They believe he has the proper tools and now its up to the White Sox to convince Dan Jennings he’s ready for primetime.
When they acquired the left-hander from the Miami Marlins in December, the White Sox could see the makings of a potential key piece to their bullpen -- albeit an untested one. Though Jennings entered the season with a 2.43 career ERA, he’s out of minor league options and only appeared in critical spots in 20 percent of his appearances.
While they made a few minor mechanical adjustments this spring and he’s added a two-seam fastball, the White Sox believe the biggest improvement would be improved confidence. The way manager Robin Ventura has employed Jennings in the first week -- twice in big spots -- has begun to give Jennings faith he’s the man for the job.
“It’s a great feeling knowing a manager can go to you in that situation and give him another option down there and bridge the gap,” Jennings said. “Knowing he has that confidence to give me the ball, it extends to me that confidence to go out there and do the job.”
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His 8.10 ERA might not indicate it, but Jennings has done exactly what the White Sox have asked in his three appearances this season.
On Sunday, he induced an inning-ending double play in the seventh from Oswaldo Arcia.
Jennings’ other big spot was Opening Day with the White Sox down three runs. He walked two (one intentionally), but Jennings also retired Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer and induced a potential inning-ending grounder off Alex Gordon’s bat only for his middle infielders to misplay it into a two-run single. Instead of a scoreless inning, Jennings allowed three earned runs.
But there’s more than enough there for him to build off of, said teammate and throwing partner Zach Duke.
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“I don't think Dan gives himself enough credit,” Duke said. “If you look at his track record in the big leagues, it's really good.
“He probably feels the way he does because he kind of fell victim to the business of baseball. He's probably one of the only guys who had options so he got shuffled between Triple-A and the big leagues no matter what his numbers were.
“He works his tail off, he's not complacent, he doesn't feel like he's good enough yet, which is great. But he's really good.”
Tall and athletic with a consistent 92-mph fastball, the White Sox think enough of Jennings that they traded Andre Rienzo to Miami in exchange. Pitching coach Don Cooper said the only mechanical change he’s made is to keep Jennings taller in his delivery.
Cooper likes Jennings’ slider and the addition of the two-seam fastball, a pitch developed this offseason and with which he has grown comfortable.
He wants Jennings to improve upon his career mark of 4.1 walks per nine innings and to become more effectively against lefties, who hit .291/.358/.403 against him while righties have a .237/.326/.384 slash.
But with the pieces in place, Cooper thinks those goals are attainable.
“We’re going to try to see if we can take him further,” Cooper said. “He’s got the equipment.
“Any time you can get a lefty that’s throwing 92, 93 with a good shape to the breaking ball and all he needs is more consistent strikes, well I think we’ve been OK getting guys like that and doing things with them.
“We’re fortunate to get an arm like that.”
Jennings feels just as good about his situation with the White Sox. While he’s not in position to take Duke’s setup role just yet, Jennings believes he’ll have plenty of chances to work in big spots. He intends to build the trust of Ventura and Cooper “over time,” he said.
“For me it's having confidence both ways -- knowing they have confidence in me and having me have confidence in myself, knowing they can put me out there in any situation and I'll go get people out,” Jennings said. “If they feel good about me that goes a long way because all of a sudden they can put me in those situations. As I long as I do my job the rest will take care of itself.”