Walks, bullpen early issues for Sox

CHICAGO -- No manager likes to see his pitching staff dole out walks. Watching those free passes come around to score can be even more frustrating. The Chicago White Sox pitching staff is third in the league with 51 walks and have allowed an astounding 45.1 percent (23) of those runners to cross home plate.

While the walks are certainly a major factor, the pitching as a whole hasn’t been a strength early in the season. They have a league-worst 5.86 ERA, and while starters Erik Johnson and Felipe Paulino have struggled, the bullpen (7.53 ERA as a unit) is where the main concerns lie.

“Eventually changes are part of the game, if things don’t get better,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said when asked if a shakeup could be a possibility for the staff. “That’s just part of what we do. It’s possible at some point. Right now I don’t foresee it.”

But is there a timetable for when Ventura hopes to see improvement before changes become necessary?

“You know when you know,” Ventura said.

Along with the poor ERA, the bullpen has walked 13.9% of the batters they’ve faced (league average is 8.6 percent) and they’ve allowed 48 percent of the runners they’ve inherited to score.

As for Paulino and Johnson, their inability to go deep into games has forced the bullpen to enter earlier than Ventura would like. The two starters have combined to pitch 25 innings in their five starts.

“(Pitching coach Don Cooper and I) always talk about it,” Ventura said of the staff as a whole. “Whether it’s going good or whether it’s going bad, you’re always talking about it. You know the old saying, 'You’re only as happy as your least happy kid?' That’s what it is with a team. You’re always concerned about the guys that maybe aren’t feeling as good or aren’t doing as well. Is it the bullpen? Is it the pitchers? Yeah. I think when a (starter) only goes five, you’re concerned about him and you want to get him better. Hitters who aren’t doing well, you do the same thing.”

With an offense that’s at or near the top in almost every major category, it’s the pitching that’s acting up and has the attention of the entire coaching staff. The hope for the White Sox is that as the season progresses, Johnson, Paulino and the bullpen will start to improve. If not, changes could be on the horizon.

NOTE: Ventura confirmed that outfielder Avisail Garcia would have surgery on his shoulder on Tuesday. The team announced on Thursday that Garcia would miss the entire season with a torn left labrum which he suffered while trying to make a diving catch.