Pitching will key White Sox playoff push
Deep rotation, 'pen to garner headlines in 2010
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Their names are Mark Buehrle, Jake Peavy and Freddy Garcia, and for the next six weeks, they can be found on a stretch of lockers at Camelback Ranch dubbed by closer Bobby Jenks as "Redneck Row" during Sunday's first day of camp for White Sox pitchers and catchers.
Approximately 30 feet away sits the locker belonging to Gavin Floyd, and then walk another 15 to 20 feet and there resides John Danks. No nicknames have been bestowed upon this duo, although collectively, this group of five would like to share a title held in part by the dynamic starting rotation of 2005.
That would be World Series champion.
"I feel as good about our starting rotation as I've felt coming into a Spring Training," said White Sox general manager Ken Williams, addressing the media after a brief team workout, hampered slightly by the weekend rain in Arizona. "Freddy did a lot at the end of last year to make me very positive in that respect."
"We have a deep staff, a very talented staff," said White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who caught that vaunted 2005 rotation in his first year with the team. "If we stay healthy, I like where we are at. Six weeks here, we will be ready to go, and on April 5, hopefully we will have a positive start and see what happens."
It seems only fitting White Sox pitchers and catchers have a few days unto themselves, as this group figures to be the backbone of the South Side playoff push. Along with the starting five, there's a deep bullpen in place to shorten games behind pitchers who are expected to work six or seven innings.
Jenks has reported to camp 25 pounds lighter than last year, according to Williams, and has a healthy J.J. Putz and Matt Thornton pitching in front of him. Tony Pena begins his first full year with the White Sox, while Scott Linebrink talked Sunday about the noticeable difference in the strength of his arm and shoulder compared to last year at this time.
"My arm feels good, and physically, I feel great," said Linebrink, who has been throwing for two months and threw a bullpen last week. "I feel a lot better right now."
"Our starting pitching will be the key," said Putz of the team's outlook. "If they can go deep and we can shorten the game, we'll be good. It looks good on paper."
Don't discount the more aggressive, less homer-based offense and its contributions to success, even if the pitching is getting more of the attention. In fact, fans planning to attend White Sox Cactus League games this March should be ready for a bit more exciting baseball than sometimes is on display during Spring Training contests.
"From the first day of Spring Training, we are going to create how we are going to play during the season," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen during a recent interview. "I'm not waiting for the last week of Spring Training.
"You are going to see us on the first day hit-and-running, bunting. Well, hopefully, they get on base, but that's how we play the game."
Guillen should be able to focus on fine-tuning his team's attack from the get-go because there aren't many roster decisions to be made.
Battles in Arizona will come down to Jayson Nix and Brent Lillibridge for the final position player slot and a group of three or four hurlers fighting it out for the seventh reliever. That list includes right-handers Daniel Hudson, Freddy Dolsi and Sergio Santos, to name a few.
Nix and Lillibridge both have the ability to serve as true utility players, being able to play both on the infield and in the outfield. Nix, who is out of options, has more power than Lillibridge, but Guillen wants him to cut down on his strikeouts. Lillibridge has more speed than a fairly quick Nix but didn't take advantage of that particular skill set where his 2009 game on offense was concerned, although he has received solid reviews from hitting coach Greg Walker for his offseason progress.
As Williams, Guillen and their respective staffs make the calls on these final roster slots, the '10 rotation already has another target in its sights. These five will be trying to match the '05 group of Buehrle, Garcia, Jon Garland, Jose Contreras and Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez in terms of the finished product.
"Well, this staff doesn't have a ring. That puts them behind the other one," Williams said. "But in terms of ability, it's a nice blend of youth with the veteran presence. When it gets into comparisons of teams, it's just unfair."
"If this season goes the way it should be on paper, I might get about 15 innings this year," said Jenks with a laugh. "We are excited. Obviously, the game is played on the field, but with the way it looks right now, we are all excited about how it's going to happen."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.