Sox believe same staff will be better
Room for improvement comes from experience, injuries
CHICAGO -- One of the most historic Presidential elections in this country's history will be decided on Tuesday, Nov. 4.
But don't look for pitching coach Don Cooper to get into the political spirit and start campaigning for specific additions to the White Sox pitching staff during next month's organization meetings.
As of the last week of October, Cooper seems ready to lead the same basic group of hurlers against the always-tough American League Central lineups in 2009. A number of things could change before Spring Training begins in February, and with general manager Ken Williams at the helm, there's a good chance they probably will, and soon.
But if the pitching staff is altered, it won't be per Cooper's direct request.
"I won't push for anything," said Cooper from his home in Nashville. "If I'm asked my opinion, I certainly will point out that, 'This will strengthen us here and there.'
"Kenny is the one who acquires people. He's been right before, and I completely trust him. Kenny Williams has been good at getting the right people, and it's up to the coaches to make it work."
Cooper's supreme confidence in Williams and the present pitchers on the roster quickly can be traced to emerging young starters such as John Danks and Gavin Floyd, who helped anchor the AL's sixth-best staff by ERA. Both pitchers were acquired by Williams in somewhat risky past offseason moves, with Williams even having enough confidence in an untested Floyd to trade away a proven winner and innings eater in Jon Garland last November.
Both Danks and Floyd became leaders in the White Sox push to the 2008 AL Central title. Floyd led the team with 17 wins, while holding the opposition to a .241 average. Danks, the 23-year-old southpaw, produced a 3.32 ERA, struck out 159 and yielded just 182 hits over 195 innings.
According to Cooper, Danks and Floyd achieved the little goals set in order to hit the major targets of double-digit victories and 200 innings pitched. That narrower focus included basic things such as more quality strikes, a higher first-pitch strike percentage, keeping the baseball in the park and keeping the walks down.
Now, the challenge for Danks and Floyd is to build off of these All-Star quality performances or at least maintain their high level of success.
"They made a major jump from where they were," said Cooper of Floyd and Danks. "And they really gave themselves more of a chance to have success. They've had a glimpse and realize why success has come.
"So, their goal becomes to do it again and establish themselves. Do I have any doubts they can do it? No, because they both work hard and have the ability. I'll plot the course and then get them on board. Then, in taking our journey, we will be working together and thinking and preparing for the next improvements."
Getting to the steady and often spectacular level of Mark Buehrle would be one goal for Danks and Floyd. Buehrle recorded at least 10 wins, 200 innings pitched and 30 starts for the eighth straight season, making him baseball's only pitcher to accomplish such a feat. He also led the AL with 24 quality starts and by inducing 34 double plays.
Javier Vazquez currently completes the front four in the White Sox rotation. Despite a miserable finish in his final four starts to the 2008 campaign, during which he allowed 24 earned runs over 16 1/3 innings, Cooper expects the talented right-hander to bounce right back in a White Sox uniform.
"Absolutely, he can come back," said Cooper in definitive tones concerning Vazquez, who is under contract for two more years at $23 million. "I don't buy it that he's not a big-game pitcher. They have a guy in Tampa who they call 'Big Game James' [Shields] and he's played a year or two. Javy has played for  years, and who would snub their nose at a guy with 200 innings pitched and 200 strikeouts every year?
"He just didn't rise to big-game occasions in 2008. With Javy, we made too many mistakes. He wasn't over enough pitches. He didn't have enough confidence or aggressiveness. All of our starters stepped up, and Javy didn't quite make it up. It's not because he's not capable."
Those same optimistic feelings from Cooper apply to beleaguered reliever Boone Logan, who had a 1.88 ERA through June 14 but skyrocketed to a final ERA of 5.95 and finished with some sharp criticism from manager Ozzie Guillen. Cooper said Logan "will be given every opportunity to come on back," helping to solidify a White Sox bullpen that served as the team's strong suit until injuries to closer Bobby Jenks and setup man Scott Linebrink threw the relief alignment out of whack.
"Keeping our bullpen healthy will be a key," Cooper said. "But with losing Scottie and trying to fill a big hole with Jose Contreras' injury, we still handled major problems well and won the division."
With the general managers' meetings starting next week, Cooper understands roster movement could be afoot. Clayton Richard might be penciled in as the team's fifth starter, as an example, but by Thanksgiving, there could be another veteran in place.
Ultimately, Cooper realizes pitching serves as the backbone of any team. He's ready to work with the arms that already are in place toward that goal, if that's the plan decided upon.
"Our goal is, as always, to win the World Series," Cooper said. "It's up to us, in that it starts and ends with pitching. No matter what you have offensively and defensively, teams that win usually don't have last-place pitching."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.