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Confidence scheme: White Sox hope to convince Dan Jennings he's ready

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Confidence scheme: White Sox hope to convince Dan Jennings he's ready

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.

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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.”

What will Steve Cishek's role be with White Sox? 'Get three outs, any inning'

What will Steve Cishek's role be with White Sox? 'Get three outs, any inning'

It's safe to say the White Sox wanted to add Steve Cishek to their bullpen.

"According to my agent, within five minutes after the World Series, the White Sox called and expressed some interest," Cishek said Wednesday. "So when you get a call that soon, you know the team is up to something. Then of course with what they did this offseason, it made signing here very intriguing."

So what will Cishek's role be at the back end of that bullpen? For the newest member of the South Side relief corps, it's really not that difficult.

"I would assume it would be the same as it was with the Cubs," he said. "Get three outs, any inning."

Cishek is aboard to bolster that back end, one that heads into 2020 with some concrete names but some mystery, as well. Alex Colome will be the team's closer after racking up 126 saves over the past four seasons, and Aaron Bummer figures to be a frequent presence in the eighth inning of games after posting a 2.13 ERA last season.

Cishek was extraordinarily reliable for Joe Maddon and the Cubs in his two seasons on the North Side, with a 2.55 ERA in a whopping 150 appearances, many of them coming in high-leverage situations.

While Evan Marshall and Jimmy Cordero will start the season as options for Rick Renteria in high-leverage situations, too, that pair doesn't have quite the track record of Cishek. With Rick Hahn quick to remind about the volatility of relief pitching from one year to the next, adding a dependable arm in Cishek is an important complement to what the White Sox already had in the 'pen.

"I am fortunate enough now that we have guys that have all been at the back end of a ballgame and have had success in that particular role," Renteria said Wednesday. "I've got flexibility now and strength and hopefully having guys being able to take advantage of high-leverage situations. I use a guy two, three, four days (in a row), it's nice to have another guy I can probably slot in there to be able to do things like that. I have a little bit more flexibility right now."

Cishek's contributions on the pitcher's mound will obviously be of great import, but like every other veteran addition the White Sox have made this winter, he's also expected to do plenty in the clubhouse. While the Cubs teams he was a part of played in just one postseason game the past two seasons, he's no stranger to dealing with big expectations. The White Sox have those now after years of rebuilding, and Cishek should be able to help guide the players new to such an environment.

"With expectations, as long as we stay together as a team we can accomplish a lot," Cishek said. "A lot of the guys we've brought in have been through the fire. As a matter of fact, most of the guys have played in the playoffs the last four or five seasons even. So they have the playoff experience. They know what it takes to win and get to that level, and I think that's going to bode well for these young guys to see how they work, how us older veteran guys get after it and hopefully follow suit.

"I think we can teach these guys how to win."

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White Sox Talk Podcast: The person making the boldest White Sox predictions

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: The person making the boldest White Sox predictions

Chuck Garfien is joined by the man who predicted a White Sox division title for the 2020 season before the Sox made any moves, Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com. Castrovince also discusses his other bold White Sox predictions and why he's making them.

(2:48) - Why Castrovince selected the Sox to win the AL central

(7:03) - Why Castrovine selected Rick Renteria as AL Manager of the Year

(9:56) - Yoan Moncada will challenge Mike Trout for AL MVP

(12:43) - Will Luis Robert win Rookie of the Year

(13:54) - Why the Padres missed and the White Sox won last winter on Manny Machado

(18:57) - Was the Astro punishment enough?

(23:30) - For the love of Bruce Springsteen

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: