Spring saves not necessary for Jenks
White Sox closer has same mindset pitching in earlier frames
MESA, Ariz. -- The White Sox had just rallied for three runs in the top of the ninth inning off Giants closer Brian Wilson during Friday's contest in Scottsdale, erasing a two-run deficit. Sitting three outs from victory seemed to dictate the perfect time to summon closer Bobby Jenks from the bullpen.
It would have been the perfect time for Jenks, actually, if the game wasn't being played in Arizona during March, and if Jenks was even on the schedule to pitch for this particular day. Instead, the White Sox turned to Minor Leaguer Jason Childers, who pitched five games for the Rays in 2006 as his lone big league experience. The Giants promptly rallied for two runs and pulled out a 4-3 victory.
For those worried about the White Sox watching this game slip away and dropping another game below .500, don't be. It's as much about the work as the record during Cactus League competition.
And for those who believe Jenks needs to close a spring game in order to get properly prepared for regular season work, it's not a necessity for the man who produced the first back-to-back 40-save efforts in franchise history.
"I have the same mindset whether I come in the fourth, fifth or even in the eighth the other day [when the White Sox were losing], so it doesn't matter," Jenks said. "I see myself in the ninth inning, protecting a one-run lead, and I have to go in there and shut it down."
"You know what? Bobby is on top of his stuff," White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper added. "He knows the hitters, watches the games, sees what he needs to do and knows what he does best. I don't think a save situation is necessary."
During Saturday's game at Hohokam Park, Jenks worked a scoreless eighth inning in an 8-8 tie against the Cubs. He lost the chance for victory, following Juan Uribe's home run in the top of the ninth, when Boone Logan relinquished that one-run lead within three batters.
The idea is to get Jenks work against the Cubs' frontline position players, such as Kosuke Fukudome and Geovanny Soto, before they exit the game and are replaced by players with jersey numbers in the 90s. That goal becomes harder to accomplish later in spring, when starters stretch out to work six or seven innings.
In the case of Friday's contest, with the White Sox trailing in the bottom of the seventh and eighth, Cooper wanted to make sure pitchers set up to get work, such as Ehren Wassermann and Scott Linebrink, got into the game.
Childers was then left for the ninth.
"To save a closer for a save situation in the ninth, at 4:30 p.m., when the opposing 'B' team is in there, what's that going to accomplish?" Cooper said. "That's why we bring [Jenks] in earlier in the games, more often than not."
Jenks continues to feel great, "real strong and healthy," according to the closer. His goal presently is to pick up the intensity a bit during this final week and be ready to close on Opening Day in Cleveland.
If the White Sox have a one-run lead going into the bottom of the ninth inning on March 31 at Progressive Field, it's a more than safe bet the hard-throwing right-hander will enter the game.
"Maybe if he was a rookie and never had been in the heat of things," said Cooper, explaining a scenario where Jenks would need a spring save. "I just want him to have all his weapons ready to save that first [regular-season] game."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.