Notes: Relievers sticking together
Members of Sox bullpen vow to work through adversity
PHILADELPHIA -- Matt Thornton was driving to Midway Airport after last Sunday's victory over Houston, preparing to leave with the White Sox for a six-game road trip to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
The left-handed reliever turned on The Score, WSCR 670 AM, the team's flagship station, during the short drive. Thornton quickly realized that particular move was a mistake, with no disrespect meant to the on-air programming or talent.
"People were calling in, absolutely slamming the 'pen," said Thornton, speaking prior to Wednesday's series finale in Philadelphia. "I know we had struggled for a couple of weeks, at that point, and given up some leads.
"I was talking to the guys afterwards and saying it's pretty embarrassing. People were pointing the fingers right at us as the reason we weren't playing well right now. And it was probably our fault, at least partly."
It's probably a good thing for Thornton that he had no access to Chicago sports radio following Wednesday's 8-4 loss to Philadelphia, a setback in which Thornton allowed five runs on three hits and three walks over 1 1/3 innings. Ryan Bukvich also gave up one run in relief of starter John Danks, ending a run of 6 2/3 scoreless innings for the bullpen against the Phillies.
Despite the relievers' well-documented recent run of futility, producing an 8.62 ERA over its last 32 games, while allowing 113 hits and 57 walks over 78 1/3 innings, the relief crew remains together as a cohesive group. They have supported each other during these tough times and tried to build confidence amongst themselves, even when outside forces seem to be dead-set against them.
Working through their problems on the road might be a little easier than surviving at U.S. Cellular Field, where fans have little tolerance for continued struggles. One or two straight pitches thrown out of the strike zone by any reliever quickly produced a chorus of boos from the White Sox faithful during this past homestand.
"Getting booed might bother the younger guys a little more, but it doesn't bother me at all," Thornton said. "Making adjustments, that's the game. If you are getting beat one way, make an adjustment until you find the right way."
Adjustments and staying confident appear to be the watchwords for the current White Sox relievers, who vow to work through this ongoing adversity as a unit.
"We've been talking about that as a unit, in general," Bukvich said. "Everybody needs to start believing in themselves.
"If everyone else is going to be on us, we have to just kind of stick together and stay positive with each other. With the arms we have, it's going to turn around."
Here they come: Friday's series opener against Pittsburgh at PNC Park marks the first day Darin Erstad is eligible to come off the disabled list. The center fielder and leadoff hitter said Wednesday that he has continued to make progress from a sprained left ankle suffered in Toronto on May 31, but wouldn't make any guarantees in regard to his comeback.
"I'm not ruling anything out," Erstad said. "Like I said before, I don't have a timetable for what I'm trying to get done here. It's progressing, but that's the way you have to do it.
"You don't jump ahead of yourself. Just take each step at a time. Just keep working."
Erstad has been taking swings in the cage and on the field and just started to make cuts with his running. The veteran is following a set recovery process, a process without a timetable.
"I've been through this enough where I've done it both ways, where I came back too early and I've done it right before," Erstad said. "You just know inside through experience when you are ready to help the team."
Manager Ozzie Guillen also believes Scott Podsednik is close to returning to the White Sox, judging by the reports he has received from his Minor League rehab stint for Triple-A Charlotte. Podsednik hasn't attempted a stolen base for the Knights, but that move might not be necessary to ensure his return.
"Every time you have that kind of injury you're always scared to get hurt," said Guillen of Podsednik. "I'm going to call maybe today or [Thursday]. I'm going to call [Charlotte manager Marc] Bombard and say, 'How is he running?'
"He might be running well. But he might not want to take a chance down in the Minor Leagues to re-hurt himself."
No winter vacation: Through injuries and ineffectiveness, Guillen has watched Minor Leaguers such as Ryan Sweeney, Josh Fields, Jerry Owens and Gustavo Molina play before him. Brian Anderson also was in Chicago to start the season, before being sent back to Charlotte.
As of Wednesday, Guillen does not believe any of them are currently legitimate Major Leaguers. In order to get to that level, Guillen also believes these youngsters could need another year of seasoning in the Minors. They also could benefit from winter baseball.
Anderson, Sweeney, Fields, Owens, Boone Logan, Heath Phillips and former White Sox hurler Sean Tracey all have suited up during the past two winters for La Guaira in Venezuela, a team to which Guillen was connected. All of those players left early from their stints, straining that relationship between the team and the White Sox.
Guillen said he no longer plans to get involved with recommending young players to get more at-bats in the winter, and he won't hold it against any individuals who decide to stay home during the offseason. But Guillen won't back off his feeling of young players who take part in winter action have an edge over the others who don't.
"A lot of people thought I was sending people to winter ball just because it was the team I play for," Guillen said. "I could care less, I worry about the White Sox.
"Those guys need to play baseball. Playing Little League and high school, that's not baseball. Aluminum bats and [stuff], that's not baseball. My kids play baseball. They're going to see a good pitcher once a week. They're not going to see a good pitcher every day. The competition is better."
Get a grip: Tuesday's rough start for Jose Contreras was blamed on a lack of command with the fastball by the White sox right-hander. But catcher Toby Hall, who started the second game of this series, thought the elements might have played a part in Contreras' worst performance since Opening Day.
"It was clammy out there, and when you have a slider-split kind of guy ... " Hall said. "I was having a hard time throwing the ball back, and I couldn't imagine having command for those first or five innings.
"Every other time I caught him, the command was there. I don't know if he would say it. But the moisture out there made it tough."
Down on the farm: Maurice Gartrell raised his average to .395 over his last 10 games with his eighth home run during Class A Kannapolis' 9-8 victory over Greenville in 10 innings on Tuesday. Third baseman Michael Grace added four hits and three RBIs to the win. ... Javier Castillo doubled twice as part of Class A Winston-Salem's 8-3 victory over Potomac.
On deck: Following Thursday's off-day, Jon Garland (4-3, 3.42 ERA) makes his 13th start of the season in Friday's 6:05 p.m. CT series opener at PNC Park. Garland's trip to the mound against Pittsburgh marks his second straight appearance against a National League foe.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.