Mike Pelfrey was coming out of the game after five innings. Rick Renteria had determined that much hours earlier.
Even after the veteran right-hander held the visiting Boston Red Sox scoreless and to just two hits in five innings of work Wednesday night, Renteria was sticking to his game plan of lifting Pelfrey for a reliever.
Unfortunately, Anthony Swarzak surrendered four runs in the sixth inning, and the White Sox lost 4-1 to finish off a seven-game home stand at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“He gave us a solid five innings of work,” Renteria said after the game. “Got into the game today with our game plan already set up. He was going to give us five, hold them there and then we were going to hand it over to the bullpen, basically. Unfortunately it didn't work out for us in that particular inning.”
It might not have mattered, really, as batters have done an awful lot of damage against Pelfrey when facing him for the third time in a game, entering Wednesday with a .556 batting average in the third plate appearance. That’s an insane jump compared to the .220 and .143 averages in the first and second plate appearances, respectively.
And you can’t blame anyone for having confidence in Swarzak, who had allowed just three runs on the season coming into this one. Eighteen of Swarzak’s first 19 appearances this year were scoreless ones, hence the lack of concern in handing him a 1-0 lead.
But the Red Sox did their damage, with back-to-back one-out singles in the sixth followed by an intentional walk to load the bases. Swarzak got the ground ball he wanted, but the White Sox couldn’t come up with an inning-ending double play. The tying run scored on that play, and the go-ahead run scored on Pablo Sandoval’s base hit. Christian Vazquez then smacked a double into the gap and boosted the lead to 4-1 with a pair of RBIs.
“I feel like I made some quality pitches, but at the same time I didn’t put guys away when I had the opportunity to,” Swarzak said. “I’m trying not to think about it too much, obviously. The results weren’t there. It’s extremely unfortunate because I really believe that if I throw up a zero right there, we’re going to go on to win that game 1-0. That wasn’t the case, some balls fell in and couldn’t put the ball past somebody when I really needed to. The result was four runs.”
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While hindsight often criticizes unfairly, you can’t help but wonder what might have been had Pelfrey stayed in the game.
It was just three starts ago against the Los Angeles Angels that Pelfrey couldn’t get out of the fifth and gave up four runs in that game. But Wednesday’s effort marked his third straight strong performance. His five scoreless innings Wednesday followed five innings of one-run ball against the Detroit Tigers on Saturday and six innings of one-run ball against the Seattle Mariners on May 20. Pelfrey has a 1.13 ERA and 15 strikeouts in his last three starts.
For the man himself, 12 years in the big leagues have taught him to listen to the man in the managerial chair.
“I just look at it, my job is to give it everything I have until you come take the ball,” Pelfrey said. “Obviously he’s the boss and he felt good about it. We’re on the same team, we’re trying to win games. And Swarzak’s been great all year. Had some bad luck there with some flares and stuff. I didn’t try to talk him out of it. I felt fine. But I guess he thought that was enough, and that was enough.
“When I was a lot younger, I definitely didn’t like coming out of the game and always had something to say. Maybe that’s a little selfish. I know that in Anaheim he left me in there, and it ended up costing us. I just go out there and give you whatever I have until you say enough’s enough and move on. I feel pretty good about that situation every time you hand the ball over to Swarzak, as good as he’s been. Unfortunately he just had some bad luck.”
Of course, the White Sox offense didn’t help any of its pitchers out Wednesday. After pushing across a run in the second inning against Red Sox starter Drew Pomeranz, the White Sox couldn’t do much of anything against him the rest of the night. Pomeranz stranded seven runners in his seven innings of work as the White Sox bats fell completely silent after getting back-to-back singles to lead off the home half of the sixth. The final 12 hitters of the game were put down in order.
So while Renteria might have gotten some second-guessing for his pregame plan Wednesday, remember that the offense didn’t hold up its end of the expected bargain.
“I think all our pitchers, I'm hoping, will continue to extend their usage,” Renteria explained. “It also depends on the availability of our ‘pen. If you're able to shorten your ‘pen, you can't do it all the time because then you're using your ‘pen all the time. You have to be able to give those guys opportunities to go out there and eat up some innings.
“The caveat to that is on the offensive side we give them some room to be able to work and allow then to get back out there and give you another inning or two.”
Wednesday’s loss ended the White Sox once-promising home stand at a mere 4-3, a stretch that doesn’t look quite as good as it did ahead of Tuesday’s game, when the South Siders entered the matchup with former teammate Chris Sale at 4-1 on the stay.
But there are positives that are clear to see, the latest being Pelfrey’s string of solid performances.
"I feel good about where I'm at,” Pelfrey said. “I feel good about my off-speed pitches, I think they're probably better than they've ever been. But as I said, I've thrown a lot more than I ever have. I just want to get a little deeper into games and I've got to find a way to be a little more efficient to be able to do that. That's my next goal.”