Jenks returns to mound, feeling strong

Jenks returns to mound, feeling strong

TUCSON, Ariz. -- When Bobby Jenks left last Wednesday's Cactus League opener after facing just three Rockies hitters, the burly White Sox closer didn't seem to be overly concerned with the tightness in his right shoulder.

Nobody within the organization was rushing to hit the panic button, either. Part of the calm stemmed from the fact that Jenks didn't feel the pain in his elbow or hip, problem areas in past stages of his career. But Jenks also had an idea of why the tightness escalated into pain.

"I felt fine last week in the bullpen, too," said Jenks after his return to the mound during Monday's "B" game against the Rockies on a Minor League field at the Kino Sports Complex. "It wasn't until I got into the game and started [messing around]," he added, referring to Wednesday's outing.

"With what I did [Monday], I know I can go out there for a game. With a little more side work, I know I can get more consistent with the strike zone."

Jenks, 25, started the "B" game and worked the first inning. He struck out Colorado's leadoff hitter on four pitches, and, by the time the opening frame had come to a close, Jenks had given up one hit, one walk and thrown 14 of his 23 pitches for strikes. Jenks also hit 93-94 mph on the radar gun consistently during the scoreless performance.

But Jenks was equally pleased with the way he felt on the mound, especially with a return to proper mechanics. That slipup on Wednesday when he entered the game contributed to the problem. A steady diet of side work, including usage of the towel drill to perfect those mechanics before he even picked up a baseball, successfully brought Jenks back to basics.

"It was just one bad day, because I've always had pretty good mechanics," Jenks said. "It was one bad day that caught up with my arm.

"You know, I felt pretty good out there. I wasn't trying to overthrow, and I got that extension, which was important for me. I was trying to make sure I stayed back and closed, all those technical things, and that's what I was looking for today.

"Whether the results were 10 runs or zero runs, that wasn't my concern," Jenks added.

Toby Hall caught Jenks and pointed out that he limited Monday's work to usage of the fastball and cutter, but he was spotting everything. Hall struck out in his only career at-bat against Jenks before the two became teammates during the offseason, but Hall understands the dominant force Jenks represents when working healthy, confident and with his full repertoire.

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Monday's outing was a definite step in that overpowering direction.

"That's the Bobby we all know, so it was good," Hall said. "He took his time, relaxed and hit his spots."

"Everything was clicking, and I'm not really trying to throw hard right now," added Jenks, who was more than satisfied with the velocity on his pitches.

Another "B" game appearance looks to be on Jenks' schedule for Thursday, with possibly two innings of work, according to pitching coach Don Cooper. Manager Ozzie Guillen seconds the "B" game theory for Jenks, pointing out that Jenks felt the shoulder tightness for the second time in two weeks and that he doesn't want Jenks trying to do too much with the adrenaline flowing against Major League competition.

The pregame stretching program will be a permanent part of Jenks' everyday routine, as he doesn't want this tightness to become a recurring issue during the 2007 season. Jenks had an All-Star season in 2006, his 41 saves making him the franchise's third member of the single-season 40-save club.

A 1-3 record and a 5.72 ERA in the season's second half put a slight damper on Jenks' breakout effort. But correcting the tightness problem serves as another step in the refinement process for leading the White Sox closer to a higher level of excellence in the upcoming campaign.

"Actually, it starts after the last game of the season, to get ready for the next," Jenks said. "That was my approach getting ready for this year, to make sure that I'm doing everything I can to make sure that I'm that same guy I was during the first half of last year.

"My main goal last year was to convert as many opportunities as I could," added Jenks, who converted 41 of 45 save chances. "When I struggled, it wasn't necessarily in those types of situations. That's what I need to focus on this year, games where I just need work."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.