CHICAGO -- White Sox starter Phil Humber should have 10 victories by now and be well on his way to a spot on the American League All-Star team.
Without getting too much into the debate on how pitchers' victories can be drastically overvalued, Humber could be the poster child for hard luck baseball players. The White Sox’s 2-1 defeat Sunday to the Washington Nationals was just the latest example.
Humber, who is in the midst of a breakout season, has left all four of his defeats this season while only getting one run of support, including Sunday’s loss. Even one of his no-decisions came after his offense scored just once for him.
So while a 7-4 record looks nice for a pitcher who only had two career victories before this season began, Humber should be on pace for a 20-win season.
“Phil threw awesome,” said Paul Konerko, who had an RBI single in the third inning for the White Sox’s only run. “I wish we could have gotten him more runs. He didn’t deserve to lose that game. Neither of the starting pitchers did, but it was just kind of one swing of the bat and we couldn’t get back even.”
Putting that one-run lead on the line heading into the seventh inning, Humber seemed to run into that late-inning wall that plagues him more often than not. He got two quick outs before a walk to Michael Morse and a two-run home run from Danny Espinosa. Another walk and a single ended his day. Humber had given up just one hit before the inning started.
“That's something we talked about after the last start,” Humber said of his tendency to run out of gas around the 100-pitch mark. “Today not so much. I was still trying to be aggressive. But some of the other starts after the seventh inning, sometimes I'd change my approach, especially if we had the big lead and I think I’ve kind of gone away from what’s been working the whole game at times. But I don’t think today that was really an issue.”
Meanwhile, the reason Humber was always on the ropes is because the White Sox couldn’t score against soft-tossing right-hander Livan Hernandez, who was getting away on occasion with a lob toss in the 60-mph range.
“That’s hard to do,” Humber said of Hernandez’s arsenal. “There aren’t that many guys that can actually throw a ball that slow. That’s almost as good as throwing really hard. He's had a long career and at least the back half of it he's been a guy that’s topped out maybe in the mid to upper 80s. it's just a credit to him how good of a pitcher he is.”
Humber has never gone over 150 innings in any one season as a professional, but when he goes to the mound next weekend at Wrigley Field he will likely top the 100-inning mark. He is at 96 2/3 innings.
Heading into this start, Humber had a 2.09 ERA over the first six innings but a 7.82 ERA after the sixth. Not surprisingly then, his troubles Sunday started in the seventh.
Humber could run into more fatigue issues down the road, but the White Sox will cross that bridge when they come to it. It was one of the reasons that Humber was the guy the White Sox planed on moving out of the rotation when they went back to a five-man starting staff, but his success never allowed that.
Had the White Sox just been able to give him adequate run support, the fatigue factor probably isn’t a debate at this point.
“It was a great game for him,” manager Ozzie Guillen said. “It was a pretty good baseball game. When you pitch that well on both sides, I think it’s enjoyable. Those guys come out and pitch very good today. Unfortunately, one bad pitch, that home run pitch, but Humber throw the ball outstanding. He continues to do it. I’m very happy for him.”