White Sox

Depth and dominance: White Sox bullpen off to another hot start

Depth and dominance: White Sox bullpen off to another hot start

As Zach Putnam sees it, the White Sox bullpen is afflicted in the best possible way early this season.

One after the other, White Sox relievers have delivered dominance from a variety of arm angles. Similar to last April, the White Sox bullpen is off to a scorching start with a 1.41 earned-run average through 14 games, third-best in the majors. Over 44 2/3 innings, White Sox relievers have struck out 54 batters.

Though it's hard to imagine any team sustaining this level of production, the White Sox potentially have a deeper pool of relievers to work with to help them avoid their 2016 dropoff. But it's that same depth that also could have opposing general managers flocking to the White Sox in order to remedy their bullpen issues this summer.

"It’s kind of a contagious thing like hitting," Putnam said. "You've got top of the order getting hits and getting on base and the guys just kind of fall in line. That's kind of of how it has gone here. We've got guys that know their role, and they're doing a great job coming in and getting outs and eating up a lot of innings, too. We've had some guys with some pretty heavy workloads and everybody's doing their jobs.

"There's no weak spots, top to bottom."

The White Sox are several months into the franchise's first rebuild in 20 years.

You wouldn't know it by looking at the back end of the bullpen, which is more suited for a team trying to contend.

While closer David Robertson hasn't pitched at an elite level in his first two seasons, he still has converted on 75 of his 89 save opportunities (84 percent) and is off to an excellent start in 2017. Considered readily available on the trade block, Robertson has converted all four save chances this season and struck out 11 batters in 5 2/3 innings.

Nate Jones' success — 112 strikeouts versus 26 walks in 96 innings since returning from Tommy John surgery — also has caught the eye of scouts around the league, many of whom believe he could become a closer if the White Sox were to trade Robertson. Lefty Dan Jennings also is viewed by scouts as a potentially attractive option as he has shown marked improvement in his splits against left-handed hitters in two-plus seasons with the White Sox.

But it's the front end of the group that has given the White Sox a stronger, deeper bullpen so far in 2017.

Less than a year after he had bone chips removed from his right elbow, Putnam, 29, is healthy again and his split-fingered fastball is dancing to the tune of 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings. He's whiffed nine batters in eight scoreless innings.

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Tommy Kahnle — who has 12 strikeouts and one walk in 5 2/3 innings this season — appears to have retained the lessons he learned about command late in 2016. After walking 14 batters and striking out seven in his first 11 1/3 innings with the White Sox, Kahnle has been outstanding. Since Aug. 11, 2016, Kahnle has 30 strikeouts and only seven walks in his 21 2/3 innings with a 0.83 ERA.

And veteran Anthony Swarzak is throwing as hard as he has in his career, his fastball averaging nearly 95 mph. So far Swarzak has six strikeouts and six scoreless frames.

"Good group of arms," Robertson said. "Everybody's getting a lot of opportunities and it seems like a lot of guys have really found their niche.

"You're seeing a whole bunch of different looks. We've got a lot of right-handed arms, power arms, but just different looks. Everybody throws the ball differently. Hitters see it differently.

"That's all it takes in baseball to get guys out."

Putnam said it's a combination of good communication from the coaching staff and the foundation at the back end of the 'pen that has aided the strong start. With Robertson in the ninth and Jones the primary setup man, the rest of the group has a good idea of what its role is.

That has led to plenty of belief in the bullpen.

"It doesn't matter who's trotting out, I think the coaching staff and the team has confidence in whoever comes out of that door," Putnam said. "I think a lot of that too is guys understanding their role and their job and what is expected of them. We're always on call and always ready. But knowing what situations to be extra ready for so that you're not caught off guard is huge."

The bullpen's performance has been critical early as it has allowed the White Sox to work around a poor overall showing by the offense. Despite ranking 13th in the American League in runs scored, the White Sox have played .500 baseball because of their dominant bullpen. And while it could one day be picked apart by opposing GMs, for now the team's relief core has made life easier for manager Rick Renteria.

"It's been really nice," Renteria said. "Obviously those guys have emerged being very effective. Hopefully it continues. It's one of those things as we continue to move forward, we have to continue to play clean baseball and we give ourselves a chance to stay in a ballgame. Anything can happen late, and if we have the guys in the pen — that's been working very, very well for us."

White Sox Talk Podcast: 'Searching for a safe space in Cubslandia'

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: 'Searching for a safe space in Cubslandia'

With the Cubs back in the NLCS, White Sox fans have had to deal with another post-season of Cubs this and Cubs that. How does one escape it? Diehard White Sox fan John Kass of the Chicago Tribune comes on the podcast to talk with Chuck Garfien about his recent column entitled "Searching for a safe space in Cubslandia." Kass talks about how he's dealing with the Cubs success and how White Sox fans can find this safe space. He tells the story about taking the White Sox World Series trophy into a Chicago Tribune board meeting in 2005 to rub it in the faces of the Trib's executives who were all Cubs fans.  

Kass talks about how he watches the Cubs in the playoffs, the Chicago media coverage of their playoff run and how Cubs fans will react if they don't repeat as champions. Garfien and Kass also discuss the White Sox rebuild, the Cubs losing in 2003 and why Kass will be calling Cubs Pre and Post host David Kaplan in the middle of the night if and when the Cubs are eliminated.  

White Sox mourn passing of former pitcher Daniel Webb

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USA TODAY

White Sox mourn passing of former pitcher Daniel Webb

Former White Sox pitcher Daniel Webb died at the age of 28 in an ATV accident on Saturday night, according to Humphreys County Sheriff Chris Davis.

Davis called it a “tragic accident, and we should rally around the family.”

Webb, a Paducah, Ky. native, was with the White Sox from 2013-16 and went 7-5 with a 4.50 ERA.

The White Sox released this statement:

Daniel left many friends within the Chicago White Sox organization, and we are all shocked and stunned by the news of last night's terrible accident. He was a terrific young man with a full life ahead of him. All thoughts and prayers go to his family and friends as they deal with today's tragic news.