Closers are going to blow saves. They wouldn’t have a statistic for it if it never happened.
But Nate Jones’ blown save Wednesday made for a back-breaking loss that’s become far too commonplace for the White Sox during this rebuilding season.
Home runs from Tim Anderson and Daniel Palka built a 4-0 lead early — much like the 4-0 lead the South Siders had after one inning in Tuesday’s eventual 10-6 loss to the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates — and Welington Castillo provided some insurance with an RBI double to make it 5-2 in the eighth. But Jones never seemed to stand a chance, blowing that three-run lead in 10 pitches. The first five hitters of the ninth went single, single, groundout, two-run double, two-run homer.
“Just didn’t execute right there,” Jones said. “We had some pitches in mind. Didn’t execute on my part, and big league hitters do what they’re supposed to do when you leave pitches up or in the zone. I paid for it.”
It’s been a not-so-good season for the White Sox, who are on a five-game losing streak, are 1-9 in their last 10, are 4-10 in one-run games, have lost three games when leading after the eighth inning and are 3-15 at home, the worst 18-game home start in team history.
It’s also been a not-so-good return season for Jones, who pitched in only 11 games in 2017. Entering Wednesday, Jones still had a very good 2.03 ERA. But he’s had some glaring moments. He turned a four-run game into a more manageable three-run game in the eighth inning of that disastrous home opener. He made things nerve-racking with three walks in the ninth inning of that 14-inning marathon in Oakland. He walked two of the first three hitters he faced in the eighth inning last week against the St. Louis Cardinals. He gave up a home run in Sunday's loss to the Minnesota Twins.
After Wednesday’s fiasco, his ERA sits at 4.40. He’s now converted just four of his 24 career save opportunities with an 8.14 ERA in those chances.
But this isn’t to pile on Jones, one of the more affable guys in the White Sox clubhouse. After all, how many members of the White Sox bullpen have fared significantly better? Joakim Soria’s ERA is 4.38. Hector Santiago’s is 5.76. Aaron Bummer’s is 5.06. Luis Avilan’s is 5.23. Chris Volstad’s is 5.19. Bruce Rondon’s is 4.91.
Gregory Infante and Juan Minaya, two guys who had good 2017s to earn places on the Opening Day roster this season, were rapidly demoted to Triple-A, both sporting major league ERAs over 8.00. Danny Farquhar hasn’t been an option for obvious reasons.
There aren’t many lock-down weapons out there for Renteria to turn to, leading to why he deemed Jones the guy he wanted out there in a save situation Wednesday.
“Based on results easy answer no,” Renteria said when asked his opinion on whether Jones has had a good season to this point. “But his arm strength, his life on his fastball, everything is pretty good. His changeup and slider, it’s good. … From the strength aspect he’s still very good.
“He’s our best guy to finish it off. I couldn’t have scripted it any better today, to be honest. We did exactly what we wanted to do, had the guy to close it out and we didn’t. That’s it. We played a really good ballgame, we had a chance to win and weren’t able to close it out.”
Rick Hahn’s front office added some pieces to its rebuilding effort last summer when it traded away much of the big league bullpen. David Robertson, Anthony Swarzak, Tommy Kahnle and Dan Jennings (and eventually Tyler Clippard) were all dealt away in deadline deals to acquire prospects.
After that strategy worked as well as it did, it seemed a similar one was employed in building this season’s relief corps. Soria, Avilan and Rondon — not to mention veteran adds who have yet to be summoned from Triple-A like Jeanmar Gomez, Xavier Cedeno and Robbie Ross Jr. — were all low-risk acquisitions that could be flipped midseason for another piece. But these guys need to pitch more like Robertson, Swarzak, Kahnle and Jennings before those trades can happen.
There’s plenty of baseball remaining between now and the July 31 trade deadline, so that group has plenty of time to turn in good performances and turn into trade-able assets. But until then, bringing in any number of guys from that bullpen seems like a move that could go south for the 9-25 White Sox.