Thigpen thinks White Sox bullpen can be best in baseball

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Thigpen thinks White Sox bullpen can be best in baseball

Bobby Thigpen has his sights set high for the White Sox bullpen this season.

Thigpen, the teams new bullpen coach, said Thursday he believes the South Siders relief corps has a chance to rank at the top of the league.

With a mix of talented young pitchers and veterans, Thigpen doesnt see why the unit cant improve upon last season. The White Sox return Addison Reed, Nate Jones, Donnie Veal, Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain and, depending on his role, Hector Santiago. The team also agreed to sign veteran Matt Lindstrom last weekend with an announcement expected this weekend at Sox Fest.

How good can the group be? Best in baseball, I think, Thigpen said. We got some young guys. Weve got a couple older guys that I think helped them a lot last year, having Matt and Jesse there. Were going to look for them to give them that role and then hopefully I can do my part and help the young guys come along like they should.

Theres plenty to like with Jones, Veal and Reed.

Jones improved as the season progressed, accruing a 1.64 ERA and five wins over his final 32 appearances. Veal became a nightmare for opposing left-handed hitters, who went 3-for-32 against him with 14 strikeouts. And even though Reed struggled in non-save situations, he never relinquished his closer job and set a team rookie-record with 29 saves in the process.

Its a confidence builder, Thigpen said. They got to make the adjustments to stay here. And thats what theyll be looking at this year, to add to what they did last year, along with their stuff, maybe change a few things in order to. Everyone has scouting reports and now theyve seen them for a full year and now they have an idea of what they got. Now its up to them to make an adjustment to give them a different look and keep improving and have another good year.

Reed showed off some of the confidence gained on Thursday in between calls to season-ticket holders. With a season of experience, the right-hander, who converted 29 of 33 save attempts, said he can focus on his job rather than just making the 25-man roster.

40 or 45 saves, Reed said. Thats my goal this year. I mean, last year it was making the team. I still feel like I have to fight for that closers spot. By no means do I think I have that position on lock. Ill try to get that spot out of spring training and after that just try to get as many saves as possible.

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