Jenks takes exception to weight criticism
Used to trade rumors, closer expects to be ready in '10
CHICAGO -- This latest tale concerning White Sox pitcher Bobby Jenks begins with an all-too-familiar premise.
The hard-throwing right-hander would like to remain as the closer on the South Side of Chicago for the 2010 season and a number of seasons beyond. With the White Sox holding control over the arbitration-eligible Jenks, there's a strong possibility he will begin his fifth full campaign as the South Siders' last line of pitching defense.
But here is where this familiar tune goes a bit off-key.
Jenks is not a happy man, and it has nothing to do with another offseason beginning with trade rumors. Instead, during a weekend chat with MLB.com, Jenks took umbrage with the White Sox once again calling out his conditioning at the end of the 2009 season.
"I've done everything I can do, I've done everything that is physically possible, to make myself in better shape this year," said Jenks. "Where the years previously I didn't lose weight in-season, I didn't want my weight issue to be a factor as to why I had an off season."
Jenks, who will turn 28 during Spring Training, was considered to have a somewhat down performance in 2009. Jenks had 29 saves -- the first full season as a closer where he didn't have at least 30 -- and a 3.71 ERA, which marked just his second in the Majors with an ERA over 3.00. His batting average against the past three seasons has gone from .198 to .230 to .250. His slugging percentage against has gone from .247 to .333 to .418. His save percentage has gone from 88 percent to 89 to a career low 83.
During the final weekend of the 2009 campaign, with the White Sox already eliminated from playoff contention, most of the questions for manager Ozzie Guillen and pitching coach Don Cooper were directed toward the future, and Jenks stood out as a hot-button issue.
Guillen stressed that the organization didn't want to trade Jenks and even mentioned that he thought Jenks would stay as the South Siders' closer. But Guillen also expressed concern about Jenks' conditioning.
"Obviously, this kid has to show up in shape," Guillen said. "That's his problem every winter. Hopefully, he knows about it. That's his career and that's the way he's going to make money, if he takes care of himself a little bit in the winter."
Guillen is not the only one in the organization who feels this way. He relayed comments from White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, who in a brief address to the team said that if the players didn't want to prepare themselves for next year, let the team know and something will be done about it.
"For four years now, I've been the same guy, and when I slow down a little ..." Jenks said. "Bad things happen to anyone, not because I need to get into shape. This has been me the whole time, so where is the problem?"
The problem is his declining statistics and lingering health issues. While kidney stones, which Jenks painfully battled through, can't really be controlled, he also dealt with an unexplained back issue for the second straight season.
Cooper made mention of the back problem during a conversation about the pitching staff in that final regular-season weekend. According to Jenks, it's a strange injury because it's on his non-throwing side and not related to his pitching mechanics.
Cooper said he was not singling out Jenks, but rather setting expectations for his entire staff, especially relievers.
"I'm looking for relievers to be ready on an everyday basis," Cooper said. "They are like the Marines, where every day they might have a battle to fight.
"Having them available is paramount. If any of them are losing some time, we are going to look into ways to outsmart it the next time. But aside from the times he has had freak things, Bobby has always been ready when called upon."
Along with the kidney stones and back soreness, a pulled right calf muscle bothered Jenks, cutting his season short prematurely after a blown save on Sept. 17.
The White Sox left Jenks home to rehab the injury rather than take him on their final road trip, and that did not sit well with Jenks, either. Jenks could walk on the injury while wearing a protective boot and said he would have liked to have joined his teammates for those six games.
"They sent me home early, when I could have gone on the road and rehabbed there, instead of going to a place near my house," Jenks said. "I [complained] to my wife every day, 'Why am I home?'"
Cooper said that if Jenks had a problem, he should have talked with him, as the White Sox have an open-door policy under general manager Ken Williams.
Jenks said he lost 15 pounds during the season, which White Sox director of conditioning Allen Thomas verified. But the club's point isn't that he lost weight during the season, it's that he needed to in the first place.
"For me, he's got to be ready to go at the beginning of Spring Training," Thomas said. "That's the only issue I've ever had with Bobby, and he did work his butt off to get that done. But if he maintains in the offseason what he did to lose the 15 pounds, I think we'll see better results."
Jenks says reporting in solid physical condition has become his top priority, and that he will be ready to go come February, with the White Sox or anywhere else.
"Honestly, I've given it a lot of thought these last couple of weeks," said Jenks, who added he's at his lightest big league weight since coming up to Chicago in 2005. "The actions of the last two weeks ... am I unhappy with them? Yes. Anyone in my situation would feel the same way, but I want to be part of the White Sox 100 percent.
"Physically and mentally, I'm going to be ready. If I'm not in the White Sox plan, I know there's a plan for me somewhere."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.