindstrom’s looking for a repeat of last year’s performance and feels the ingredients are already in place. It’s part of the reason he repeatedly asked his agent about the White Sox throughout his stint as a free agent. He sees the makings of a good, solid bullpen.

“What we did last year with the Orioles was pretty impressive,” Lindstrom said. “Usually by the fourth or fifth inning everyone (was) locked in. We just tried to hand the ball to the next guy, that’s the mindset we had. If we do that this year, everything will be good.”

White Sox notes

-- Outfielder Dayan Viciedo arrived at camp on Saturday as did prospect Carlos Sanchez. Only shortstop Alexei Ramirez, outfielder Alejandro De Aza and minor-league Tyler Saladino have yet to report. All are expected in camp by Sunday, when the team will hold its first full-squad workout.

-- Manager Robin Ventura said he plans to use his regulars early in the exhibition season but will give them more days off in between to account for a longer spring schedule.