Jenks, Putz a formidable late-inning duo
Righties bring experience, heat to eighth, ninth frames
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The final warmup pitch hit the catcher's mitt with a resounding thud, and Bobby Jenks made the move from the bullpen to the pitcher's mound.
This short journey at the Metrodome in 2005 didn't take place without a little unexpected advice from then-backup backstop Chris Widger.
"I didn't realize it was a save situation," said a laughing Jenks. "Widger was warming me up, and he comes up to me as I was going into the game, and he puts his hands on my shoulders and goes, 'Hey, relax. It's just like any other game.'
"And I was like, 'What are you talking about?' It wasn't until after the game I realized. I guess that has been my mentality ever since, being able to keep everything emotionally inside."
Jenks was recounting Aug. 25, 2005, and it wasn't even a regulation ninth-inning save. The burly right-hander pitched the 10th inning after Dustin Hermanson, the team's stellar closer, couldn't preserve a 1-0 lead with three outs to go.
Jenks worked a perfect final frame, striking out Jason Bartlett and Lew Ford in the process, and a star was born. Actually, one of the most important franchise figures in the past decade had emerged.
At the time, Jenks simply was a hard-throwing phenom who had touched 101 mph on the radar gun, working in a setup role or even long-relief role for the best team in baseball. Little did Jenks know that in late October that year, he would become the first rookie to save the clinching game of a World Series.
Since that initial August moment, the White Sox closer's job has belonged to Jenks, or better yet, has been owned by Jenks. That role won't change as the 2010 campaign fast approaches, nor should it. Only now, Jenks has a little more help.
In Jenks and J.J. Putz, the White Sox possess the Major League Baseball equivalent of having two talented quarterbacks on the same NFL roster. For this specific example, though, Putz certainly will see much more game-changing work than a second-string signal-caller.
Matt Thornton, Scott Linebrink and Octavio Dotel all have done a solid job of setting up Jenks during his five-year tenure and occasionally spelling Jenks as the last line of pitching defense. Putz brings the pedigree of an All-Star closer -- albeit coming off an injury -- who can work in tandem with Jenks.
Not exactly in tandem, according to Putz, as much as serving as Jenks' top support.
"There's always a chance you would like to have more than one guy who could do it," said Putz. "But the only time we really need options here is when Bobby goes four or five days in a row and actually needs a breather.
"With his track record, everything should be just fine with him being in the back end of the bullpen. If that situation comes up where he does need a day off, it would be nice to match up. The way our bullpen is put together, we have that with Matt, Linebrink and myself."
If a time comes when Jenks can't close for an extended period, Putz figures to jump into that role. Putz began his closing career on Aug. 7, 2004, when he took over in Seattle for an injured Eddie Guardado.
Putz's first save came through a scoreless inning thrown against Tampa Bay, but in 2005, after nine saves in 13 opportunities in 2004, Guardado came back and Putz returned to the setup role. His true move into the spotlight came when Putz posted 76 saves over the 2006-07 seasons and yielded a mere 96 hits in 150 innings during that stretch.
As a combined force, Jenks (146 saves in 168 chances) and Putz (103/129) have 249 saves. They also possess integral skills for closing success.
Good or bad, put the game behind you as soon as it's done. Know that the only times the media really wants to talk to you are after a blown save.
"They don't really care when you get the job done," said Putz. "The last thing you want to do after blowing a save is talk about it. You try to forget about it as quickly as possible, because this game will humble you in a heartbeat. You need to be able to close the book at the end of the day and open it back up with a clean slate the next day."
"What's new? You're good. You're supposed to do that. That part is something you come to realize," said Jenks. "Really for me, it has been easier not to talk about it. If you are doing well, you are not talking to anyone. You just have to come to realize it's part of it. There are a lot of fans out there who like to see you fail and a lot of fans who fail with you and they want to know how you feel."
To paraphrase Yogi Berra, closing "is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical." Jenks might not have fully comprehended this fact during his first save in Minneapolis, but in Jenks and Putz, the White Sox have a pair of top-notch relievers who know how to finish what the team started.
"Just talking in general, there are so many lows and so many highs," Jenks said. "The mental part of the game is so grueling. Being able to control it, being able to find that middle point, I've learned that over the last couple of years. It's being able to control my emotions out on the field."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.