All White Sox fans are well aware that Addison Reed and Jesse Crain have been nothing short of phenomenal out of the team's bullpen this season. But outside of them, the unit has not been nearly as strong as we expected it to be.
With youngsters that burst onto the scene like Reed, Nate Jones, Donnie Veal, Hector Santiago, and Brian Omogrosso in 2012, expectations for the team's bullpen in 2013 and going forward were sky high. But through about one-third of the regular season, most of that unit has done nothing but disappoint.
After failing to control his pitches and retire left-handed hitters, Donnie Veal (8.59 ERA) has already been sent down to AAA Charlotte twice.
Nate Jones struggled mightily in a late-inning role and has continued to stumble in a middle relief role as his ERA has ballooned to 6.58.
Brian Omogrosso hasn't had to enter many pressure-filled situations, but has still struggled to find his form of last season and this most recent spring training. He's really only been able to handle a mop-up role, and many believe that the reason he wasn't called up sooner was because Robin Ventura and Don Cooper felt he was more suited for a late-inning role.
We should note that both Matt Thornton (3.38 ERA) & Matt Lindstrom (3.80 ERA) have both been solid, but have each had some rough outings. And that's fine, but with all the others mentioned above struggling so mightily, the team is normally in a position where they need these two guys to be lights out.
Going into the late innings of close ball games in which the Sox are on top, thanks to Crain and Reed along with Thornton and Lindstrom at times, the team has been pretty solid. But it's when they're just trying to stay in the ball game in the middle or late innings that the bullpen has presented so many problems.
When you have a somewhat poor offense, coming back from a deficit is difficult enough. When these guys come in to keep the opponent stagnant and cannot do so, it deflates the air out of the team's tires, if you will, and seems to be leading to them playing a lot of games in which they're out of the contest with a few innings left.
And this is a trend that has plagued the Sox time and time again already in 2013. Obviously, it's one part of the White Sox that needs to change if they want to become a more consistent ball club.
So, what to do with the 'pen?
Well, as I'm sure most of you predicted, we've got a plan in place …
Doctors Orders to Fix the 'Pen
First and foremost, the White Sox need to sure up the back end of this unit. And in AAA, they've got someone that has major league experience and appears ready to jump in and help out.
Ramon Troncoso, a former Los Angeles Dodgers standout (in 2009) is dominating for the Charlotte Knights with a 1.71 ERA, 0.857 WHIP, and only having issued four walks (to his 14 strikeouts) in 21 innings pitched.
He's a hard-thrower that features a sinker, which allows him to inherit runners and have hitters ground into double plays at a high rate.
In spring training, he did a solid job posting a 3.65 ERA which almost got him a spot on the Opening Day roster, although there just wasn't a spot for him. But now, it appears there is a spot, as I think it'd make a lot of sense to demote Nate Jones to AAA and call up Troncoso.
I do not think that the team should throw in the towel on Jones, but with how bad he's been, there's really no sense in continuing to stick him out there to get shelled. Let's let him work with people in AAA to get his control and confidence back, as they're just clearly not caught up to his good stuff, which he appears to still have.
With how versatile Jones was in 2012, he could serve a very valuable role for this 2013 team if they are indeed competing at a high level throughout the summer and into the fall. "It's not goodbye, it's see you later."
Thankfully, the team has John Danks back, and if everything goes well with him and the other starters, Hector Santiago will continue to be the bullpen's 'Swiss Army Knife.'
With him there, there isn't so much of a need to force up Donnie Veal or other lefties like Daniel Moskos or David Purcey from Charlotte, as neither of them have been that good and are thought of more as AAAA players than MLB players.
But in order for Santiago to really be the versatile guy who can come in on any given night to fill many different roles, you can't have him also serving as the team's long reliever, because that could keep him out for the next three or sometimes four games, depending on how much he's stretched out.
So, the last order of business to tackle is who should be the long man to free up Screwgie's role. And luckily, the team has a few different options.
For this spot, the easiest thing to do would be to avoid another roster move by keeping Brian Omogrosso aboard as the long reliever. But when Duente Heath (another failed bullpen arm) was called up twice earlier in the year, it was clear that team management thought of 'Omo' as more of a late inning guy than just the mop-up man. They didn't even try to stretch him out in his time this year in Charlotte.
And I still think the team should try to get him more comfortable to eventually fill that late-inning role. I wouldn't be vehemently opposed to him becoming the long man, but I think then they should really stretch him out and make it clear (to both us the fans and him) that he'll be filling in that role. Still, I think there are a couple better options.
Journeyman Jeff Gray has been solid for Charlotte this year, posting a 2.95 ERA through 14 appearances and 18 IP. But I think the best option for the team's long reliever is none other than a former Cub.
Jason Berken has been around the major leagues since 2009 and was rather successful in 2010 as a full-time reliever for the Baltimore Orioles. He proved he could come in for more than just an inning, as he pitched in 41 games but tallied 62.1 IP.
And this year in Charlotte, he's been very good as a starter.
Through his first ten starts, he's averaged about 6.1 IP per start, so he's fully ready to step in and be a long reliever and even make a spot start if need be (if Santiago is unable to do so). He's posted a very good 3.14 ERA through his 63 IP for the Knights while only walking 12 hitters and maintaining a solid 1.20 WHIP.
So, in summary, here's my plan for the White Sox' bullpen in the immediate future …
Closer: Addison Reed
Set-Up: Jesse Crain, Matt Thornton, Matt Lindstrom
Middle: Ramon Troncoso, Hector Santiago
Long: Jason Berken
Plus, if Nate Jones, Brian Omogrosso, and/or even Donnie Veal can figure their you-know-what out in AAA, the bullpen could suddenly be in a good position, even if that may take some time.
What do you think team management should do with the bullpen?