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WSI News - News Watch

Sox' pitching staff not too impressive

March 22, 2002

By Doug Padilla, Chicago Sun-Times

TUCSON, Ariz.--There was one obvious benefit Thursday to the White Sox' only day off of the spring. The team ERA didn't get any higher.

All the tests are completed, and manager Jerry Manuel must decide not on which pitchers he is happy with, but on which ones he can live with. Manuel said the staff he sets today is the one he will take into the season.

But winning a spot on this staff might be akin to surviving a shipwreck, only to end up on a deserted island without food. Relief is only temporary, in more ways than one.

So who makes it? Only Manuel knows for sure. The team will find out in a closed-door meeting early today.

The likely rotation will have Mark Buehrle starting the April 1 season opener in Seattle, followed by Todd Ritchie, Dan Wright, Jon Garland and Jon Rauch. The No.5 starter isn't expected to start until April 9 as Manuel opens with a four-man rotation because of a day off April 4.

The bullpen is likely to open the season with seven pitchers. Keith Foulke is the closer, and Gary Glover is the setup man. The remaining five probably will be Lorenzo Barcelo, Bob Howry, Antonio Osuna and left-handers Kelly Wunsch and Mike Porzio.

Howry lost his setup role this week, while the slow rehabilitation of Jim Parque has left him out of the picture. Parque, who had shoulder surgery last summer, likely will stay at extended spring training or be sent out on a minor-league rehab assignment.

''It's definitely not what we thought we had coming into the year, but that doesn't mean that we won't have success,'' Buehrle said. ''You hate to see [Howry] and [Parque] go through what they're going through because they've been so important the last three years. At the same time, we need the other guys to step in and carry the load until they are ready to go.''

The Sox, who have lost eight of their last nine Cactus League games, have an American League-worst 7.94 ERA. Whether that improves during the season might depend on young pitchers such as Rauch, Barcelo and Porzio.

''It's a concern,'' said Wunsch, who has been slowed this spring by a strained hamstring. ''You'd like to have veterans at every spot on your team in a perfect world. For the past few years, all the talk has been on how the strength of this organization has been the pitching. Now we'll see.''

One of the biggest gambles might be sliding Wright into the No. 3 spot in the rotation. He has been no more impressive this spring than Garland or Rauch--or even Glover, for that matter--but he will get the nod because the third game is in Seattle and he had a solid start there last year.

''A lot of things went right that night,'' recalled Wright, who gave up five hits and a run in 72/3 innings, finishing with a no decision. ''I had some pretty good command of my stuff. Some balls were hit right at guys, and I just hung around. We had a chance to win, and that's all I really remember out of it.''

As for the bullpen, Howry's struggles have created unexpected questions for a team that already had a bunch of pitching questions entering spring training.

''Bob's a very important part of this pen,'' Wunsch said. ''He's one of the cornerstones. If he can't find his way back, then it will really put a strain on us. I could see them going outside the organization then.

''The really scary thought is if Bob is still trying to find it and one of us [other relievers] goes down. We're a bit fragile down there, and it would get real ugly in a hurry.''

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