The White Sox bullpen was saddled with its first loss of 2016 when leading after seven innings on Tuesday night and it was an ugly one.
They were due.
Scott Carroll, Zach Duke and Matt Albers combined to give back a late five-run lead in a 13-11 loss to the Texas Rangers in Arlington, Texas. Given their workload, particularly in a stretch where they’ve played 27 games in 28 days, a clunker for the White Sox bullpen was inevitable.
This one just happened to be painful.
Instead of looking for a second series sweep of the Rangers on Wednesday, the White Sox, who scored a season-high 11 runs Tuesday, face Cole Hamels with a series victory on the line.
“We’ve been using these guys a lot, and this is a game that you tip the cap,” Sox manager Robin Ventura told reporters in Texas. “They didn’t give up. … Just an off night, bullpen-wise. That’s going to happen in a long season.”
Dating back to April 12, the White Sox have played games on all but one day (May 2).
They’re 18-9 during the stretch. Of those 27 games, only nine have been decided by five or more runs, and in three of those, late runs helped the White Sox pull away.
In that span, White Sox relievers have pitched 78 1/3 innings, an average of 2.90 per game.
On the season, the team’s Average Leverage Index — a measurement for the pressure of each relief appearance — is ninth in the majors at 1.039. So while White Sox relievers are only 21st in innings pitched, they’re almost always pitching in games where a three-run homer can decide it one way or the other.
Same as any other manager in baseball, Ventura often talks about how it takes an entire roster plus a number of guys in the minors to manage a season. If you turn to the back end of your bullpen every day, eventually they’re going to burn out.
Since April 12th, David Robertson and Nate Jones, who both allowed runs in Monday’s win, have appeared in 11 games. Duke, who leads the majors in games pitched at 20, has appeared in 15 games. Albers has 12 and Zach Putnam has pitched in 10.
The White Sox are currently without Jake Petricka, who is on the disabled list, and Dan Jennings pitched two innings Monday.
That’s why Ventura opted for Carroll with a five-run lead — he can’t afford to lean that heavily on his core guys.
He picked a spot that gave his pitcher plenty of leeway for mistakes. And just like that, a five-run lead vanished.
You knew it would happen at some point.
But that won’t keep Ventura from trusting his guys again.
“As far as faith in these guys going forward, we have all that for them,” Ventura told reporters. “Tonight is just a tough night.”