White Sox

Palehosed adventures of lefty closers

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Palehosed adventures of lefty closers

Roger Angell in 1973 wrote in The New Yorker (via Neyer-James Guide to Pitchers):

Everything about Wilbur Wood is disarming. On the mound, he displays a comfortable expanse of tum and the stiffish-looking knees of a confirmed indoorsman, and thus resembles a left-handed accountant or pastry chef on a Sunday outing. Even the knuckler which he throws, sensibly, on nearly every pitch - looks almost modest, for it does not leap and quiver like Hoyt Wilhelm's old hooked trout.

Dave Letterman, in the mid 80s, once referred to Terry Forster as:

A big fat tub of goo; the fattest man in professional baseball.

Besides both seemingly being produced by the same pitcher factory (fat-ctory?) which produced the likes of David Wells, Bartolo Colon and Bobby Jenks, this pair of portly portsiders has something else in common: theyre the only White Sox lefties with 20 or more saves in a season. While similar in body type, they couldnt have been at further ends of the spectrum in terms of pitching repertoire.

Wilbur Wood was a big New Englander who had pitched limited innings with the Red Sox and Pirates from 1961-65. With the tutelage of Eddie Fisher and Hoyt Wilhelm, he transformed his knuckleball from a pet project into a legitimate weapon.

In 1968, he set a still-standing White Sox record with 88 appearances, and in 1970, he flicked flutterballs to the tune of a career-high 21 saves. It was the first time a Sox lefty reached the 20-save plateau. It was also the last time he pitched primarily in relief; Chuck Tanner took the reins as manager and didn't like his ninth innings peppered with passed balls and wild pitches from wayward knucklers.

Don't worry about Wilbur; he was just fine in the starting rotation. He averaged 22 wins and 348 innings over the next four seasons. When he logged 376 23 IP in 1972, you had to go back to the White Sox previous World Series championship season to find a higher total (the legendary Grover Cleveland Alexander's 388 for the 1917 Phillies).

Terry Forster was a fireballing phenom. In his age 20 season, the southpaw set a franchise record with 29 saves. Due to injuries as a starter, he was shuttled from the bullpen to the rotation and back to the bullpen, and in 1974 he won the AL Fireman of the Year award with his second season of 20 saves (24).

Forster had a remarkable knack for keeping the ball in the ballpark. In his 1972 breakout season, he pitched exactly 100 innings, surrendering not a single home run. The streak, including the end of 1971 and the beginning of 1973, ultimately covered a span of 137.2 innings. Since World War II, his career mark of 0.42 HR9IP is sixth=best among any pitcher with 1000 or more innings.

Forsters 1975 was decimated by elbow problems. Goose Gossage took over as closer; Forster came back to make two appearances after May 23, including one start (which ended after one inning), contributing to the second most left-handed collection of starting pitchers in Major League history. The 124 lefty starts by the 1975 White Sox (mostly Wood, Jim Kaat, and Claude Osteen) were the most by any team ever...except the 1983 Yankees.

Wood took a Ron LeFlore liner to the kneecap early in 1976; Forster and Gossage were both pressed into starting roles for the rest of the season. They combined for a 11-29 record and were both shipped to Pittsburgh after the season in exchange for Richie Zisk and Silvio Martinez. Wood was never the same again.

Since Wood and Forster roamed the mound at Comiskey Park, lefties were left out of the closer role for the Pale Hose. The last 24 seasons of 20 or more saves by a White Sox pitcher have all been by right-handers. Scott Radinsky and Damaso Marte each took turns in emergency roles as Bobby Thigpen thawed and Billy Koch got cooked, but neither held it down for an entire season.

In fact, since the save became an official statistic in 1969, 84.1 percent of all Major League 20-save seasons (612 of 728) have been by righties. With Billy Wagner's retirement, Brian Fuentes' role as a plan B to Andrew Bailey and Matt Thornton's inability to keep the closer role (0-4 in save opportunities), 2011 ended up the first season with no 20-plus save lefties since 1982.

With Sergio Santos departure to Canada, can Matt Thornton break the right-handed stranglehold on the White Sox closer role? But Jesse Crain and Addison Reed waiting in the wings in 2012, so itll be interesting to see how it all unfolds.

Volstad, Santiago show capability as rotation alternatives, but White Sox still have starting-pitching mystery this weekend

Volstad, Santiago show capability as rotation alternatives, but White Sox still have starting-pitching mystery this weekend

Chris Volstad and Hector Santiago combined for one of the best outings by a White Sox starting pitcher this season.

These weren’t the names anyone expected to fit that description when the season began. But with struggles all around from James Shields, Lucas Giolito, Miguel Gonzalez and Carson Fulmer, here the White Sox sit as they approach the one-month mark of the 2018 campaign.

