Heavy usage taking a toll on White Sox bullpen

Heavy usage taking a toll on White Sox bullpen

CHICAGO -- Michael Ynoa or Matt Purke would have closed for the White Sox on Saturday if they had a lead in the ninth inning against the Blue Jays.

Zach Duke had a better chance of pinch-hitting as opposed to pitching in that contest, with catchers Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro both part of the starting lineup. Those comments from Robin Ventura were made prior to Sunday's series finale, and they certainly weren't a sign of questionable managing on Ventura's part.

It's simply a case of the White Sox bullpen, primarily closer David Robertson, Duke, Nate Jones and Matt Albers, being overworked. Since a 13-2 loss to the Indians last Saturday, Chris Sale stands as the lone White Sox starter to pitch at least seven innings.

In five games during that span, White Sox starters didn't last six innings. Per MLB Network's pregame notes, the bullpen has averaged nearly four innings in the last eight games not started by Sale (28 1/3 innings total).

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So criticism of the relief crew doesn't sit well with White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper.

"We got wins on the line. We are going for the wins. We want to use our main guys whenever humanly possible," Cooper said. "The bullpen guys have been sucking it up and going out there on a breakneck pace which nobody ever takes into consideration. They just remember poor ones. They don't remember good ones.

"So [the heck with] anybody that says anything about our guys. Go look at the dates and how often they pitch. You might say it's one-third of an inning or one inning, but when you are up hot seven out of eight days or in the game, that's a load.

"We are going to use them whenever they are ready," Cooper said. "To their credit, they are always saying they are ready. We know how much we use them and it would be great to get a day off. When you have a win on the line, a fish on the rod, you need to pull that fish in the boat. We are going to go with our best whenever humanly possible."

White Sox relievers have worked at least three innings in 15 of the last 19 games, including four-plus six times. The bullpen has allowed one or fewer runs in 17 of the last 29 games and owns a 4.43 ERA in the last 42 games.

Ideally, the White Sox would use Chris Beck, Ynoa or Purke in occasional long relief, but with the increased need across the board, they've had to pick up important innings late in games. As Cooper pointed out, the relievers aren't shying away from the work, with Duke tied for the Major League lead entering Sunday at 39 games pitched, and Jones (35) and Albers (34) close behind.

"They've been used quite a bit," Ventura said. "We've had too many games where we've had to bring guys in the fifth inning, right around the fifth inning, you are getting somebody up. That takes its toll."

Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Read his blog, Merk's Works, follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin, on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.