This is how the White Sox bullpen is supposed to look.
Through the first few series of the 2019 campaign, the South Side relief corps appeared to be a mess. The two big additions, Alex Colome and Kelvin Herrera, weren't getting a chance to pitch very often as the team's starting pitchers weren't lasting very long into games. They gave up a lot of runs, had the bullpen pitching from behind. And, as manager Rick Renteria explained Wednesday, guys who were supposed to be getting tastes of specific situations were instead pitching multiple innings at a time because the starting pitchers were coming out well before they were supposed to.
Well, the last few games have featured the kind of bullpen Renteria hoped to have when the season began. Starting pitchers have held up their end of the bargain, and the offense is scoring runs. Combine those two things, and Renteria has been able to deploy his relievers just like he drew it up back in the spring. The White Sox entered Wednesday's series finale with the Kansas City Royals winners of three straight and four of their last five. Colome has pitched in each of the last three games, picking up saves in two of them.
There was a lot of preseason excitement over this aspect of the roster, Rick Hahn adding Colome and Herrera to give his team what might have been, on paper, the best bullpen in the division. Two All-Star caliber pitchers at the back end allowed Renteria to have more late-inning options, with Nate Jones and Jace Fry moving into sixth- and seventh-inning roles. And all the young guys who might one day make up the White Sox bullpen of the future wouldn't have to be thrown into the fire in high-leverage situations. They could learn and develop without the game necessarily being on the line. That was the plan, anyway.
Things didn't go that way at the start of the season, and the numbers still aren't too pretty for many of the arms in the 'pen. Fry's ERA is still 11.12. Jose Ruiz owns a 21.60 ERA. Ryan Burr is at 6.48, and Jones is just getting his down, currently at 4.05. Colome and Herrera have lived up to the preseason hype, with 2.25 and 1.13 ERAs, respectively. And Manny Banuelos has excelled as a long man, with a 3.48 ERA in 10.1 innings so far.
But as the starters have settled down and lasted five, six, seven innings, the bullpen is starting to look like the one that was envisioned after the acquisitions of Colome and Herrera this winter.
"Being able to rely on those guys on the back end certainly is helpful," Renteria said Wednesday. "Scoring runs helps. Then when you get your starting pitching to give you some length, it makes the decisions that you have to make a little easier. And I think that, as we continue to move forward, you still want to find out about some of the other guys, too. You want to be able to find out how Ruiz handles certain situations. You let them have opportunities to be able to close out games, as well. ... Certainly, I think everybody's happy with us being able to get some quality starts out of our starting rotation and getting us deeper into the game to allow us to get to the back end.
"It's still exciting to be able to get to them because that means there's good things happening for us. Everybody should be excited. Those two guys on the back end have experience and know the needs and the wants of that particular type of situation, and they do it very, very well."
Carlos Rodon pitched six innings in Sunday's win in The Bronx, with Fry, Jones, Herrera and Colome combining for three scoreless innings. Ervin Santana went five on Monday night, Banuelos allowing just one run over his three innings of relief, giving the offense time to stage a comeback and giving Renteria the ability to bring Colome in to slam the door. Reynaldo Lopez threw six innings of one-run ball Tuesday night, with that same combo of Fry, Jones, Herrera and Colome shutting the Royals down over their three innings.
That's how this thing is supposed to look. That's what should allow the White Sox to avoid the numerous bullpen blow-ups that occurred during the 2018 season and win some more games in 2019.
And if those four guys can lock down the ends of games, Renteria can figure out what he has in the rest of his relief corps in lower-leverage situations.
"We ended up breaking camp with rookies, five guys in the 'pen who broke camp for the first time," Renteria said. "Unfortunately, we didn't have enough time in the beginning to be able to fit some of those younger guys in certain situations to give them a taste and then pull them out. We actually had to take them and use them for an inning-plus, two innings. So being able to allow them to get the experience in a positive way as much as we possibly could, it didn't quite develop that way in the beginning.
"But right now it's starting to unfold a little bit better. Hopefully we'll be able to manage their usage and get them the taste of what it's going to be like, give them positive outcomes, get them in and out and by the same token, continue to use the guys on the back end that we have, comfortably manage their usage and be able to still win some ballgames."
That's the plan. And things have gone according to plan these last few games. It's a delicate ecosystem, as you can see, and if the starting pitchers face more bumps in the road, this whole thing can be thrown back out of whack.
But a few rocky results early in the season shouldn't do away with that preseason excitement over what this bullpen is capable of doing. That's what we're seeing right now.
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