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White Sox remain confident in rebuilt bullpen

Subpar spring stats belie talent, track record in club's relief corps
@scottmerkin
March 9, 2019

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The 7.10 ERA posted by the White Sox bullpen ranked as the highest in all of baseball entering Saturday’s 12-2 victory over the Rangers. Jace Fry, Caleb Frare and Aaron Bummer, a trio of talented southpaws who have a chance to fill important relief roles, have combined

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The 7.10 ERA posted by the White Sox bullpen ranked as the highest in all of baseball entering Saturday’s 12-2 victory over the Rangers.

Jace Fry, Caleb Frare and Aaron Bummer, a trio of talented southpaws who have a chance to fill important relief roles, have combined to allow 20 earned runs on 23 hits and 15 walks against 16 strikeouts over 13 2/3 innings. Juan Minaya, who posted a 2.70 ERA over his final 47 games last season and has had late-inning, high-leverage success in the past, has struggled mightily over his four games.

So, what do these numbers mean for an group that looked like it might be a strong suit for the 2019 White Sox? Almost nothing at this time of year, not when players are more focused on getting ready than getting zeros.

“I’ll be honest: I haven’t seen the numbers,” manager Rick Renteria said. “I’m just looking out there to make sure they get their work, do things the way we want them to do things, compete and put themselves in a place where we inch closer to being ready for the season.”

“We don’t buy into the results that you see,” said right-hander Nate Jones, longest-tenured player on the White Sox roster. “We are in the locker room, fighting together. You personally talk to them and get a feel for them and see what they are working on, what they are doing, investing time into them. That’s when you really know and can look around and be like, ‘Wow, we can be pretty special this year.’”

General manager Rick Hahn and the front office set out to improve the bullpen this offseason. They traded catcher Omar Narvaez for Alex Colomé, who led the American League with 47 saves in 2017, and added Kelvin Herrera via free agency. The combination of Colome/Herrera/Jones makes for an interchangeable late-inning trio.

Herrera can speak to how a deep bullpen shortens the game. In 2014, he was part of a Kansas City relief crew with Greg Holland and Wade Davis locking down games after six innings. That Royals team lost the World Series in seven games to the Giants.

In ’15, it was Holland, Herrera, Davis, Ryan Madson and Franklin Morales who helped propel Kansas City to the championship.

“He’s the one who kind of started it, right?” said Jones, of Herrera. “That’s the nature of the game, or the way the trend is going in the game. Big situations that managers pull their starters out and have the bullpen take over. The biggest out could come in the fifth or sixth. You want your best guys available.”

Colome has not allowed a run during Spring Training, while Ryan Burr has seven strikeouts, no walks and one earned run allowed over 6 2/3 innings. Zach Thompson, Jose Ruiz and Dylan Covey -- who remains in the mix for the fifth starter’s spot -- also have pitched well.

Ultimately, nobody got rich or famous based purely on Cactus League results. If this seven- or eight-man relief crew pitches to expectations, the White Sox should have the AL Central’s top bullpen.

“Big situations can come from the fifth or sixth inning on, and we have the guys to cover that,” Jones said. “We have guys who can do multiple roles and multiple late-inning guys."

“I see guys who know what they are doing,” said Herrera, after throwing a scoreless inning Saturday in his second outing. “We have a lot of talent here. They are ready to do some damage.”

Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin and Facebook and listen to his podcast.