On mend, Putnam eyes shutdown middle-relief role

On mend, Putnam eyes shutdown middle-relief role

CHICAGO -- The current White Sox bullpen alignment doesn't feature Zach Putnam in the closer's role, although he pitched the ninth successfully during parts of a 2014 breakout campaign.

But anyone who watched the most recent postseason, specifically Andrew Miller and the American League champion Indians, understands the last three outs aren't always the tensest or even the most crucial for a bullpen crew in securing a victory.

"There's nothing like the ninth inning. I'm not taking anything away from guys who have been closers their whole career or are closers now," Putnam told MLB.com during a phone interview. "But those fifth and sixth innings, seventh-inning jams, you gotta have a guy.

"If you don't have a guy you can trust ... I don't know if I were ever to manage a game if I'm putting my closer in in the fifth or sixth inning, but you want to have a guy that you can trust."

Despite the White Sox clear-cut move to a rebuild, they currently possess a seemingly sturdy bullpen. Of course, closer David Robertson and setup man Nate Jones still could become trade candidates before the season begins.

Putnam posted a 2.30 ERA with 30 strikeouts over 27 1/3 innings last season, while making seven appearances of more than one inning. The right-hander eventually had surgery in August to remove bone spurs from his elbow.

A similar surgery took place for Putnam in 2013, only that procedure was arthroscopic and didn't sideline him for quite as long. Putnam currently is throwing from 120 feet in his rehab program and is feeling good without any setbacks.

"Just kind of trying to be not cautious with it, but not wanting to go too hard," said Putnam, who hopes to throw one or two bullpen sessions at home in Ann Arbor, Mich., before Spring Training. "I have my eye on April as far as when I want to be 100 percent, not Feb. 14 or whatever it is. I've talked to [White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper] and talked to [White Sox head athletic trainer] Herm [Schneider] and talked to some of the folks with the club, and everybody is on the same page.

"It's not about coming in 100 percent. It's about coming in healthy and working my way from wherever I am at to 100 percent by the time Opening Day hits."

Dan Jennings and Jake Petricka join Putnam in that potential multiple-inning shutdown role in the middle of a game or simply as the bridge to the late innings. That work probably won't be essential to their playoff picture in '17, but it stands as important to have in place if the White Sox want to be competitive.

Meanwhile, Putnam marveled at the overall effort turned in by Miller as the Indians pushed for a World Series title.

"That's such a hard thing to do," Putnam said. "I don't know if the average fan or someone who has never done it understands how hard it is to throw three games in a row, multiple innings, or throw four out of five days with a two-inning stint in there.

"I was absolutely astounded. Nothing but admiration for the guy. That's just so hard on your body. It's so hard on your arm, and especially after already playing 162."

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.