CHICAGO – The round-hole/square-peg Chicago White Sox bullpen failed to put the pieces together once again Saturday, as a blown save in the ninth inning led to a 3-2 defeat by the Seattle Mariners in 14 innings.
Finding arms to finish off the final three innings and protect a lead isn’t manager Robin Ventura’s only issue, but it has been a glaring weakness since spring training.
Way back in Arizona, Nate Jones and Matt Lindstrom were supposed to be competing for the job, but both were felled by injuries -- Jones in his back and Lindstrom his oblique. At no point this season, really, has the closer spot been a lockdown area for the White Sox.
Operating with a closer-by-committee situation ever since Ronald Belisario was pulled from the job more than a week ago, the committee's members appear to have forgotten their lines or are failing to hit the high notes under the glare of the audition spotlight.
With a 2-0 lead in the ninth inning, Zach Putnam got the chance to put the game away, but he allowed an inherited runner from Eric Surkamp to score, then gave up the tying run on his own as three of the first five batters he faced recorded hits.
Jake Petricka, who is part of the closer committee, had already been used for one batter in the eighth inning, so he wasn’t available for the final outs. Daniel Webb was in the bullpen, but he has walked at least one batter in three of his past four appearances and four of his seven outings since the start of June.
“We just didn't get it done,” Ventura said. “Right now we're at the point where we're using different people in that spot, and every once in a while, those guys are going to give up runs. And when [they do], it's going to look like a blown save, but we're rotating around guys until somebody really emerges.”
Clearly, Ventura isn’t going to air his frustrations publicly, but it becomes awfully hard to put together a puzzle when none of the pieces fit. Ventura hasn’t had a true closer, and his best efforts to get somebody to be productive in the role haven't worked.
“I don't think the ninth should be any different for a reliever than any other inning,” Putnam said. “You've got to go out there and do your job and get outs. Today I made some pitches, a couple mistakes, but I got a few ground balls -- and there are days when those ground balls turn into outs, and there are days when they're hits and runs are scored. Today was one of those days, so you have to bounce back.”
The White Sox entered the day with 10 blown saves, around the middle of the big league pack, but their bullpen ERA of 3.83 was eighth-highest among MLB's 30 teams, and the bullpen’s 1.43 WHIP was dead last.
When it comes to the issues with closing games, is it simply a matter of the relievers not knowing what they are going to be asked to do on a daily basis?
“As relievers, it's nice to know when you're going to throw," Putnam said. "But again, when you're called upon, your job is the same, no matter what the inning is, no matter what day, the situation, what have you. I didn't get the job done today, and hopefully I'll be given another opportunity. If not, I hope the next guy gets the job done.”
Petricka could end up being asked to get the final out(s) next. But whoever gets the call, he is probably going to have even more weight on his shoulders, given that finishing off close victories has been a struggle all season.
“I think they're getting the job done,” starter Jose Quintana said after this latest blown save cost him and the team a chance at a victory. “Sometimes the game is close. Two ground ball situations, it makes it harder to throw with runners in scoring position. The bullpen has been doing a good job. It was just a tough game. We know we'll be focusing on this tomorrow.”
On a day when the White Sox could only manage four hits in 14 innings, one blown save ends up spreading the blame all around.
“Obviously, we didn't do much all day, in terms of an offense, so for them to come in and try to shut it down as best they could, I mean, it's part of baseball, it's part of playing the game,” said Gordon Beckham, who went 0-for-6 and struck out twice. “We're going to have games like this. It's frustrating, but you gotta keep battling.”