Reynaldo Lopez has been excellent, no doubt about it, and Fulmer has turned in a couple nice outings, including in Monday’s win over the visiting Seattle Mariners. But against that same M’s lineup Tuesday afternoon, Volstad — who lasted 4.1 innings in a 1-0 loss — became the first White Sox starter this season not to issue a walk.

It was an important outing for Volstad, as well as for Santiago, who followed him up with 3.1 shutout innings of his own. The duo showed they’re both capable of serving as reliable fill-ins in a White Sox rotation that got a hole punched in it Monday, when Gonzalez went to the disabled list.

Shields, Giolito, Lopez, Fulmer. Those guys aren’t going anywhere. But should Gonzalez remain on the DL for an extended period of time, it doesn’t seem as if the White Sox need to be searching for options.

“Volstad and Hector both did a nice job. I thought they gave us plenty of outs, they gave us plenty of opportunity,” manager Rick Renteria said after Tuesday’s game.

But that doesn’t mean the South Siders are out of the starting-pitching woods for the remainder of this week. Shields will go in Wednesday’s finale with the Mariners. Giolito and Lopez are set to pitch in the first two games of a five-game road series against the Kansas City Royals on Thursday and Friday, respectively.

But Saturday presents a mystery, one that doesn’t seem to have an easy answer.

Thanks to that opening-weekend snow-out, there’s a doubleheader Saturday, and while Fulmer is in line to start one of those games, who will start the other? The White Sox will get a 26th man for that day, and that spot is typically given to a spot starter brought up from Triple-A. But given the White Sox current situation on the 40-man roster, there aren’t many options, meaning a player might need to be outrighted in order to make room for a spot starter.

Let’s get this out of the way first: It seems unlikely that Michael Kopech will make his major league debut in a spot start during an April doubleheader in Kansas City. Yes, Kopech has been good in his three starts with Charlotte, sporting a 2.40 ERA with 21 strikeouts. But he’s got just six total starts at the Triple-A level, and the White Sox have made it abundantly clear throughout the last several months that the necessities of the big league team during this rebuilding season and Kopech’s readiness for the majors are independent of one another.

It makes no sense to potentially cut short Kopech’s development at the Triple-A level because the big league rotation needs a spot starter.

The options, however, are limited.

Of the seven players who have started games for the Knights this season, two are on the big league roster right now (Volstad and Chris Beck), one is Kopech and one has a 9.75 ERA (T.J. House). One is on the 40-man roster, Ricardo Pinto, who made his first start at Charlotte on Tuesday. Pinto, though, would be on short rest Saturday.

The other two are Dylan Covey, who turned in a 7.71 ERA with the White Sox last season, and Donn Roach, who has made two career major league starts, most recently giving up four runs in 3.1 innings in a spot start for the Cubs in 2015. Covey and Roach have 2.95 and 1.88 ERAs at Charlotte, respectively. But the White Sox would need to make room on the 40-man roster to bring either up, even just for a day.

While it would be on “short rest,” perhaps the most logical option is just to start Volstad or Santiago on Saturday and start the other on Sunday. Tuesday, Volstad threw 66 pitches and Santiago threw 59 pitches, neither total approaching the qualification of a heavy workload, especially considering both veterans have plenty of starting experience under their belts.

Renteria talked about how well it worked using both guys in tandem Tuesday, but he might have to split them up to staff his rotation this weekend. It would also eliminate the need to remove someone from the 40-man roster. The White Sox could just bring up another bullpen arm as the 26th man, someone like Juan Minaya, who was on the Opening Day roster.

Renteria has already shown willingness to use his pitchers outside of the traditional “every fifth day” strategy. Shields and Fulmer both pitched in back-to-back games just last week. And Fulmer’s turn was moved up when Gonzalez went on the DL, pressing him into his third appearance in six days Monday.

The mystery likely won’t be solved, at least publicly, anytime soon. We’ll likely have to wait a few days to know for sure. Until then, it’s a guessing game.

White Sox Talk Podcast: Trayce Thompson - 'This is home'

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Trayce Thompson - 'This is home'

Drafted by the White Sox in 2009, Trayce Thompson never wanted to play for another team but the White Sox. 

All that changed in 2015 when he was dealt to the Dodgers in the Todd Frazier trade. Now back with the White Sox, Thompson talks with Chuck Garfien about the trials and tribulations of the last few years, the whirlwind of being on 4 teams in the last 4 weeks, how the White Sox threw him a lifeline bringing him back, how he wants to make the best of this new opportunity and more. 

Take a listen here or in the embedded player below.