Commentary

Right stuff, wrong result

Carlos Torres gets first big league start Wednesday

Originally Published: July 21, 2009
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

[+] EnlargeClayton Richard
AP Photo/Jim PrischingClayton Richard likely cemented his place with the White Sox with his performance Tuesday.

They should've stuck with Clayton Richard.

Good writers always preach that you should strive to write completely original sentences. That's mine for the week.

The embattled Sox starter pitched eight innings of four-hit, one-run ball, the best outing of his career at the most opportune time against the Tampa Bay Rays, only to watch as closer Bobby Jenks erased it all in just nine pitches.

Nine pitches were all Jenks needed to load the bases on two singles and a hit batsman, and then walk in a run to tie the game in the ninth. The Rays then took the lead on a sacrifice fly and held off the Sox in the bottom of the ninth, winning the second game of the four-game set, 3-2.

These things happen, of course.

Jenks blew just his third save in 25 chances, but he's had a rough go of it this month. He walked two batters Monday before a dramatic strikeout to earn his 22nd save, but he'd given up five runs (four earned) in his previous three appearances. He hadn't actually lost a save since June 11 against Detroit.

Jenks didn't speak after the game, though he gave a terse statement to the team's media relations staff:

"I'm going through a rough patch right now. I'll figure it out."

"Bobby's not the type of pitcher to hit and walk people," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "He did it tonight and hopefully tomorrow he gets better."

Richard knows all about rough patches. He has pitched through a veritable briar field this season. But this outing likely cemented his place with the big league club in the bullpen, if not the rotation.

Personally, I didn't think he'd make it through the sixth. After Scott Podsednik's sacrifice chopper gave the White Sox a one-run lead in the bottom of the fifth, I figured the time was ripe for Richard to fold.

But here's the twist: He didn't break. Richard proved a lot to himself and his team by the way he pitched.

Richard struck out Jason Bartlett and struck out Evan Longoria on an 85 mph changeup on a full count. Then he got Ben Zobrist to fly out to right.

That's a guy -- Bartlett -- who is hitting .346 and doubled off Richard in the third, which led to the Rays' 1-0 lead. Longoria is hitting .279 with 19 homers and 72 RBIs, and Zobrist came into the game with a .597 slugging percentage, the best in the American League.

That's not too shabby.

"It's hard," Guillen said. "Because you were excited for him. You were excited because that was one of the best ballgames you could watch."

Richard walked the leadoff hitter, Pat Burrell, in the seventh, but got out of the inning thanks to a nifty 5-4-3 double play on Gabe Kapler.

Despite already throwing 106 pitches, Richard came back out in the eighth and got out of another inning on a double play. The eight innings are a career high.

"It's just common sense," Richard said. "At this level, when you struggle for so long, things have to get better. I realized that I would have a better outing. It's just unfortunate it didn't come out on our side."

Backed by Gordon Beckham's 3-for-4 day, which boosted his average to .304 and included two doubles -- one of which tied the game in the fifth -- Richard staved off any thoughts of a demotion to the minors. He gave up one run, four hits, and walked two. He struck out seven, throwing 116 pitches.

Richard's future in the rotation depends on White Sox general manager Kenny Williams' success, or perhaps desire, in getting an arm via the trade market, and more likely, the performances of Bartolo Colon in Friday's doubleheader and Freddy Garcia in his prospective minor league starts.

Richard's performance broke an awful run for the left-hander with the 5.00 ERA. It was the third time this season, in 13 starts, that Richard pitched seven full innings. In his past five starts, he had given up 21 earned runs in 18 innings, with a rain-shortened six-inning outing at Cleveland his longest.

His last start, also against the Indians, was his worst: six runs on four hits and three walks in one full inning, which precipitated serious talks about the end of the road for his starting tenure.

"I got a few more bullpen sessions, which was really nice," Richard said. "I got to address some of the issues that I had, and iron them out for the most part."

Before the game, the White Sox had some bad news about their starting rotation, when they announced John Danks will miss his start Wednesday with a blister and circulation problems. Danks has been battling a blister since his July 10 start in Minnesota and had some complications. The blister was bad enough that Danks went to Rush Medical Center on Tuesday and wasn't at the park.

Danks told Guillen the blister is affecting his cut fastball, and he certainly didn't have his best stuff in his last start. He's expected to miss only one start. Who will replace him?

Drum roll, please.

"We're going to bring up -- " Guillen said.

Pause.

"Carlos Torres," a media relations guy said.

"Carlos Torres," Guillen said with a smile. "Another Latino."

Guillen, who makes his e-mail address public, has frequently been accused (by fans and assorted loudmouths) of favoring Latin players. On Monday, he said he got a slew of e-mails accusing him of being racist against white players, after he sent down outfielder Brian Anderson and kept Dewayne Wise as Carlos Quentin came off the disabled list.

Needless to say, no one asked Guillen for a dissection of Torres' game. He'll be up for a start and then go down to Triple-A to make room for Bartolo Colon, who is slated to start one game of Friday's doubleheader at Detroit.

Lefty reliever Aaron Poreda was sent down to make room for Torres and was emotional about the move.

As for the 26-year-old Torres, 8-4 with a 2.20 ERA at Triple-A Charlotte, he has only recently pitched his way into major league consideration. He was a 14th-round pick out of Kansas State in 2004. Last season was the first time he had seen success, or even had a winning season, including two stops in Division I, when he went 9-5 with a 3.20 ERA in Double-A Birmingham.

Torres, who wasn't on the 40-man roster, is no household name, not even in his own organization. Outfielder Jermaine Dye seemed puzzled at his very existence.

When asked what he remembered about Torres from spring training, catcher A.J. Pierzynski said, honestly, "He was there."

Now he's here. If he can follow Richard's lead, maybe he'll be back.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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