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WSI News - News Watch

Notebook: Howry's struggles continue

By Jimmy Greenfield,

TUCSON, Ariz. -- It might be easier for Bob Howry if something in his shoulder was loose, torn or strained and not perfectly healthy, as it has felt every day this spring.

At least then Howry could explain why his fastball -- the pitch that has made him a millionaire and a key member of the White Sox pitching staff -- has utterly failed him.

"I have no idea," Howry said. "I have not even the slightest clue. Last year coming off surgery I was throwing harder than I am right now."

After Monday's outing against Arizona, in which Howry gave up six hits and four runs in two innings, his Cactus League ERA jumped to 11.57. He's given up 19 hits in 9 2/3 innings.

"The most frustrating part is I probably worked harder this spring at trying as far as (making) my shoulder strong, stable," he said. "(I did) everything I could do to fix it and make it the best it can possibly be and (I'm) getting the worst results. It's eating me up."

Howry's diminishing returns has left Sox manager Jerry Manuel no choice but to strip him of his role as setup man to closer Keith Foulke, a role he's held for the last two seasons.

"Unfortunately for him and for us it's something that is just not happening for him right now," Manuel said. Obviously, we wouldn't go into the season with him in that particular role. That wouldn't be fair to him or the team."

That assessment didn't get an argument from Howry.

"They have to put someone in there that can get the job done and unless I start throwing the ball a heckuva lot better than I am right now there's not a single person that can blame him," Howry said. "If I'm in his spot and I see the way I'm throwing the ball the way I am right now I don't put myself in that situation."

The 28-year-old righthander had 28 saves as the Sox closer in 1999 before losing the job to Foulke the following year. He didn't waver from his new assignment and became one of the league's most effective setup men in 2000, posting a 3.17 ERA as the Sox won the AL Central title.

The arthroscopic surgery Howry had on his right shoulder following the 2000 season didn't prevent him from appearing in 69 games in 2001, but his statistics reflected the loss of velocity in his once imposing fastball, which has gone from 96 mph, to 92 last season, to about 89 this spring. His 4.69 ERA in 2001 was nearly a run and a half higher than the previous season.

The setup job is no longer his, and just what his role will be is uncertain.

"He'll be a bullpen guy or...I don't know," said Manuel. "We'll have to have some discussion on it and see if we can find a way to get him back on track."

The need to fill Howry's role has helped -- or forced -- Manuel to better understand who will comprise his starting rotation, which so far only has two confirmed members in Mark Buehrle and Todd Ritchie.

The leading candidate to replace Howry is Gary Glover, who had been vying for a starter's spot with Dan Wright, Jon Rauch and Jon Garland but will now be used along with Antonio Osuna to get the ball to Foulke.

"That could go either way," Manuel said of choosing Osuna or Glover to handle setup duties. "You could go either one. I understand that (Osuna) pitched extremely well yesterday...that's a good sign for us."

As is the custom with a frustrated athlete searching for an answer, Howry has been looking for one in places he normally wouldn't have looked. It has been years since he pitched out of the wind-up, which he tried on Monday to no avail.

He even wondered if perhaps he had been trying to throw the ball too hard.

"Today I went out there relaxed instead of all tense and trying to throw it as hard as I can," Howry said. "I thought maybe that I would get some life back, maybe I was choking things off. But it didn't happen."

Whether it will happen for Howry this season nobody can say right now. Nobody can even explain it.

"It's quite an enigma, really," Manuel said.

THE TUCSON BLUES: There have been so many runs crossing the plate at Tucson Electric Park this spring that Monday's 16-13 loss to Arizona was just par for the course.

The Sox have played 13 games at TEP this spring and in those games a combined 226 runs have been scored, an average of over 17 runs per game.

Fun for the fans, sure, but difficult for a manager trying to piece together a pitching staff.

"It's probably the toughest place to evaluate pitchers," Manuel said. "The wind blows out. It's very difficult on the outfield. The infield is very hard. The air is very light. The pitcher's breaking balls don't react the same here."

Even Foulke has had his difficulties on the mound. He gave up three hits and five runs, only two earned, in one inning on Monday. Afterwards, he tossed some of his equipment around an empty Sox clubhouse in frustration.

"Today he just left a lot of pitches up," Manuel said. "He's a guy when he's right location is very important to him. (I'm) not really at this time overly concerned with him."

Nor is Manuel concerned with Todd Ritchie, who gave up 11 hits, walked four and gave up seven runs in five innings against the Diamondbacks.

WUNSCH REDUX? With only 4 2/3 innings under his belt, left-hander Mike Porzio hasn't been given much of a chance to prove himself this spring. But at least he's been given a chance.

In his limited time on the mound, he has created an opportunity for himself. Porzio has yet to give up a run and has held hitters to a .235 average with seven strikeouts and only one walk.

Just as Kelly Wunsch had bounced around the minors for seven seasons before joining the Sox and fashioning a career for himself, Porzio was in the same boat.

He nearly quit baseball in 1997 when he finished up his third straight season playing in an independent league. He listened to the counsel of friends and family and stayed with it, eventually signing with Atlanta and having a solid season at Double-A in 1998.

An offseason trade landed him in Colorado, where he got into 16 games as a reliever in 1999, still his only time in the big leagues. He joined the Sox last season and spent most of it at Triple-A Charlotte, where he went 6-6 with a 4.35 ERA in 31 games, including 23 starts.

Porzio is an insurance policy from the left side in case Wunsch isn't healthy, which he appears to be after an early spring bout with a right hamstring strain. That doesn't mean Porzio hasn't given up hope.

"I know they'd like to find a lefty who can complement Kelly Wunsch for some versatility, maybe do some long work, some short work," Porzio said. "I think I can offer that. I think they believe I can offer it also and that's why I'm still here."

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