Matt Lindstrom has been a league-average reliever during his time with the White Sox.
He posted a respectable 3.12 ERA in 2013, while leading Chicago with 76 appearances and ranking third among Sox relievers with 60.2 innings pitched. Before injuring his ankle on May 19 of this season he had a 3.32 ERA with six saves in 19 games.
While these numbers are not lights out, they are far from terrible. You could accurately describe Lindstrom as a "consistently OK" member of the White Sox bullpen.
And that's what makes his performance since his Aug. 12 return from the disabled list so troubling. Lindstrom has uncharacteristically committed Ronald Belisario-like arsons in two of the past three games. The latest meltdown occurred Monday night in Baltimore's 8-2 win over the Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.
Lindstrom entered in the top of eighth inning with two men on and two men out. The Sox were trailing 3-2 and still had an opportunity to win against the American League East's best team. Alas, Lindstrom walked the first hitter he faced to load the bases, then gave up a three-run double to Jonathan Schoop, a two-run homer to Sox killer Nick Markakis and a double to Steve Pearce. In the blink of an eye, Baltimore had five runs. The game was basically decided at that point.
This bad outing came on the heels of a previous poor performance from Lindstrom on Saturday. In that game, he entered a 3-3 tie in the seventh inning and promptly surrendered three runs to the Toronto Blue Jays before retiring a single batter. He took the loss in the Sox' 6-3 defeat.
That means Lindstrom has allowed six runs on seven hits with one walk over his last inning of work. His ERA has ballooned to a Belisario-like 5.57.
We should have seen this coming. Lindstrom's performance on his rehab assignment at Charlotte was erratic at best. He allowed runs in three of his five appearances, and he absorbed a four-run shellacking against Pawtucket on Aug. 7.
When a player returns quicker than expected from injury, there's always a lot of discussion about whether that player was "rushed" back. More often than not, those worries are needless. However, you see some red flags with Lindstrom in this particular case.
First, the Sox bullpen has been abysmal in recent weeks. A competent relief pitcher has been hard to find, and I'm sure the Sox were eager for the "consistently OK" Lindstrom to rejoin the mix. Perhaps too eager.
Second, Lindstrom's contract is up at the end of the season. There's no question this is a player who would be motivated to get back on the mound, prove himself healthy and put himself in position to get a nice deal in the offseason -- either in Chicago or somewhere else.
The team and the player both had reasons to "rush" back, and you can't help but wonder if that's what we're seeing here. One thing is for certain: Lindstrom is helping neither his own cause nor the Sox' cause with his recent performance.
He might have been better served throwing on the side for a couple more weeks, rehabbing the final two weeks of August in Charlotte and rejoining the team at the Sept. 1 roster expansion.