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WSI News - News Watch

Pitching Troubles Concerning Team?

March 17th, By Paul Sullivan; Chicago Tribune

MESA, Ariz. - When the regular season begins for the White Sox in two weeks, all the brutal pitching lines from spring training will suddenly evaporate into thin air.

But even if the earned-run averages go back to zero, will the Sox be able to find five solid starters to compete for the AL Central Division title, or should they go out and seek another starter before the end of camp?

"If they went out and got one, it wouldn't hurt," Sox ace Mark Buehrle said. "If they think the guys we have here can get it done ... I know we think that. It's their decision, but if they go out and get somebody, I'm sure no one is going to complain."

Buehrle pitched four shutout innings Sunday against the Cubs before running out of gas in the fifth, allowing three runs on nine hits in 4 2/3 innings in a 3-0 loss. No one is overly concerned that Buehrle or Todd Ritchie won't be ready by Opening Day. But the Sox are still playing a risky game of rotation roulette, hoping that three other starters, including Jon Garland, emerge from the pack.

The pressure is on Jim Parque, Jon Rauch, Gary Glover and Dan Wright to show some consistency. Buehrle said he doesn't care who makes it.

"Whoever gives us the best chance to win," Buehrle said. "I can't pick favorites. I'd like to have my friends, guys I hang out with. But if there's another guy that they think can give us a better chance to win, that's what we're here for, to win."

Sox pitchers were told last week to start pitching inside more, though the team's ERA was still a lofty 7.46 Sunday, worst in the major leagues. Is it a real cause for concern or just a desert mirage caused by the thin air in Tucson?

"We might have the youngest [staff], and our veterans are coming back from injuries," pitching coach Nardi Contreras said. "We put our young kids out there. You can't worry about this Arizona stuff. But if you ask me what fields are the toughest [to pitch in], I'm going to tell you Tucson, because we're 3,000 feet above sea level, and Peoria (Ariz.)."

Parque threw five innings in a Triple-A game against Arizona back in Tucson on Sunday, allowing four runs on nine hits. The Sox are still concerned about his lack of velocity and whether it will return to normal in the next two weeks.

"He's got what he's got," Contreras said. "We don't know if it's going to be any quicker in the future. Hopefully, he throws harder. If not, maybe that's what he's got after his operation, and he's going to have to learn how to pitch with what he has velocity-wise. ... If we're happy with the five guys that end up in the rotation, then fine. If we're not, maybe he has to pitch with what he has?if it's 84 or 85 (m.p.h.)."

Manager Jerry Manuel said Saturday he wasn't contemplating a change in roles for Parque, who desperately wants to remain a starter. While Contreras emphasized that it's not his decision to make, he opened the door Sunday to the possibility that Parque could strengthen his arm in relief before rejoining the rotation when the velocity comes back.

"He might be a starter, he might be a reliever, might be a middle or short [man]," Contreras said. "It remains to be seen. He's got some breaking pitches and can change speeds."

Parque isn't worried about his arm. What's more, he isn't worried that his bosses may be worried about his arm.

"By the time the season starts, I'll be right there," Parque said last week. "If it isn't, it doesn't matter, because I feel like I can pitch and get around it. ... If I'm getting people out, who cares if I'm throwing 83?"

But the key questions are whether Parque can get people out throwing only 83, and what the Sox plan to do about it if he can't.

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