When Robin Ventura called for Donnie Veal to face Joe Mauer with runners on the corners and two outs in the seventh inning on Sunday, any garden-variety dolt stood a good chance of predicting the outcome. Case in point:
Chances are we'll see Jesse Crain with the bases loaded this inning.— South Side Sox (@SouthSideSox) April 21, 2013
In Hawk Harrelson parlance, that didn't take long. Ventura threw Veal against die Mauer. Veal issued a four-pitch walk to load the bases. Ventura called for Crain. Crain gave up a bases-clearing double to Josh Willingham, and the ballgame was in effect, to cite Harrelson again, ova.
One could quibble and say that two of Veal's pitches to Mauer were borderline. But he can't exactly expect the benefit of the doubt; not against Mauer, and certainly not the way he'd been pitching entering Sunday.
The walk to Mauer marked the third time in 10 appearances that Veal walked the only batter he was meant to face, and the second game in a row. Veal threw nine pitches against the Twins, and only one of them found the strike zone.
(If you wish to be even harsher, you can count April 5 against Seattle, when he walked lefty Michael Saunders before getting switch-hitting Kendry Morales to ground into a double play.)
This is a familiar problem for the Sox, whose LOOGYs are more annual than perennial regardless of background. Right now, Veal is following the Randy Williams playbook.
You may remember "Raaaaaaaaaaaaaandy!", who turned in a decent two months out of the bullpen in 2009. A disastrous series against the Yankees in late August ruined his season line (unimpressive 4.58 ERA), but he did the job in less noticeable ways. He came through in nine of 10 traditional LOOGY situations, and he turned in 23 scoreless appearances out of 27, including 11-for-11 in September.
That gave him in the inside track for a bullpen job in spring training, and he nailed that audition. Not only did he threw 13⅓ scoreless innings, but he didn't walk a batter, either. Williams broke camp with a big-league team for the first time at age 34, and it was a great story.
When the real games commenced, Williams began by walking 14 batters over his first 9⅔ innings, and it was all downhill from there. Williams did manage to make White Sox history -- at the time Erick Threets replaced him in the bullpen for the start of July, he owned the highest single-season WHIP (2.32) for any pitcher who threw at least 25 innings.
Then it was Threets' turn for short-term success. He showed a hard, boring fastball and surprising command, resulting in 11 scoreless appearances. He injured his elbow throwing a scoreless inning against the Yankees on Aug. 27; it required Tommy John surgery, and he hasn't bounced back.
The inability to find a sustainable second lefty, starting back when Neal Cotts hit the wall, inspired Kenny Williams to put down real money for one. He signed Will Ohman to a two-year, $4.5 million contract before the 2011 season. Despite the (over)investment, the story ended the same. Ohman overcame a rough start to give the Sox a respectable 2011, but he collapsed in 2012. The Sox DFA'd him at the end of June, and he hasn't resurfaced in the majors since.
Ohman was replaced first by Leyson Septimo, but he fell out of favor after a few high-profile failures like this game-changing four-pitch walk. Then Veal bumped Septimo out of the way to become the late-season, Prince-slaying feel-good story, and the guy who finally "belonged" with the big boys in spring training.
Now Veal is firmly in regression's grasp, and the tables could be turned if he isn't careful. Maybe not by Septimo, who is on the DL with a shoulder strain and hasn't pitched since early March. But Veal still can be demoted, so if the out-of-options Septimo never re-enters the picture, it could be somebody else, be it another journeyman lefty castoff (David Purcey has only walked two in his first nine innings at Charlotte!), or a righty long man while Hector Santiago slides into more situational work.
We're not out of April yet, so it's too early to pull any alarms this season. History says it's a slippery slope, though, because when considering the shelf life of his predecessors, one could say Veal is already in the twilight of his South Side career.