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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Pitching Surprises!
by Hal Vickery

Well, folks, it’s been a few weeks since I last reported in here. Real life has intervened once again, and I’ve had virtually no time to devote to anything else but that. Nothing major going on. Just a lot of stuff to do.

When we last convened, I was expressing my concern over the White Sox starting rotation. I’d been telling everyone I know that I figured the Sox to be battling Kansas City. Well, based on the first couple of weeks of baseball, I was sort of right.

The Sox starting pitching has been spotty, but not exactly from some of the people I expected. Mark Buehrle’s opening day outing against Cleveland was unbelievably bad. Seven earned runs in 1⅔ innings? Buehrle? Fortunately for him, the Sox bats save him, only to have some very bad umpiring snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Thankfully, Buehrle came back against the Tigers and only gave up earned run in seven innings in his next outing. Some days you just don’t have it.

Javier Vazquez’s first start, also against the Indians, wasn’t quite as bad as Buehrle’s. He “only” gave up for earned runs in five innings for his first loss of the season. His comeback in his second start wasn’t nearly as dramatic as Buehrle’s, but three earned runs in seven innings was a definite improvement. Vazquez is still on my “I’ll believe it when I see it” list. I still remember two years ago.

John Danks so far has pulled a reverse Buehrle. He opened his season brilliantly, giving up just one earned run in 6⅔ innings in a no-decision. Next time out, he only lasted 2⅓ innings and gave up seven earned runs. Not only was this the reverse of Buehrle’s performance, his 0-1 record resulting from this is the mirror image of Buehrle’s 1-0. Danks is on my watch list.

For that matter, Jose Contreras is also on my watch list. Frankly he scares me. Nobody really knows how old he is, and he has basically put together two good half-seasons in his time with the Sox. His outings so far this season haven’t been what you could call brilliant…or even mediocre for that matter, although his second start was marginally better tan his first. In two starts against the Tigers, Contreras has given up four earned runs each game, going just five innings at Detroit and 6⅔ innings at The Cell. Not really bad, but certainly not good…..

And then there is Gavin Floyd. He’s been the big surprise for me. In two starts against the Tigers, Floyd has given up just three earned runs, all in his first start at Detroit. Saturday at The Cell, Floyd gave up just one hit in 7⅓ innings, by far the best outing by a Sox starter this season. “Sometimes you just have to give a kid like Floyd a new start and that’s all he needs,” according to Sox radio analyst Steve Stone. So far Stone seems to be right.

The bullpen has performed pretty much as expected. The only highly inflated ERAs at present belong to Nick Masset and Octavio Dotel. Masset looked absolutely brilliant in the season opener against the Indians. After replacing Buehrle in the second inning, Masset pitched 4⅓ innings, giving up just two hits. After nine days in which a long reliever wasn’t required, Masset looked more like the Nick Masset we all know and cringe at the sight of. In 3⅔ innings, Masset gave up five earned runs to the Twins.

Still, you can expect that from the long-relief man. After all, Masset is the only player on the forty-man roster who really is capable of long relief, and that is most likely the only reason he made the team after a pretty bad spring training.

Dotel’s shaky outing was opening day against the Indians, where he took the loss. In three outings since then, Dotel has been just fine. His is a case where the ERA will be slow to drop just because of one bad outing at the start.

Other than that, the bullpen has performed as expected.

Now as to that battle with the Royals, they seem to be starting to come back to earth after a hot start. Saturday they dropped a half-game behind the Sox into a tie with Minnesota for second place. By the time you read this, things could be entirely different, but as this is written, the Sox are in first place, not fourth or fifth.

A record of 6-4 is not much to brag about, except when you consider that the Sox have been playing Cleveland (two losses), Detroit, and Minnesota (one loss each). The Tigers and Indians figured to be the class of the AL Central this year, and the Twins with their farm system and homegrown talent can never be discounted. Still the Sox have held their own. Detroit is off to a terrible start, but they’re not that bad a team, and they are likely to rebound from the 2-9 record they hold as this is written. The Sox are off to a better start than either the Twins or Indians, despite two losses to start the season against Cleveland.

It’s still early in the season, but again quoting Steve Stone, “This is not your 2007 White Sox team.” Only time will tell, but I’m betting it’s going to be a fun year.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

We haven’t had a lot of kind things to say about Ed Farmer as a play-by-play announcer over the past couple of years, but that’s just criticism of his job. We have also noted the improvement in Farmer’s performance this year with Steve Stone on the job as his color man. That’s professional. What follows is personal.

It was with a sense of deep sadness that I heard the other day of the passing of Farmer’s mother-in-law. Our condolences go out to Ed Farmer, his wife, and the entire family. One thing you can tell from hearing Farmer speak on the radio is that he is a family man above all else, and having experienced the passing of my own in-laws, I have an idea of the emotions that he and his family are going through right now.

So if you’re into prayer, I’d like you to say one for Ed’s family. If you’re not into that sort of thing, send your thoughts their way. They can use them all right now.

______________________________________________________________________

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 not necessarily those of North Boone High School, his wife, or Buster T. Beagle. You can write Hal at hvickery@svs.com.

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