Sox's young bullpen thriving early

April, 15, 2012
4/15/12
3:21
PM CT
Levine By Bruce Levine
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- The White Sox’s new core of young bullpen pitchers will be the key to the team’s ability to compete in the American league central this season.

The club’s good start to the new season can be tied to this evolving group’s early success. Through the first seven games, the ‘pen has a 1.96 ERA, the second lowest in baseball. To put it in another light, they have allowed just four runs in the first week of the season for the first time in 14 years.

The new ‘pen relies heavily upon four players who are, essentially, rookies -- including closer Hector Santiago, Addison Reed, Nate Jones and Zach Stewart. (Only Stewart is listed as a second-year player after pitching in 13 games between Chicago and Toronto in 2011.)

Manager Robin Ventura understands that early success doesn’t always mean a lot over a 162 game season.

“It’s nice that you can get guys in there if you are creating (positive ) situations to come in to,” Ventura said.” (So far) it has kind of worked out that way. It won’t be that way all year, but it’s nice to get them in those situations where they feel confident and they have come through.”

Ventura and always-positive Sox pitching coach Don Cooper, have done a masterful job of building the confidence level of this group, which has an average age of 25.

“You go through spring training and you kind of visualize where you want guys to come in and pitch, it has been good so far,” Ventura said.

The coaching staff hid its intentions to use Santiago as the closer until the team’s second game of the season in order to keep the pressure off of him. So far that method has worked to perfection as the lefthander has three saves in three save opportunities.

”Hector has done a great job” said set-up man Matt Thornton who began the 2011 season as the Sox’s closer. “We as a group go over things with the newer guys. Jesse [Crain], Will [Ohman] and I try to be there for them, but they have plenty of talent to offer.”

What a difference the beginning of this season is compared to 2011 when the bullpen blew six of the first seven save opportunities. Ventura, ever the realist, cautions not buy World Series tickets just yet.

“I don’t need to be a prognosticator of how it is going to go, every team has its ups and downs. Right now, it looks up,” Ventura said. “My job is to keep them focused on playing, not think too far ahead, but seasons can be overwhelming at times if you think it is going to be just like this.”

Bruce Levine | email

Chicago baseball beat reporter
Bruce Levine has covered sports in Chicago for over 28 years and hosts "Talkin' Baseball," heard Saturday mornings on ESPN 1000.

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Chris Sale
WINS ERA SO IP
11 2.11 178 149
OTHER LEADERS
BAJ. Abreu .320
HRJ. Abreu 33
RBIJ. Abreu 98
RJ. Abreu 71
OPSJ. Abreu .983
ERAC. Sale 2.11
SOC. Sale 178