CHICAGO – Two weeks have passed since Bobby Jenks (search) threw his sizzling 100-mph fastball toward the plate. That's a long layoff for any pitcher, especially for the Chicago White Sox's rookie closer as he heads into his first World Series.
Sure seems like a while ago since Jenks saved clinching Game 3 in the division series against the Red Sox (search).
"It does, but it went quick," Jenks said Friday. "If that makes sense."
Sort of. Considering the performance of Chicago's starters in the AL championship series — four straight complete games — little about the pitching has followed a norm.
If the White Sox are happy with the dominating performance by starters Jose Contreras, Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland and Freddy Garcia, who could blame them for being a little concerned about the rust on their relievers when the Houston Astros come to town for the first two games beginning Saturday night?
When Neal Cotts recorded two outs in Game 1 against the Angels, throwing only seven pitches, that's all the work White Sox (search) relievers got in the five-game series.
Sure, they've been throwing simulated games since clinching the pennant last Sunday and warmed up in the bullpen during the ALCS, but getting on the mound with different-colored uniform in the batter's box is a completely different assignment — especially on baseball's ultimate stage.
"Every individual has been attended to," pitching coach Don Cooper said. "But you can't simulate what it's like unless you pump 50,000 people into the stands."
Cooper has emphasized this to all of his pitchers: Channel what you feel into your pitches.
"It doesn't really matter if you had two minutes or two weeks," he said.
"The Adrenalin and electricity will be a highest level and they are going to feel strong. It's about controlling that strength and controlling that energy," he said.
Jenks, at 6-foot-3, 270 pounds, might really have to follow that advice. His pitches take off, almost explode, as they reach the plate. And the last thing the White Sox need is their 24-year-old closer, who began the season in Double-A, having trouble with control late in a World Series game.
"I don't know about most guys. I can stay sharp even though I get a few days off like this," Jenks said. "Right now I'm very calm and very relaxed about what is going on. I'm soaking it all in right now."
Expect the bullpen to get more work against the Astros, especially when the series shifts to Houston and there is no designated hitter. That means manager Ozzie Guillen may not be able to leave his starters in as long because they have to bat. And if he needs a pinch-hitter to spark a rally, they'll be out of the game more quickly.
Chicago's relievers have thrown just eight innings in eight playoff games so far and three of those were by Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, normally a starter.
"The first series we didn't have a whole lot of opportunities," said reliever Dustin Hermanson, who saved 34 games this season but lost the closer's job because of a sore back and Jenks' roaring fastball.
"You got to accept it," Hermanson said of the bullpen's diminished role. "When you're winning games, you got to keep doing what's been winning and that was keeping the starting staff there."
Hermanson hasn't pitched at all in the postseason, and who knows if that will change.
"Hermy, the last time he pitched was like two, three months ago," Guillen said. "How can they stay sharp? It's not easy."
Cotts, keeping with the humor theme, said he was more than ready if the call comes in what has been a sleepy experience in the bullpen.
"I've pitched," he said. "I threw two-thirds of an inning. So I got a little upside there."
Until he's needed again — if he is — Cotts said he's done everything he could to stay sharp.
"I warm up every day. I at least warm up," he said.
"If it does go on forever, that means we're winning. So either way we'll be ready. If we're called upon or if they don't need us, they know we're down there."