Bruce Rondon

White Sox DFA Bruce Rondon and bring up former Phillies closer Jeanmar Gomez

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White Sox DFA Bruce Rondon and bring up former Phillies closer Jeanmar Gomez

The White Sox made a long-awaited move in their bullpen Wednesday, designating the struggling Bruce Rondon for assignment and bringing Jeanmar Gomez up from Triple-A.

Gomez has been the subject of many queries this season as he's put up fantastic numbers in a relief role at Charlotte, with a 2.02 ERA in 40 innings of work. Given the White Sox 4.49 bullpen ERA heading into Wednesday's game against the St. Louis Cardinals, it's been a wonder to a number of social-media using fans why Gomez wasn't added to the relief corps sooner.

Gomez was one of several veteran relievers signed to minor league contracts over the winter, players who looked like ideal sign-and-flip candidates after Rick Hahn's front office traded away so many relievers last summer. Rondon, as well as the currently succeeding Xavier Cedeno, fell into the same category. You could look at the trade that brought in Joakim Soria and Luis Avilan, both potential trade candidates, as a similar move.

Gomez has relatively recent closing experience, saving 37 games for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2016. But he appeared in only 18 big league games last season with the Phillies and turned in an oversized 7.25 ERA.

Rondon flashed some potential when he was first added to the White Sox bullpen early this season, but he's had numerous multi-run outings, including in Tuesday's loss to the Cardinals, when he allowed a run to score on a wild pitch, walked in a run and was responsible for the three runners who scored on Dexter Fowler's grand slam. That three-run performance bulged his ERA to 8.49 on the season.

Jace Fry emerging as bright spot in an otherwise unreliable White Sox bullpen

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Jace Fry emerging as bright spot in an otherwise unreliable White Sox bullpen

The White Sox came into the season with a bullpen stocked with potential flip candidates and guys trying to carve out a spot in this organization's bright future.

Neither party has fared too well.

Joakim Soria and Luis Avilan haven't done much to convince a contender to cough up a prospect or two in a midseason trade. Juan Minaya and Gregory Infante, who both showed promise at the end of last season, were both quickly demoted to the minor leagues. Nate Jones and Aaron Bummer have had their stumbles. Hector Santiago and Chris Volstad have taken turns plugging holes in the White Sox leaky starting rotation to varying degrees of effectiveness.

But at least one guy is showing signs that he could maybe become something out there in the 'pen and be part of the relief corps when the White Sox open up their contention window in the next couple years.

Jace Fry hasn't allowed a hit this season, his most recent appearance coming in Wednesday's 3-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Fry has faced 20 batters over six innings of work, and the only men he's put on have reached via a pair of walks. He's struck out eight of those 20 hitters.

Fry, a third-round pick of the White Sox back in the 2014 draft, got his first taste of the majors last season, and things did not go well. He logged 6.2 big league innings over 11 appearances and finished 2017 with a gargantuan 10.80 ERA. He was promoted right from Double-A Birmingham, where things did go well, with Fry posting a 2.78 ERA in 45.1 relief innings there. This season, he started at Triple-A Charlotte, and he gave up just one run in 6.2 innings before getting the call to come back to the bigs.

And now he's perhaps the most reliable option Rick Renteria has to go to in that bullpen. Four of Fry's five outings have last at least an inning, and he's struck out multiple hitters in three of his five appearances.

Compare that to the rest of the White Sox relief corps, which has struggled. Soria coughed up the game-winning run in the seventh inning Wednesday and now has a 4.72 ERA. Jones, who White Sox fans are likely still associating with that four-run ninth last week against these same Pirates, got his ERA down under 4.00 (it's 3.86) with back-to-back scoreless eight innings Sunday against the Cubs and Wednesday in Pittsburgh. Chris Beck is the third pitcher in the 'pen whose ERA is under 4.00, at 3.94 after 3.2 innings of relief in Tuesday's loss.

