Rested or rusty? Time will tell
Relievers ready to contribute after extended rest
CHICAGO -- The month of October is a time when most pitchers that aren't involved in the postseason take the opportunity to give their arms a rest after a long and arduous season.
Despite the White Sox making a drive at their first World Series title in 88 years, for the White Sox relief corps, it feels just like another offseason. That feeling has come as a result of being on the outside looking in as the starting rotation took the task of winning the American League Championship Series on its own collective shoulders.
"We joke around about our lack of work and it's a big joke that I actually threw for two outs and seven pitches," Neal Cotts said with a laugh. "They get on me a little bit, that I actually got to play."
The two-thirds of an inning by Cotts in Game 1 against the Angels was the only work by the bullpen during the five-game ALCS. The stretch of four complete starts by the White Sox starting pitchers may have been good for victories and the team as a whole, but the bullpen has been partially hindered by the long period of rest.
Manager Ozzie Guillen knows that the time off hasn't been the easiest on his relief pitchers. But to him, it beats the alternative.
"A lot of people have asked me about my bullpen and how they are," Guillen said. "I say I'd rather have my bullpen real fresh and ready to go than to think about, 'Wow, I've been using this guy four days in a row.'
"I think we are in a good situation, but we don't know if those days off will get to us. I'm not going to make that an excuse."
One of the solutions for the extended rest that Guillen and pitching coach Don Cooper devised was to hold simulated games on both Wednesday and Thursday. The games gave each pitcher a chance to see some actual hitters. The entire bullpen, along with starter Jon Garland, threw to starters such as Jermaine Dye and Aaron Rowand in an atmosphere that was as close to a real game as they could get.
"It was good getting batters in the box against us, just to get a feel with the guy in there," Cotts said. "You get your bearings set straight, as to where you need to start pitches out. If you are in the bullpen, it's hard to tell because there are no hitters in there."
Some of the layoffs for the Sox relievers have been excruciatingly long. Two haven't even seen time in the playoffs yet, with Dustin Hermanson last pitching on Sept. 30 when he threw two innings at Cleveland and Luis Vizcaino not seeing action since throwing two innings in the regular-season finale on Oct. 2 at Cleveland.
Guillen said that he wouldn't change his decisions on how he has used his pitchers despite the long rest periods, but it has left him with a few questions heading into the World Series.
The worry by Guillen isn't unfounded with the relievers likely to see more time on the mound in a World Series expected to be dominated by pitching. It's not that the White Sox doubt whether the complete-game stretch could happen again, but the situation is far less likely with the pitchers have to bat during three games at Houston's Minute Maid Park. If the games are as close as many of the pitching duels have been for the White Sox all season, Guillen likely will make decisions that will remove the starters earlier.
"We're going to play National League games, so we're going to double-switch, pinch-hit, whatever the situation calls for," Guillen said. " If that thing comes up, to leave them in, I will stick with the same guys, those four guys. But do I expect them to do the same thing? I hope they do, but I doubt it."
Guillen may have concern about the bullpen but he seems to be the only one. The relievers themselves seem to have far more important things to worry about -- like if their playoff money will be affected by their lack of work.
The decreased workload of the bullpen became so much of a joke around the clubhouse that some players argued to veto the bullpen's playoff checks. Too bad the original vote on the playoff checks was non-reversable.
"We did steal money, but no we're not giving it back," closer Bobby Jenks said with a chuckle.
Kelly Thesier is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.