White Sox bullpen still waiting to show identity

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A mere 18 innings into a new season and the Chicago White Sox’s bullpen still hasn’t had the opportunity to protect a lead.

A 7-5 defeat to the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday left the White Sox 0-2 for the first time since 2008, and while it is far too early to panic, the club seems to have started the season on the on-ramp, while the Royals have opened in the fast lane.

The White Sox were far better Wednesday than in their 10-1 defeat in Monday’s opener, fighting back with a combination of better at-bats and the fact that they weren’t facing new Royals staff ace Yordano Ventura.

Against Royals left-hander Danny Duffy, the White Sox had something resembling an offensive attack, taking their first lead of the season in the second inning on a three-run home run by Tyler Flowers.

But the aggressive and locked-in Royals stormed back and by the time White Sox starter Jose Quintana saw his day come to a close, the score was tied.

It seemed like only a matter of time before the confident bats of the Royals and their dominating bullpen turned the tide, and it happened in the eighth inning when Lorenzo Cain hit a two-run home run to put Kansas City on top for good.

Zach Putnam, he of the up-and-down spring training, presented Cain a gift in his first outing of the season and the Royals’ star was not cheated with his homer deep to left. Putnam confirmed that the pitch was a cut-fastball gone astray.

“Their whole lineup looks like they’re seeing the ball pretty well right now,” Putnam said. “They’re free-swinging. But that’s a bad pitch to anybody; it was just a really bad pitch. I missed my spot both up and over the plate, and a 3-hitter in any big league lineup, that’s not a good place to be.”

While the Royals boast one of the best bullpens in the game, anchored by Wade Davis and Greg Holland, the White Sox have David Robertson as their closer and a mix of candidates for the setup role.

Facing the Royals illustrated how much road the White Sox’s bullpen still needs to travel to make a name for itself. Robertson still hasn’t pitched, but those who have in the first two games still appear to be finding their legs.

Putnam gave up two runs in his inning of work, and while Javy Guerra and Zach Duke each pitched a scoreless inning Wednesday, they each allowed two baserunners before closing the door. On Monday, Kyle Drabek and Dan Jennings had their issues.

“We can’t freak out right now,” Guerra said. “We have way too good of a team. I think more than anything, come out tomorrow, play well and keep it moving. We have a good team, and it’s early, two games, you can’t tell. I’m not worried. I think the guys we have in the pen are great, our lineup is good as anybody and overall we have as good a chance as anybody in the league.”

The White Sox certainly will know more about the bullpen once it can start pitching with leads. And it’s unfair to pass judgment before the team has even played its first home game. In addition to Robertson, Matt Albers has yet to pitch in a game either.

And if there is a positive to facing a team that looks as locked in as the Royals do, it’s that a stern, early test gets the White Sox and their bullpen up to midseason speed sooner rather than later.

“We have 160 more of these things and hopefully more after that,” Putnam said. “I don’t think anybody is losing sleep over the fact that we’re 0-2. Everybody is kind of starting to get into a rhythm right now. We’ll focus on tomorrow and beyond.”

The bullpen did get a dose of good news Wednesday when it was learned Jake Petricka had a throwing session and could be on track to returning next week. The right-hander, on the disabled list with a sore arm, had been a favorite to nail down the setup role behind Robertson.

A team with an 0-2 start isn’t going to be in panic mode, but still doesn’t mind a little good news.

“That’s not ideal,” Flowers said of the winless start. “You don’t want to start that way, but with that said, a lot of good things are starting to happen. [The Royals] kind of have everything clicking on their side right now. We are getting it going, but we are just not playing complete games at this point.”