DETROIT — One right-hander is on the mend and another has found his groove.
Those developments could provide a significant boost to a White Sox bullpen, which is already out to a good start.
With the addition of Jake Petricka, who should be activated off the 15-day disabled list on Monday, and a return to form by Zach Putnam, the White Sox relief corps promises to feature a more balanced feel with strong options from both the right and left sides.
“With the job the lefties have done so far and getting Jake back and having Putty, it’s another compliment to the ‘pen,” bullpen coach Bobby Thigpen said. “Hopefully we can get things rolling and keep putting up a lot of zeroes and we’ll feel a lot better about ourselves.”
Closer David Robertson has been lights out since he put on a White Sox uniform with eight strikeouts in four scoreless innings and two saves. But beyond him, manager Robin Ventura and pitching coach Don Cooper have leaned on lefties Zach Duke and Dan Jennings in tight spots.
The train of thought has been that the new trio would compliment Putnam and Petricka, who combined to convert 20 of 25 saves last season. The plan has been slow to form so far because of Petricka’s sore right forearm and Putnam’s early struggles.
But Petricka — who was spotted flying to Chicago from Triple-A Charlotte on Sunday morning — has posted two scoreless innings on a rehab and Putnam has flourished in his last two games, retiring all six batters with two strikeouts.
Prior to Wednesday in Cleveland, Putnam struggled with command of his cutter and even his best pitch, the split-fingered fastball. He allowed five hits and five runs (four earned) in his first two games.
“The results were pretty indicative of that,” Putnam said. “But now I feel like everything is kind of together, feeling good, like I’m in familiar territory from last year. The way that I was attacking guys (Saturday), it just reminded of last year, which I think is where everyone wants me to be.”
The White Sox would love to have the Putnam of old as he posted a 1.98 ERA in 54 2/3 innings last season. Right-handed hitters had a .468 OPS against Putnam but he even pitched well against lefties, who had a .623 OPS.
Throw in Petricka who induced 12 double plays, led all rookies with 14 saves and had a 2.96 ERA in 73 innings, and the White Sox feel better about their depth.
“They were pretty good for us,” Ventura said. “You see the stuff that Put did last year, he’s good either way for right or lefty. It’s important to have that righty that can come in and get lefties in case you have to stay away from your own lefties.”
Thigpen and Putnam believe the reliever is more dialed in because he has his split-fingered fastball in great shape.
Putnam admits he perhaps focused more on command of the fastball and cutter during spring and the split needed to catch up. But seven of his last nine split-fingered fastballs have been swung at with three whiffs, two fouls and two ground balls, according to brooksbaseball.net.
In his other two games, Putnam gave up two singles on splitters.
“We have the potential to be really, really, really good,” Putnam said. “We won’t know how that shakes out until we have everybody together. The options, just the ability to do different things that we weren’t able to do last year with some of the pieces we have now, it has to be exciting for Robin and Coop.”