CHICAGO – The much-maligned Chicago White Sox bullpen could not have gotten off to a better start in the second half, as it retired all 12 batters faced Friday in a 3-2 victory over the Houston Astros.
Reeling essentially since Ronald Belisario was pulled from the closer's role in late June, the relievers turned four days of rest during the All-Star break into the kind of performance they had been looking for over the past few weeks.
“It’s great,” said Zach Putnam, who recorded the final three outs for his second save. “Get the second half here [off] on the right foot and get it going. It feels good to be able to take some time off and rest a little bit and come back out here and get a win.”
The bullpen limped into the break. Javy Guerra blew a lead in the eighth inning of a defeat at Cleveland this past Sunday. One series earlier, Jake Petricka and Guerra combined to blow a victory chance for Chris Sale in a defeat to the Boston Red Sox.
Over the final five games before the break, the bullpen was 0-3 with a 7.94 ERA, and the unit had been 1-4 with a 3.75 ERA over the 13 games leading up to interlude.
Putnam finished off Friday’s victory, but Belisario preceded that with a scoreless inning of his own, after Daniel Webb had thrown two scoreless frames.
“Webb coming in there blowing some heat ... with that kind of arm it forces the hitters to be ready and get a little more aggressive,” said catcher Tyler Flowers, who delivered the go-ahead RBI with a seventh-inning double. “I think he set the stage for us as far as getting their hitters to put the ball in play a little bit earlier.”
After starter Jose Quintana struck out eight Astros in five innings, the bullpen struck out six over the final four.
“We were able to get them to chase a couple more borderline pitches -- velocity does that for you,” Flowers said. “Belisario came in with the good sinker, spotting up well, and Putnam did a pretty good job too.”
Like Addison Reed and Nate Jones in previous seasons, Webb appears to be developing into a dependable late-innings reliever. A lack of control and lack of confidence seemed to be his main hurdles early in this season, but there are signs he could be moving away from both issues.
“Just mentally and body language and all that, [Webb] seems to be much more positive, even if he ends up walking a guy, or something like that,” Flowers said. “He seems to have that demeanor now of knowing how good his stuff is, and he’ll challenge hitters. When he throws strikes, he’s a tough at-bat.”
Roles are still in flux and will be until manager Robin Ventura settles on a usual closer, but the key players all seemed to have their energy back Friday, thanks to the rest afforded by the break.
“Yeah, I think everybody was just dragging,” Putnam said. “Some guys had physical stuff going on, other guys just kind of mental tiredness. The four days couldn’t come at a better time. Everybody kind of got recharged and hit the ground running.”
With the way he handled the ninth inning so effortlessly, Putnam figures to get another chance to close, but Petricka and Webb should be prepared to get the call as well. Matt Lindstrom remains on the disabled list after ankle surgery and won’t be close to a return until his lateral movement improves.
“That was a tough stretch in the end, but you are starting back up and looking for good signs,” Ventura said. “This is one of them. ... When you start getting pitching like that, you have a chance to win a lot of games.”