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White Sox bullpen swap suggests more to come

Right-handed 30-year-old rookie Junior Guerra replaces lefty Dan Jennings

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Dan Jennings doesn't have minor-league options remaining. He does have have a 7.83 ERA, which is even uglier when considering he had a 2.31 ERA after his first outing of May.

How does one accomplish 5½-run raise that shortly? With this:

  • 11.1 IP, 19 H, 17 R, 9 BB (3 IBB), 10 K, 2 HR, 13.50 ERA, .388/.475/.551 against

Yet the Sox don't have a whole lot of left-handed pitching depth -- at least in relief -- so trying to outright him to the minors posed a problem, even if it's on the smaller scale.

So when it came to the fork in the road, they followed Yogi Berra's advice and took it. Like Javy Guerra, an injury fell Jennings around the time they needed to make a decision, with the White Sox placed Jennings on the disabled list with "inflammation on the left side of his neck" on Sunday. The timing is not just curious because of the options/performance situation, but because an story from Sunday said he started wearing protective patting on the left side of his gap.

Regardless, the writing was on the wall for Jennings, but given that they chose the right-handed Junior Guerra to replace him, it's hard to tell where the bullpen goes from here.

First, Guerra's a cool case. He's a 30-year-old rookie out of Venezuela who had been out of affiliated baseball since 2012 before the White Sox came calling with a minor-league contract. He pitched for Yucatan of the Mexican League in 2012, then for Wichita of the independent American Association in 2013. Last year, he pitched in Italy and the Venezuelan Winter League (corrected). He's a lot like Dylan Axelrod, except older, more-traveled and Venezuelan.

And he's not a sinker-slider guy.

"I throw fastball, changeup and split and curve ball. My fastball is my first pitch and probably the split is my pitch to get outs," he said.

(As somebody who served a 50-game suspension while pitching for the Mets organization last decade, he might be the new Jose Quintana.)

The Sox talked him up a little bit entering the season, and he worked his way up a lot over the first two months. He posted a 2.29 ERA with 26 strikeouts to four walks over 19.2 innings in Birmingham. Triple-A hitters forced him to nibble a little more (15 walks in 30 innings), but he maintained his effectiveness otherwise (3.00 ERA, 20 hits, 40 strikeouts).

The Sox telegraphed a promotion when they moved him to the bullpen in the last week. He had been one of the more consistent and effective starters over his five games in the rotation, so the shift to late-inning work in the bullpen was a somewhat noteworthy development. He excelled there (three perfect innings over two appearances), and now here he is.

But as a righty with the ability to throw multiple innings, Guerra seems like a better replacement for Hector Noesi than Jennings, especially since he has yet to retire a major league hitter. One would rather see him face multiple hitters across a couple innings to see how his stuff plays, rather than a situation where one batter can make a difference. All we know right now is that he didn't show notable splits over his limited sample of minor league pitching this year:

  • vs. RHB: .182/.247/.307 in 97 PA
  • vs. LHB: .224/.327/.294 in 100 PA

But good luck figuring out how a 30-year-old rookie's stuff will translate.

With a righty taking Jennings' place, Zach Duke is the only lefty. That probably means Zach Putnam returns to last year's responsibility as the righty Robin Ventura would most like to pitch a lefty-heavy inning (David Robertson aside) for the time being.

Given that Putnam was reasonably effective in that role last year, perhaps the Sox are comfortable with one lefty. But it still doesn't make sense for Noesi and the Guerra type to be in the same bullpen, so chances are something will give. If Guerra ends up supplanting Noesi and the Sox want a two-southpaw setup, Zach Phillips is the most qualified lefty in Charlotte to take that spot. Or perhaps they're gearing up to transition John Danks and his suddenly LOOGY-like splits to a different role. Or, maybe they'll draft Tyler Jay to be the future second lefty in two months. The last one is the only outcome we might be able to eliminate by the end of the day.