The decision to suddenly throw Chris Sale into the closer role after a highly successful month in the rotation raised more questions than it answered. Some don't even involve Sale.
Among them, why wasn't Addison Reed -- widely regarded as closer material -- used in the ninth inning first?
And that leads to another question: Why isn't Reed being used at all?
Reed is the only pitcher on the Sox with a 0.00 ERA, although partially because Robin Ventura hasn't afforded many chances for Reed to spoil it. Over the last 10 games, here's how White Sox relievers rank in terms of batters faced:
- Zach Stewart, 21
- Hector Santiago, 19
- Will Ohman, 17
- Nate Jones, 15
- Dylan Axelrod, 14
- Matt Thornton, 12
Am I having fun with selective endpoints? Kinda, but not really. His outing on April 25 came on two days' rest. The outing before that? Three days' rest. And on the other side of the timeframe, had Santiago finished the job against Detroit on Saturday, Reed wouldn't have entered that game for one whole batter.
So it's not that he's getting a breather after a heavy workload. He's just not getting work, unless you count warming up and never entering the game.
But here's what's stranger -- Reed's workload has dropped off after Jesse Crain went on the disabled list. That flies in the face of simple logic, which normally would dictate "fewer relievers = more innings."
Is there that little work for right-handed relievers in the AL Central? If you adhere strictly to lefty-lefty matchups, apparently so.
Let's take a look at how Reed has and hasn't been used over the last week and a half.
There's no problem with Ventura's deployment of Reed in the four-game set against Boston. The White Sox were blown out in the first two games, and Jake Peavy pitched a complete game in the third. In the finale, Reed recorded three outs across the seventh and eighth innings. That's the only situation that really called for him.
But since then, he's been a victim of his own handedness and Peavy's hubris.
May 2 vs. Cleveland: With a lineup full of lefties or switch-hitters, Ventura tried going with Ohman for two innings, which is never advisable. He finally called on Reed with two on and two outs. Unfortunately, Reed gave up a double to Jack Hannahan before getting an inning-ending flyout. He wasn't seen the rest of the series, since Ventura let John Danks (lefty!) pitch the Sox out of the next game.
May 4 vs. Detroit: Ventura let Peavy pitch to Miguel Cabrera for a fourth time at 117 pitches, rather than call on Reed, because Peavy always has to get his way for some reason. Then, Matt Thornton pitched the eighth and ninth, giving up a walk-off shot to Jhonny Peralta (right-handed!).
May 5 vs. Detroit: Ventura decided to go back to Hector Santiago with a one-run lead in the ninth, even though Santiago has nothing but a fastball, and has been exceptionally homer-prone. Only when Santiago extended the game long enough did Reed get called into action, and that was to face righty Austin Jackson.
May 6 vs. Detroit: Santiago came back out to throw the seventh and eighth innings with the Sox trailing by one, even though he threw 20 mostly unsuccessful pitches against the same team the day before. Sure enough, Santiago gave up his fifth homer of the season to left-handed Andy Dirks.
Today's doubleheader clouds the picture a little. Perhaps Ventura wanted to use up Santiago since the Sox were going to call up Jose Quintana. That way, the Sox will have four lefties at their disposal for the twin bill, even with Santiago out.
But at this point, it's starting to look like the Sox might be seeing too many trees and not enough forest. They are 3-7 over their last 10, with all but two games within reach in the late innings. It doesn't seem like Santiago and Ohman should be worked twice or thrice times as hard as Reed under those conditions.
It'd be easier to avoid Reed if he had a rich history of lopsided splits. He hasn't shown them thus far in the majors over his very limited sample, and here's what he did in the minors last year:
- vs. RHB: .155/.255/.239, 1 HR, 12 BB, 75 K over 171 PA
- vs. LHB: .160/.180/.227, 2 HR, 2 BB, 36 K over 122 PA
That success won't translate as neatly to the minors, of course, but he's not some kind of three-quarters junkballer begging to be pounded. He should be given chances against lefties the caliber of Michael Brantley at this point. Hell, he's a better choice than Santiago or second-inning-Ohman regardless of the hitter.
But if he's not getting those opportunities now, it'll be interesting to see how he'll find work when Crain comes back, and if/when Sale takes ownership of the closer role. We've seen how he's been used against Detroit and Cleveland, and Minnesota and Kansas City are lefty/switch-heavy, too. As long as the Sox carry four lefties in the bullpen, and as long as Ventura adheres by the book, it could be a lazy, hazy summer for the organization's top rookie.