Sox 'pen 'came to work' again in blowout win

June 15th, 2022

DETROIT -- No one on the White Sox -- absolutely no one -- was looking forward to Thursday’s off-day more than the bullpen guys.

And no one deserves it more.

Stretched to the breaking point, Chicago’s relievers were poised for respite on Wednesday at Comerica Park when starter Vince Velasquez was reactivated from the IL earlier in the day. Of course, as things have often gone lately, that’s not what happened, and Velasquez lasted just 2 2/3 innings despite holding the Tigers to one hit.

The offense again showed out in droves during the White Sox 13-0 win, but someone still had to fill the remaining 6 1/3 frames on the bump. On Wednesday, that task fell to Davis Martin (5 1/3 IP) and José Ruiz (1 IP), a duo that kept Detroit off the board despite a heat index in triple-digits.

“The best way I can describe it is that the boys came to work today,” manager Tony La Russa said. “[It was] very difficult for both sides, but the boys came to work.”

As impressive as the ’pen showing was as Chicago earned its first sweep since May 6-8, Wednesday’s performance was far from the first time the relief corps have rallied. The bullpen has been the glue and guts of the White Sox at many points this season, especially so over the past week.

Chicago’s relievers have worked at least four innings in 37 of 61 games. That’s a bunch, but nothing close to what they’ve encountered since Thursday: In the past seven games, the bullpen logged 42 2/3 innings against the rotation’s 23 1/3 and recorded an eye-popping 708 pitches against 465 from the starters.

“We get a lot of phone calls down there. … and we’ve got a lot of guys down there who are willing to come in,” All-Star closer Liam Hendriks said. “They may be a little sore, but at some point, you need to just suck it up and go.

“… Once the starters get rolling and start getting into deeper games, we’re going to be searching for innings out there. It’s an ebb and flow, and right now, we’re getting a lot of the flow.”

Let’s not forget that this group also down a few bodies due to injury, not the least of which affected is Hendriks, who landed on the IL Tuesday with a right forearm strain that’s expected to sideline him for three weeks.

Despite the unlucky breaks this week, the White Sox finished 4-3. Let’s look back at what they’ve weathered:

Thursday: Starter Dylan Cease needs 110 pitches to get through 4 2/3 innings, leaving the bullpen to pick up the final 4 1/3.

Friday: The White Sox use Reynaldo López as an opener. He goes two innings, leaving the bullpen to navigate the final seven. Hendriks, we later learn, is battling forearm stiffness/soreness but powers through with a perfect ninth.

“That game … was probably the most pain I’ve been in on a mound in a good 15 years,” Hendriks said Wednesday. “But I wasn’t coming out of the game no matter what. You’d have to rip that ball out of my hand.”

This is his last appearance before he is ultimately placed on the IL.

Saturday: Lucas Giolito gives his team 5 innings … but the game lasts 10.

Sunday: This is where things begin to get ugly. Michael Kopech lasts just 13 pitches into his start before he feels a pop in his right knee, and the bullpen -- led by Cueto’s 5 innings and 77 pitches -- is called upon to throw 11 1/3 frames in his wake.

Despite Cueto’s gutsy move to volunteer to eat some (five!) innings one day after a 45-pitch bullpen session and one day before his scheduled start in Detroit -- something La Russa called “one of the best step-ups I've ever been around” -- Chicago fell behind in the 12th on a two-run single and couldn’t come back in the bottom of the frame.

Monday: Chicago opens a road series in Detroit and welcomes big man Lance Lynn back to the rotation for his first start of the season. As such, Lynn is on a pitch count and departs after 4 1/3 innings.

Tuesday: Cease bulldogs through 5 innings of one (unearned)-run ball and the bullpen is perfect in 4 innings of relief.

“There were certainly a lot of challenges,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “There's also, I think from my standpoint, a lot of guys who stepped up and responded extremely well in those difficult times.

“What several of our relievers have done in taking the ball multiple times over this past five-to-seven-game stretch has been remarkable.”