On Tuesday, the Chicago White Sox placed closer Matt Lindstrom on the disabled list with a dislocated tendon in his right ankle. Given the reins to close out games since Opening Day, Lindstrom has struggled for most of the season, but was coming on strong as of late. In 19 appearances this season, he has six saves, an ERA of 3.32 and a WHIP of 1.47.
Lindstrom has only allowed four runs in his last 10 appearances, but there was still apprehensiveness over him closing out games. The most recent run of success that he has had has been overshadowed by the roller coaster ride that his pitching took the team on in April.
In the opening month of the season, Lindstrom’s ERA was 3.75, which is a modest mark for pitchers who are not given the ninth inning role. The Sox have played in numerous games this season where they were holding on to a one to two run lead. Having a closer who would allow 1.58 runners on base per inning is not the most ideal situation.
After Lindstrom began to struggle early on, people thought that manager Robin Ventura would do what he did in his first managerial season in 2012 and change the closer early on in the year. Candidates to take over the job were lefty Scott Downs and young flamethrowers Jake Petricka and Daniel Webb. Now that there is a vacancy in the ninth inning role, these three replacements will be revisited.
Even if he only has 26 sporadic saves throughout his 13-year career, Downs would be considered to take over just because of experience. Another factor he has going for him is that the Sox might want to showcase his value to possible suitors who would be interested in acquiring him before the deadline. What factors against Downs is his inability to be consistent at this stage in his career.
In his league-leading 23 appearances this season, Downs has a 1.50 WHIP and an ERA of 4.15. Used mostly as a lefty specialist, he has shown an inability to punch out guys he statistically should be able to get out. If he cannot record on game in and game out, how is he supposed to get the three most important outs of a game?
That leaves Petricka and Webb.
Both budding bullpen pieces have impressed so far this season. Petricka, who got the first look after Lindstrom’s injury last night, closed the door effectively. Thanks in part to a crafty pick off move that recorded half of the outs he needed for his first career save, Petricka appeared comfortable while being thrown into the fire.
The 25-year-old’s two-seam fastball reaches an average of 93.6 on the radar gun, which is not Bobby Jenks like velocity, but the late movement he has on the pitch is jaw dropping. He has been working on his slider and change up more often this season and these pitches make for a devastating arsenal.
While Petricka has been given the first shot according to last night, Webb also has what it takes to not just be a fill in for Lindstrom, but take over the role full time. Webb’s fastball averages exactly one mile per hour faster than Petricka’s at 94.6. The 24-year-old has a larger selection of secondary pitches that include a change up, a curve and a slider.
While Webb beats out Petricka in a number of pitches, the latter has more movement on his fastball than the former. However, Webb has been placed in more pressure situations due to him being labeled as a set up man.
Whichever direction the Sox go, the team cannot go wrong with either one of their rising stars. The franchise has thrived in the past with unproven flashy arms in charge of the ninth inning. Bobby Jenks, Sergio Santos, Addison Reed and even Chris Sale all succeeded after being placed in the closer’s role without much experience.
In the first season of the team looking towards the future instead of just the present, implementing a youthful closer for the long term would be a step in the right direction.