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.
Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Thursday, June 26, 2014
But, a close second on that list of pet peeves is the way modern-day managers adhere strictly to lefty-righty matchups at all times. Robin Ventura's belief in lefty-righty matchups played a significant role in the White Sox' 5-4 extra-inning loss to the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday night. Ventura is hardly the only manager in baseball guilty of this sin -- all of them do it these days -- but the bottom of the eighth inning of Wednesday's game is a good case study in why this lefty-righty stuff drives me absolutely bananas.
The Sox were leading 4-0 going into the fateful eighth inning. Starting pitcher Hector Noesi had been sailing along until that point, but he gave up back-to-back singles to start the frame. With runners on first and second, the middle of the lineup was due for Baltimore. Ventura likely didn't want Noesi to face Steve Pearce, Adam Jones or Chris Davis for a fourth time, so he correctly went to the bullpen and brought in reliever Zach Putnam.
Putnam did a fine job. He retired Pearce and Jones on fly balls to center field, and his stuff looked good. The runners were still planted at first and second with two outs, and Putnam looked poised to work out of the jam and keep the Sox ahead by four runs.
Alas, Davis is a left-handed hitter, and by golly, we can't leave the right-handed Putnam in to face a left-handed hitter, can we? No. That would be dangerous. So, Ventura summoned his washed-up lefty reliever, Scott Downs, who by the way failed to retire Davis when he faced him on Tuesday night.
The Sox are lucky Downs didn't give up a three-run homer to Davis during the course of the at-bat. He hung Davis two breaking balls. Fortunately enough, Davis fouled off both of them. Eventually, Downs walked Davis to load the bases (did I mention I hate walks?), which brought Nelson Cruz to the plate.
Cruz, a strong right-handed hitter, ranks second in the American League in home runs. You can't leave Downs in to face him, so Ventura had no choice but to go to the bullpen once more. He summoned Javy Guerra, which is probably as good a call as he could have made under the circumstances, but I trust Putnam more than Guerra. It would have been nice to have Putnam on the mound in that high-leverage spot, but he had already been relieved of his duties.
Guerra fell behind in the count and eventually served up a game-tying grand slam to Cruz. Baltimore went on to win the game in 12 innings.
I firmly believe that if Putnam had been allowed to face Davis, he would have retired him, and the Sox would have taken a four-run lead into the ninth. More than likely, the outcome of the game would have been different.
Why do managers insist on removing an effective right-handed pitcher from the game just because a left-handed hitter is at the plate? Why do managers feel they need to burn through three or four relievers in the seventh or eighth inning? To me, if you bring in enough relievers, eventually you are going to stumble on a guy who doesn't have his stuff.
Putnam had his stuff. What excuse is there for not sticking with him? There is none.
Monday, June 23, 2014
The South Siders have now dropped nine out of 11 and have fallen a season-worst seven games (35-42) below .500. They trail the Detroit Tigers by 7.5 games in the division, and they have lost five consecutive games after Monday's 6-4 loss to the Baltimore Orioles.
This latest defeat should not have happened. Ace Chris Sale was in line for the win after allowing just two runs over six innings. He pitched out of a pair of bases-loaded jams to give the Sox a chance at victory. Jose Abreu hit his 22nd home run of the season and drove in three runs, and things were looking good with the Sox up 4-2 in the eighth inning.
Then, the wheels came off. The Orioles got a solo home run from catcher Caleb Joseph off Zach Putnam to tighten the score to 4-3 heading to the ninth. Sox "closer" Ronald Belisario then presided over a spectacular meltdown.
After jumping ahead of Steve Pearce 1-2 in the count, Belisario served up a fat pitch that Pearce hit for a leadoff single. Adam Jones was next hit by a pitch to move the tying run into scoring position and put the winning run on base with nobody out. After Nelson Cruz struck out, Belisario hung a 3-2 slider to Chris Davis, who hit a three-run home run to lift the Orioles to a come-from-behind win.
It's pretty hard to miss the fact that Belisario has been awful since being named closer following an injury to Matt Lindstrom on May 20. Since that date, Belisario has appeared in 13 games, going 7 for 10 in save opportunities. He's allowed 11 earned runs in 11 innings pitched during that stretch. That's easy math: a brutal 9.00 ERA.
Thing is, you can't fault Sox manager Robin Ventura for going to Belisario, because he was the hot hand at the time of Lindstrom's injury. Prior to May 20. Belisario had gone 12 consecutive appearances without surrendering an earned run.
But as soon as he was named closer, Belisario's effectiveness disappeared. Coincidence? I don't believe so. I think Belisario is one of those guys who is just more comfortable pitching the seventh or eighth inning. That's what he's done for most of his career, and he doesn't seem able to handle the responsibility of pitching in the ninth inning.
The closing situation has not gone well for the Sox this year. Lindstrom and Nate Jones, the two top candidates for the job coming into the season, are both on the disabled list. Daniel Webb was mentioned as a potential candidate by pitching coach Don Cooper in the spring, but he has been too wild (25 walks in 35.1 IP) to be trusted in any high-leverage situation - let alone closing.
Belisario is essentially the Sox' fourth option as a closer. It looks like they'll have to find a fifth option, because Belisario is not getting it done.