White Sox Thornton to DL, Chris Sale to close? | The Golden Sombrero Baseball Blog | MLB, Fantasy, College & High School Baseball News

White Sox Thornton to DL, Chris Sale to close?

As if the Chicago White Sox weren’t already having issues with their bullpen, there are rumors that All-Star reliever Matt Thornton may be headed to DL with discomfort in his left forearm.  Thornton, who hasn’t pitched since last Tuesday in Minnesota, had recently been called upon, along with right-handed set-up man J.J. Putz, to close games for the struggling White Sox.  The White Sox regular closer Bobby Jenks is still not considered to be 100% after the recurring back spasms that nearly landed him on the DL earlier this month.  As a result of Jenks’ lingering back issues and overall inability to record crucial outs(4.50 ERA, 0.1 WAR), manager Ozzie Guillen has been painstakingly exploring the teams’ other options at closer.  Perhaps it is time that Guillen, Kenny Williams and the rest of the White Sox organization consider a more radical option, 2010 1st round draft pick, Chris Sale.

After blowing a late-inning lead in each of this weekend’s contests against the Kansas City Royals, the White Sox have basically run out of options at closer.  With the news that Thornton may be headed to the DL, the South-Siders’ are on the verge of losing their best option at closer, not to mention the most reliable pitcher in their bullpen.  Despite surrendering a walk-off home run to Jim Thome on Tuesday, Thornton has been stellar in 2010: 3-4, 5 saves, 2.66 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 12.3 K/9, and a 1.7 WAR.

To compliment Thornton, the White Sox have primarily used veteran J.J. Putz as a situational, right-handed closer.  Out of all the pitchers in their bullpen, Putz has had the most experience closing after recording 101 saves with the Seattle Mariners from 2003-2008.  This season, Putz has been the team’s best right-handed reliever going 6-5 with 3 saves, 2.68 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 10.5 K/9, and a 1.4 WAR.  However, Putz has struggled mightily as of late, blowing his last 3 save opportunities, each of which were against an A.L. Central rival.

Outside of the Thornton and Putz closer tandem, both Sergio Santos and Scott Linebrink have received random closing opportunities when either of previously mentioned pitchers was unavailable.

Santos, a minor league shortstop turned flame-throwing reliever, has become a staple in the White Sox bullpen and has been used as the right-handed set-up man when Putz has been unavailable.  In his rookie campaign, Santos has been a quiet star within the organization and has quickly become a fan-favorite due to his unusual path to the majors.  So far, Santos has a 1-0 record and a save to go along with a 1.74 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 9.1 K/9, and a 1.6 WAR.  However Santos, who has never thrown more than 28.2 innings in his short pitching career, has especially struggled as of late with his innings total topping 40.

In game 1 of Saturday’s double-header against the Kansas City Royals, Santos was summoned to the bump in the 8th inning with the bases loaded, 2 outs, and the White Sox leading 5-1.  After falling behind Yuniesky Betancourt with the first pitch, Betancourt connected on a 95mph, Santos fastball for a game-tying grand slam.  Although technically he only allowed a single earned run, Santos was unable to protect a comfortable lead and ultimately failed to demonstrate the mentality necessary for burying an opponent and shutting the door.

Other than Bobby Jenks, Scott Linebrink has arguably been the White Sox most unreliable reliever.  Used primarily in the 6th, 7th and 8th innings, Linebrink- 1-1, 4.36 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 8.5 K/9, 0.2 WAR- has increasingly received more opportunities later in games due to Jenks’ woes.  Headed into the bottom of the 10th inning of Sunday’s rubber-match against the Royals, Ozzie Guillen opted to use Linebrink to close the game.  After retiring the first two batters, Linebrink issued a 2-out walk to Gregor Blanco, who then proceeded to steal both 2nd and 3rd base and ultimately score the game-winning run on a Jason Kendall single.

Obscured by all of the blown leads and overall bullpen heinousness has been the performance of Chicago White Sox 2010, 1st round draft pick Chris Sale. Taken with the 13th overall pick, the White Sox drafted Sale with the belief that he might be able to help the team down the stretch in 2010, as well as for many years to come.  Sale, a 6’5”, 170lbs. left-hander out of Florida Gulf Coast University, was 9-4, 3 saves, 2.94 ERA, 147 Ks and only 37 BB in 125.2 innings during his Sophomore and Junior seasons.

After quickly signing his contract with the White Sox, Sale was fast-tracked to High-A Winston-Salem to serve as a reliever.  After just 4 innings of work in which Sale posted a 2.25 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and 9.00 K/9, he was promoted to AAA Charlotte where he notched a 2.84 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 21.3 K/9 in 6.1 innings – that’s right, Sale struck out 15 hitters in just 6.1 innings at AAA.

Using a herky-jerky, slinging motion, Sale’s “stuff” will quickly rank amongst the best for left-handed pitchers in the game.  Since reaching the majors, Sale has shown a sinking fastball that consistently sits around 90-92mph, as well as a four-seam fastball that sits 94-96mph, and has touched 97mph on several occasions.  Due to his unorthodox delivery, Sale has seen early success using an elevated, four-seam fastball as an out pitch.  In addition to his live fastball, Sale also features a sweeping curve – slurve?- that already appears to be nearly impossible for left-handed hitters, as well as a changeup that will be vital for any future transition to the starting rotation.

Ozzie and Kenny Williams have always been proponents of instilling confidence in young players by plugging them into crucial situations, an approach best evidenced by both Bobby Jenks’ ascent to closer in 2005 and Gordon Beckham’s tour de force of the minor leagues in 2009.  Considering that Sale figures to be a main cog in the White Sox future, as well as the fact that he is undeniably nasty, it is no surprise that the White Sox have called up the young south-paw.  Besides his electric arm being a welcome addition to the bullpen, the organization is seeking to give Sale the experience necessary for the 2011 season.

Therefore, it would not surprise me to see Sale receive various closing opportunities over the last month of the regular season.  In the 6.1 innings that he has pitched for the White Sox, he has a 1.42 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 11.4 K/9.  Better yet, Sale has appeared confident(fearless) and in command in each of his outings, not to mention has already made some of the games best hitters look foolish with a mix of hard fastballs and devastating slurves.  Especially with Thornton potentially headed for the DL, Sale will likely be used in more late-inning, game-on-the-line situations.  From what I have seen of the young left-hander, he already has the best stuff in the White Sox bullpen and is worthy of an opportunity to close regardless of Thornton and Putz’s statuses.  After all, I don’t see any of the White Sox other options working right now.

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