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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Pitching to fret about?

As spring training rapidly winds down, the one thing that was obvious to all fans is that Sox pitchers really took it on the chin. Somewhere along the line I lost count of how many double-digit games the opposition managed to score against a club whose strong suit was supposedly pitching.

Wasn't it just a couple of months ago that our man Lenny (aka Sox GM Kenny Williams) was justifying trading three pitchers for one because "we have the luxury of being sixteen deep in pitching." The implication was that Kip Wells, Sean Lowe, and Josh Fogg weren't in that top sixteen and were expendable.

Well, call me crazy, but I sure would like to see at least one or two of those guys around now to shore up the pitching staff as currently constituted. This spring, as this is being written, the Sox pitching staff has given up more runs than any team in baseball. An obvious result of this is that the Sox staff has the highest ERA of any club this spring.

Shellshocked fans are wondering what's going on. Is the pitching really that bad? Where are all those young arms we were promised that were going to get us into the World Series by 2002? (Hey, wait! That's THIS year!) What's going on? Who is accountable for this fiasco?

First off there were all those injuries last year. Fans who don't know a biceps from a hip flexor learned all about torn labrums last year. And they learned it can't be good because so many Sox pitchers went on the DL with that injury.

What were the fans told in February? Camera crews from all the Chicago television stations were invited out to the Sox Training Center where all the rehabbing pitchers were working out. We were told that they were coming along just dandy and that most of them would be raring to go come April. The media dutifully reported this "good news."

The problem is that anyone who has followed the recovery of pitchers who have had similar surgeries has observed that their first year back is usually loaded with inconsistency. Most pitchers seem to fully recover, if they do at all, their second year back. Exactly what miracle was Sox management expecting that would result in all of these pitchers coming back fully recovered? Who is accountable for this utter disregard of what anyone with any knowledge of this type of surgery will tell you if you just ask? Were these pitchers considered to be some of the "sixteen deep" that Kenny Williams referred to when justifying trading three arms for one?

As of now, the Sox starting rotation appears to be Mark Buehrle, Todd Ritchie, Danny Wright, Jon Garland, and Jon Rauch. Even if these guys had good springs, this would not be a rotation that would make other teams shake in their boots. As it is, though, the best you could say for any of them is they've pitched with mixed results. Notably absent from the rotation is Jim Parque, who as this is written has yet to throw an 85-mph fastball. Less than two months ago, Parque was the poster boy for the tremendous recovery the injured pitchers have made. Who overestimated his recovery and the recoveries of all the other pitchers?

As for the fact that most of the Sox pitchers have ERA's that look like Einstein's ACT scores: "Don't worry about it," we're told by Sox management and broadcasters. The air in Tucson is thin. "Curve balls don't get as much 'bite' in the thin air and they flatten out."

Okay, let's assume that's true. It's still a fact that the Sox have the worst ERA in baseball this spring. Apparently pitchers from other clubs aren't having the same problems in that thin Arizona air as ours. Why is that?

For a team that is supposedly so deep in pitching, no one has really stepped up and become a leader this spring. None of those great young arms appears to be capable of getting anyone out. Of course, the veteran arms appear to be suffering the same fate. Bob Howry, former closer, has been demoted from his role as setup man because he can't seem to get anyone out either. To make matters worse, Keith Foulke, one of the best closers in the game last year, is also having that same problem.

Last year there was an epidemic of torn labrums on this staff. This year the pitchers seem to be suffering form gopherball-itis. What's going on here?

Last spring when the Sox weren't hitting and were dropping out of contention in May, Jerry Manuel and Lenny decided that the problem was hitting coach Von Joshua. This spring the pitchers can't pitch. The only logical conclusion is that the problem would have to be the pitching coach. If Von Joshua can be blamed for the hitting woes of players like Harold Baines, Julio Ramirez, and Royce Clayton, then Nardi Contreras should be blamed for what has happened to the pitching staff this spring.

Of course, if accountability were truly meaningful, we could take to task all of those in Sox management who did nothing in the offseason except trade three arms for a number two starter to apply a band-aid to a pitching staff that a lot of fans knew was hemorrhaging.

But that's the problem with the White Sox. As long as there is an excuse to be made, no one is accountable.

NEXT: Whatever happened to Point C?


Editor's Note: Hal Vickery has been a White Sox fan since 1955 when he was five years old. For much of that time he also had a secondary rooting interest in the Cubs, which he has shown the good sense to abandon. When not cheering for or writing about the Sox, Hal teachers chemistry and physics at North Boone High School, in Poplar Grove, IL. Hal commutes there daily from Joliet, where he lives with his wife Lee, and their dog, Buster T. Beagle. Hal's opinions are necessarily those of North Boone High School, his wife, or Buster T. Beagle. You can write Hal at nsmf@aol.com.

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