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Tuesday, April 1, 2014
Challenges ahead for new-look bullpen

By Doug Padilla

CHICAGO -- For all of the excitement the Chicago White Sox generated Monday with their new-look offense, it was the rebuilt bullpen that ultimately had to save the day.

It was by no means a dominating performance to back up starter Chris Sale, but it was effective nonetheless and new closer Matt Lindstrom finished it off with his first save since 2011 when he was a member of the Colorado Rockies.

Matt Lindstrom
Hours after being named the closer, Matt Lindstrom nailed down his first save of the season Monday.
"Especially when the team puts such a great effort out there and to be out there and get the last three outs it was pretty cool, especially with all the Chicago fans out there supporting us," Lindstrom said. "They love their baseball. This is a sports town. It feels pretty cool to have them out there and rooting like that."

Lindstrom's half inning actually started with a little more groans than cheers. A pitcher with a power sinker isn't supposed to give up a fly ball to the warning track and a double off the wall to the first two batters he faced. But he recovered with a strikeout and an easy comebacker to get the White Sox off to a 1-0 start.

"I feel like I'm suited for the role, but I also feel like we have other guys who could do it," Lindstrom said about being the closer. "I hope we can put together a collective effort this year and help the team win games. None of the guys in the bullpen have egos. We're a good group. We've gelled together well in spring training, and I think we have pretty good chemistry down there and the clubhouse feels good too."

Bullpen struggles were pronounced at times last season. The White Sox relievers had a combined 4.00 ERA, 11th in the American League. While much of the talk in baseball last season was about the Detroit Tigers' disappointing bullpen, they had a nearly identical ERA to the White Sox at 4.01.

And if it wasn't for the Houston Astros moving to the American League last year, the White Sox would have finished with the most defeats from their relievers (36) and the lowest strikeout total (424).

Lindstrom (trade) and Jessie Crain (injury) didn't even make it to the end of last season and over the winter Addison Reed was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks, creating a significant bullpen rebuild.

One newcomer, Ronald Belisario, made his White Sox bullpen debut in the eighth inning, striking out Brian Dozier before allowing an inherited runner from Sale to score on a single by Kurt Suzuki. That's when left-hander Donnie Veal was called in to pitch, delivering what might have been the best relief performance of Opening Day even though he faced just one batter.

With the tying run on base, Veal got hit machine Joe Mauer to hit a ground ball to end the top of the eighth inning.

"Probably the toughest out in the league is going in against Joe," manager Robin Ventura said. "He's always going to hit something hard and put something in play. That was a tough spot for Donnie and he did a great job."

It was Veal who turned the ball over to Lindstrom and the veteran jumped back into a role he hasn't had in a few years and looked right at home. The right-hander didn't even learn he was the closer until Ventura told him during Sunday's team workout at U.S. Cellular Field. The last time he held the job for a significant amount of time was in 2010 with the Houston Astros.

"That was a pretty neat feeling for myself," said Lindstrom, who nabbed the role despite making just three Cactus League appearances because of a strained oblique muscle.

"I've done it a little before. I wouldn't say I have extensive experience doing that role, but it has been a long time coming. I feel like I've gotten better as each year the last four years coming out of the bullpen in whatever inning."