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WSI News - News Watch

Foulke frustrated by supbar Spring

March 21, By Paul Sullivan; Chicago Tribune

TUCSON, Ariz. - The first thing Keith Foulke did upon reaching his locker was throw his glove into his clothes as if he were spiking a football.

He slumped in his seat, took off his right shoe and flung it across the clubhouse without even a glance. He then took off his left shoe and did likewise.

Was it only a meaningless spring training game he'd just blown, or the seventh game of the World Series?

With Foulke, it's sometimes hard to tell.

"I used to not take it so seriously," Foulke said. "But it's one of those things where I have to start turning it up. We have [10] days before the start of the season, and right now is the time you have to start getting into that regular-season mode."

"When I'm not able to go out there and make my pitches to some guy I shouldn't have a problem getting out, it's a little frustrating. It's going to make me work a lot harder this last week than I want to."

Foulke has had two straight horrible outings, leaving him with a 6.75 earned-run average for the spring. Perhaps the more alarming stat is that he has served up four home runs in only 10 2/3 innings, after giving up three home runs in 81 innings last season.

"How I'm feeling and how I'm pitching are two different things," Foulke said. "I actually feel really good. But when I go out on the mound, I'm definitely not pitching like that."

So what's the problem with the White Sox's closer?

"I don't know," he replied. "That's probably the $10 million question right now."

Foulke didn't pick that figure out of thin air. After beating the Sox in a bitter arbitration battle in 2001 and going through prolonged and arduous contract negotiations last summer, he finally signed a two-year extension last December for $10 million.

Although his 42 saves last year were the second most in Sox history and he led the league with a .933 saves percentage, Foulke's nine losses in 2001 are still embedded in his mind.

Of all the pitching problems to crop up in Sox camp this spring, Foulke's are considered the easiest to solve. But if they continue in the regular season, the residual effect on the team may be too unthinkable to ponder.

"It's just something between the bullpen and the mound," he said. "Maybe I'm rushing too much. It's mechanical. When I get my mechanics right, the pitches are where they need to be. It's something I have to get ironed out in the next week or so. I'm not real worried because it's not the first time it has happened. But it hasn't happened to this extreme before.

"The last two outings I've taken a step back. I just go out and throw the ball. I don't know where it's going or what it's going to do. I have to figure it out real quick, though."

Thursday was the team's first and only day off in the Cactus League season, giving players time to take a deep breath and management time to make plans for the start of the season. The bullpen roles already have changed for some, with Bob Howry demoted from his setup role and Gary Glover and Antonio Osuna being given the opportunity to get the ball in Foulke's hand.

While Tucson Electric Park is considered the "Coors Lite" of spring fields, producing as much offense as the notorious ballpark in Denver, Foulke doesn't use the Arizona effect as a crutch for his recent struggles. The team ERA is an astonishing 7.94, and Sox games this spring have averaged more than 15 runs per game.

"If you go out there and make your pitches, you're going to get people out," Foulke said. "Sometimes the ball carries a little farther and [curveballs] don't break as much, but if I go out there and make my pitches I can get them out most of the time. I don't think of Arizona air. I'm not into that [excuse]."

With James Baldwin's departure last July, Foulke and Howry are the only surviving members of the 1997 staff, and the ones to whom younger pitchers may look for leadership. But when it comes to the staff's shaky spring, Foulke doesn't mince words, challenging his teammates to get their act together—and soon.

"I'll be the first to say we have some work to do," he said. "We need to turn it up. It's an individual thing. Some guys are going to make the team. Some guys aren't. It's up to individuals to push themselves and make the pitch when they need it."

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