Opening for closer with White Sox
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) The Chicago White Sox thought they’d have a handle on the identity of their new closer by now.
When Addison Reed and his 40 saves were dealt to Arizona, it created an opening, and there were to be no shortage of candidates. However, it has been a rocky spring so far for most of them.
Nate Jones missed time early due to injury. Matt Lindstrom, who has the most experience in the job, also has battled an oblique strain, a first in his eight-year career. Rookie Daniel Webb missed a week after a death in his family.
Ronald Belisario, brought in as a free agent to compete for a late-inning spot, had a lengthy delay in acquiring a visa to leave Venezuela. Another free-agent addition, Mitchell Boggs, is trying to erase memories of a dreadful 2013.
Coming off a 99-loss season, the White Sox bullpen still has more questions than answers as the March 31 season opener against Minnesota draws near.
”We’ve been operating a little bit without Jones and Lindstrom. Belisario wasn’t here. But now things are starting to come together,” pitching coach Don Cooper said.
All are back in action now with the exception of Lindstrom, who won’t appear in a game again for a few days as a precaution. Belisario has thrown bullpen sessions and is scheduled for his first game outing later in the week.
”I like that everybody’s here. That makes me feel a lot better,” manager Robin Ventura said. ”We’re getting a better idea of what guys can do. The idea down here is to get ready and you get an opportunity to see them.”
Jones, perhaps a leading candidate to close with his 100-mph fastball, didn’t appear in a game until Saturday because of an injury. After his outing, Jones, 28, seems to be back on his regular program and is definitely in line for the ninth-inning role.
”Everybody’s kind of making a big deal of it,” he said of the openings in the bullpen. ”We got a little competition going. It’s all good competition. We’re not rooting against each other. We’re rooting for each other. Let us decide where we’ll fall into place.”
Most of the relievers were surprised by the trade of Reed.
”It made a little bit of difference,” Lindstrom said. ”Especially when you see guys like Grant Balfour and Fernando Rodney getting chances later on their career to close. This is a chance for me. Not that anyone liked seeing Addison go. He got a chance to close in his first year in the big leagues; that’s almost unheard of.”
Lindstrom saved 23 games for Houston in 2010, which doesn’t hurt him in the competition.
”It doesn’t necessarily give him the lead, but you know he’s been in that situation and he’s handled it, so that’s a good thing,” Ventura said.
Belisario and Boggs come in as free agents. Belisario, 31, arrives from the Dodgers, where he had a 3.97 ERA in 68 innings. He pronounced himself ready when he arrived at Camelback Ranch on Saturday, and pitching coach Cooper agreed after watching Belisario’s bullpen session that morning. His first game action is scheduled for Thursday.
As for Boggs, his offseason was a blessing after a 2013 season to forget. After beginning the season as the Cardinals’ closer after Jason Motte was injured, the 30-year-old struggled to an 8.10 ERA, was sent to the minors and eventually landed with the Colorado Rockies.
”It was an extremely trying year for me from the beginning to the end,” Boggs said. ”It was nice to take a break and recharge. I was as motivated this offseason as I’ve ever been.”
Scott Downs, the only left-hander in the group, made his spring debut on Saturday. The 37-year-old posted a 2.49 ERA in 43 innings last year with the Angels and Braves. He doesn’t figure to be in the closer mix, but has been used as a specialist against left-handed batters, and along with Lindstrom serves as the leaders of the bullpen.
Downs ended his season on Atlanta’s NL East champions, but he is familiar with what the White Sox experienced in 2013.
”Once you sit around talking to guys, you realize how bad last year actually was for them, physically, mentally, on the field,” he said. ”We’re here to help, hopefully change that a little bit, turn last year around.”