Jeff Keppinger can't shake shoulder woes

Rob Tringali

Inability to throw, logjam at DH make season-opening DL stint a strong possibility

I'm not sure if the "elephant in the room" metaphor works when there could be a couple loitering around Camelback Ranch, but Colleen Kane revealed that one of them had no clothes with the most definitive story about Jeff Keppinger's uncooperative shoulder to date.

Jeff Keppinger had one word Wednesday for how he has been feeling during White Sox spring training.

"Tight," he said before a morning workout at Camelback Ranch.

Three weeks into spring training, Keppinger doesn’t know when his shoulder will feel good enough to enter the Sox’s competition at third base. He said he has felt pain nearly every time he has tried to throw since he had surgery to repair fraying in his rotator cuff and labrum in September.

Kane paints an ugly picture for Keppinger -- he says that his inability to throw during fielding practices is a "disruption to the team," and Robin Ventura said that as Opening Day nears, he'll have to use the DH spot for the players who will actually handle the position during the regular season:

"It’s looking more like it’s tougher to (start with him on the team) if he can’t throw," Ventura said. "We have a lot of guys basically that can do that same thing. You know, it’s a somewhat short (time) to be able to do that as of right now unless he makes a miraculous comeback."

Nobody seems to be holding their breath, and I wonder if has less to do with likelihood, and more due to a lack of interest. The shortage of compassion in Cactus League logistics is reflective of his place (or lack thereof) on the White Sox overall. He showed last year that he can't hack it with one arm, and there are a number of more promising options and combinations that could work at third base in his stead this time around.

The Sox would love to have a healthy Keppinger, but if he's not (close to) 100 percent, the only thing they really need him to do is to get out of the way.

Star-divide

The sheen of spring training optimism has started to wear off in the bullpen, as Doug Padilla wonders whether "gathering of setup men" can give Robin Ventura some kind of hierarchy over the next fortnight or so.

We know the bullpen won't really take shape until the primary four right-handed options are all on schedule, and when Ronald Belisario takes the mound today, only Matt Lindstrom will truly be straggling in that regard.

But Mitchell Boggs, brought in to serve as depth with a hint of upside, hasn't provided either thus far. In four outings, he's allowed six runs on six hits and two walks over 3⅔ innings (including a thrashing at the hands of Rangers minor leaguers on Tuesday). Spring training stats are spring training stats, but those aren't the only underwhelming numbers:

Boggs allowed four earned runs and recorded two outs with a fastball that averaged 89-91 mph and topped out at 92, per a scout. He also didn’t command his slider well, though his pitches had life.

A drop in heat was just one of his problems last year (his average fastball fell from 95.8 mph in 2012 to 94.2 mph in 2013), so that warrants monitoring. But Boggs says that his velocity is a process, and that's just one of the many things he's addressing as the spring training schedule hits the halfway mark.

Boggs said he and Cooper have focused on little details this spring. Cooper also requested for Boggs to work on his command away to left-handed hitters and inside to righties, something he has struggled with in the past.

Boggs did so Tuesday, even when he got into trouble.

"That’s something I have never done a ton of," Boggs said. "I’m a sinkerball guy. That’s something I have been working on here early in games and have probably done that in situations where I wouldn't do it and I think I’m going to benefit from that. I think it’s going to be a weapon."

(I don't know about you, but I read that last sentence in Aaron Carter's voice.)

This could all be true, and Boggs deserves some spring leeway as a pitcher with past success trying to rebuild himself under a new tutor. But like Keppinger, he carries a lot of baggage from 2013 that can't be ignored. And like Keppinger, there are younger players who could turn out to be more useful than a bogged-down Boggs, like Andre Rienzo and his ability to throw long relief.

It's hard to embrace the relief corps in its current form, but it's easier to be patient when the team has future seasons in mind. This ragtag band of live arms and weird careers could follow the doomed trail blazed by the 2007 bullpen, but it didn't run beyond one season. The Sox won the AL Central the following year thanks to contributions from Scott Linebrink and Octavio Dotel, both of whom were new to the Sox in 2008. Neither would have made a lick of difference the year before, so it's understandable why Rick Hahn would shop for relievers at a salvage yard this winter. It would just be nice if the unproven relievers could at least prove to be fully functioning, and it may be another week or so before Lindstrom's oblique complies.

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