Healthy Putz just fine setting up Jenks
New Sox reliever ahead of schedule in throwing program
CHICAGO -- For those who are worried about new White Sox reliever J.J. Putz's health heading into Spring Training in Glendale, Ariz., this February, let alone for the entirety of the 2010 regular season, his following words should assuage those fears.
"I'm probably a little bit more advanced this year than any other year," said Putz, who is coming off of arthroscopic surgery to remove a bone spur in his right elbow. The procedure ended his lone season as part of the New York Mets on June 9.
"In October, I started my offseason workouts because I knew had to throw for teams," said Putz, who also has been working on his overall physical conditioning with Brett Fischer in Phoenix. "I ended my throwing today. I threw 20 pitches off the mound, nice and easy, to get the feel on the mound again. So, I'm definitely further along and feel stronger."
Putz, 32, spoke on a conference call Wednesday, five days after the right-handed reliever and the White Sox agreed to terms on a one-year, $3 million contract with up to $3 million in incentives for games finished. Even with the existence of this bonus for game-ending work, one of the game's elite closers when healthy understands his role will start with work in the seventh and eighth innings.
The combination of Putz, hard-throwing southpaw Matt Thornton, one of Putz's good friends, and Scott Linebrink basically gives the White Sox a closer in the sixth, seventh and eighth, if needed, leading up to Bobby Jenks in the ninth.
"Anybody who has closed before cherishes the time they do get to close because it's the best job in baseball," Putz said. "At some point, I would like to be a closer again, but given what happened this last season, I knew it was not going to happen.
"We have a great closer in Bobby Jenks and a great left-handed setup guy in Matt Thornton. I'm thinking I'll be going in the seventh and eighth, matching up with righties and Matt matching up with lefties, trying to hand the ball to Bobby as often as we can.
"But I'm totally fine with setting up," Putz said. "I've done it before. Early on last year, I was successful until the bone spur was a problem. I'm really excited to do whatever [the White Sox] need."
In 29 games with the Mets as the setup man for Francisco Rodriguez, Putz finished 1-4 with a 5.22 ERA, 10 holds and two saves. The best season for the one-time University of Michigan hurler came in 2007, when he finished 6-1 with a 1.38 ERA and a career-best 40 saves in 42 chances for the Mariners, along with just 37 hits given up in 71 2/3 innings.
At this point, ensuring Putz is healthy and ready to go stands as more important than his defined role.
"He's a great acquisition, but the challenge now is to get him back when he was really good with Seattle," said White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper. "If Bobby happens to be unavailable at some time, for whatever reason, [Putz] can pitch there.
"Our key is to get [Putz] back. He's recovering from some arm issues, not failure, so I like the chances."
According to Putz, the White Sox had been most aggressive in their pursuit from Day 1, the moment his 2010 option was declined by the Mets. Putz liked the idea of having Spring Training near his home in Arizona, not to mention pitching in the Midwest, where it's easier for his family in Michigan to come watch him pitch.
"It ended up being a really nice fit," Putz said.
Thornton has worked out with Putz all offseason in Arizona and raved about the way he has thrown the baseball. Of course, their friendship of more than a decade has been talked about during the White Sox recruitment, and Thornton definitely gets an assist in bringing them together in Chicago.
"They all get along. He said that the team was a bunch of great guys," said Putz of Thornton's recruiting pitch. "He said it's a first-class organization. It's a team that comes willing to play and wanting to win every single day."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.