Bruce Rondon has arguably joined Fry as another bright spot, though that's pretty relative considering his ERA is all the way up at 4.15, even after he picked up the save in Sunday's win at Wrigley Field. He's got strikeout stuff but also has a four-run appearance to his name this season.

In other words, Renteria's options aren't numerous.

Fry, though, because of his age (24) and his status as a homegrown member of the White Sox organization, could find a way to stick around not just in 2018 but beyond. The sample size is small, but he's been impressive out of a bullpen that's been mostly the opposite so far this season.

Perhaps Rick Hahn was again trying to execute the same strategy he did a season ago, when he traded away much of the relief corps in midsummer deals. That doesn't seem likely to happen unless this group radically changes its performance. But in Fry, he might have a arm to stick in that future bullpen.

Did Rick Renteria just pick a new closer, or is this how White Sox bullpen was always supposed to work?

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Did Rick Renteria just pick a new closer, or is this how White Sox bullpen was always supposed to work?

Bruce Rondon threw a scoreless ninth inning Sunday and locked down a 5-3 win for the White Sox.

So he’s the new closer, right?

It’s no secret that the ninth inning hasn’t been the strongest for White Sox relievers this season, and after Nate Jones’ four-run implosion last week against the Pittsburgh Pirates, maybe it was time for Rick Renteria to turn to a new option at closer.

But look what happened the inning prior to Rondon’s shutdown ninth, and you might see that Sunday was just an example of how Rick Renteria has wanted to use this White Sox bullpen all along.

Jones was the man on for the eighth inning, and he went 1-2-3 to keep the Cubs offense down. But while the ninth inning gets all the glory, it’s very easy to argue that the three outs in the eighth were more difficult to get than the three in the ninth. After all, Jones faced the middle of the Cubs’ order: Willson Contreras (he of the monster weekend against White Sox pitching), Javy Baez (the National League RBI leader) and Kyle Schwarber (kid’s got some pop). Jones got those three to go strikeout, fly out, groundout.

A nice bounce back for Jones, perhaps once more being used in a “closer’s” role, albeit a less traditional one than most folks are used to.

Rondon fared well and was pumped up after he struck out Addison Russell and Ian Happ, then got Ben Zobrist to fly out to end the game after Tommy La Stella’s pinch-hit single.

For Rondon, the one-time “closer of the future” for the Detroit Tigers, he treated it like he was getting the game’s three biggest outs.

“Every time that I go out, my mindset is the closer mindset, and I like it,” Rondon said with the help of a translator.

But Rondon’s manager wasn’t keen to hand out a role to any of his relievers after the game. Instead, he talked about a plan he’s discussed since spring training, one that has multiple guys as “high-leverage” relievers, no matter which inning they happen to pitch in.

“I think in terms of outs, it just happened to be the ninth inning and he got us the outs he needed to get,” Renteria said. “I don't talk to our relievers about innings situations, I talk to them more about getting outs.”

And the bullpen guys get that, too.

“Ricky just tells us to be ready after the seventh because when the situation arises we need to perform there and that's what we have been doing,” Rondon said.

Unmentioned to this point is Joakim Soria, who was added this offseason as a potential closer and a guy who could potentially be flipped for a rebuild-aiding piece this summer. But he hasn’t fared especially well, either, with a 4.38 ERA on the year. Jones has been used in big situations throughout the season to varying degrees of effectiveness. After Sunday’s great eighth inning, he’s got a 4.11 ERA. Rondon’s 4.15 ERA doesn’t exactly scream “new closer,” but he’s had flashes of brilliance, including Sunday, when he blew away a couple Cubs hitters.

But there’s a strong case to be made that Jones got the three biggest outs recorded by a White Sox relief pitcher Sunday, and that might make him as much of a “closer” as the White Sox have.

Maybe Rondon does become the team’s new ninth-inning man. Or maybe this was exactly how Renteria wanted things to play out from Day 1.