Three questions after a four-reliever inning

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Robin Ventura's bullpen is kind of a mess, but he's not making it any easier to figure out who's the most expendable

When your starting pitcher completes six innings and you're using your last pitcher by the 11th, it seems like something failed.

No, besides the relievers.

I understand what could drive Robin Ventura to use four pitchers in the eighth inning of the White Sox' loss to Boston on Wednesday, but it's easy to see what drives people to do a lot of things they'd regret.

Assuming Scott Downs isn't yet toast -- and based on what we've seen of him in March and April, one could make a case he might be -- it was an OK call to pitch him against David Ortiz and only David Ortiz.

But when Jake Petricka only lasts one batter, that's when second-guessing comes into play, with more questions than answers.

No. 1: What is Daniel Webb?

Given the encouraging discussion around Webb's encouraging numbers, I'd have to think that he's one of Ventura's top two options out of the bullpen. With Boston sending its 3-4-5 part of the order to the plate in the eighth, that's a job that demands one of the two best relievers.

But Webb didn't pitch until three innings later as Ventura's last resort, because there isn't a clearly defined long man. That seems like a waste of his talent, and it led to a waste of pitchers.

From a stretched-out standpoint, it doesn't seem like there's too big of a gulf between Petricka and Webb. They're both former starters who pitched a little over 70 innings out of the bullpen last year. It seems like Webb would be the guy you'd want protecting a lead against the heart of the order in a tight game, and Petricka to the one who occasionally has to wear it. Right now, it's working out as backwards as it seems.

No. 2: Who is the third-best reliever?

This is a very good question. It's also a terrible one to consider right now:

G IP H HR BB K ERA
Ronald Belisario 7 6.1 10 1 2 4 12.79
Maikel Cleto 7 6.2 2 0 7 3 1.35
Scott Downs 7 2.2 3 0 5 2 13.50
Donnie Veal 7 6 6 0 7 6 7.50
Jake Petricka 6 7.2 8 0 5 7 3.52

As a group, these five relievers are walking eight batters per nine innings. You could swap out any of them and stand a chance at improving the bullpen, at least for a couple of weeks. Yet it's hard to tell which ones are the biggest problems when they only face one batter.

Given that it's April of a learning year, I'd rather see Ventura let one of these guys blow a game singlehandedly (especially the right-handers) than ruining more evenings by committee, especially when it's the inning's second relievers. All we have now is a dismal collection of small sample sizes, subdivided into even smaller ones. At least we'd have a better idea of why they're unable to throw strikes.

No. 3: Who is the closer?

Caveats: Closers are overrated, setup guys often have tougher assignments, flexible bullpens would be ideal, etc.

Before Wednesday's game, Robin Ventura reiterated his faith in Lindstrom as the ninth-inning guy. Then, when the ninth inning started, he let Cleto face the first two batters, only bringing Lindstrom into the game after both hitters reached base, when the whole idea is that Lindstrom pitches better with clean bases.

Ventura started the ninth with Cleto because, with only Lindstrom and Webb in the bullpen, he wanted to see if he could steal one to three outs and keep from dipping into the depth any further. But I don't know if that was conveyed to Lindstrom, as his postgame quotes indicate that he took it as a sign of doubt:

"They just told me to be ready to follow Cleto, so I did as told," Lindstrom said. "I could kind of see how they wouldn't be confident in me in that situation, but I was feeling good before BP throwing. I felt like I was ready and did my normal routine to get ready to go out there in the ninth."

Add it all up, and the desperation maneuvers in the eighth inning only added to the general uneasiness.

His managing was akin to Adam Eaton's extraneous diving during the opening series -- we were able to see how badly he wanted each move to pay off at the moment, but it cast doubt on his long-term problem-solving ability. Four-reliever innings don't so much cover up deficiencies as it diffuses them, and good luck telling who's most responsible for what.

Ventura can put his future first, because he's tasked with leading a rebuilding effort and his contract runs longer than all of his relievers' deals. He doesn't have to justify his existence, but there are a few pitchers that need to make their own cases and soon. Ventura should start giving them the right to incriminate themselves.

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