Overhauled 'pen rolling for White Sox
Linebrink's hold on setup role solidifies relievers' roles
ST. PETERSBURG -- Aside from one pitch thrown to Cliff Floyd on Friday night, Scott Linebrink had about as perfect a month of May as could have been expected.
Even that particular offering belted by Floyd for a walk-off home run was more a credit to the Tampa Bay designated hitter than a mark against Linebrink's record. The veteran right-hander's success through the season's first two months stands out as just one integral part of a bullpen that currently is as strong as any in the American League.
The White Sox relievers know their roles, especially late in games, with closer Bobby Jenks, Linebrink as a setup man in the eighth inning and either Matt Thornton or Octavio Dotel in the seventh.
It was the same sort of set plan the team tried to employ with its relief crew in 2007. That plan crumbled like a house of cards by this point last season.
"After last year, I talked to [general manager] Kenny [Williams] and told him we need to get better out of the bullpen -- and we did," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "My job and [pitching coach Don] Cooper's job and the staff's job is to maintain those guys are fresh and healthy to go through the year."
"We really do have our roles established, which is integral for success in the bullpen," Linebrink added. "Everyone knows what's expected, and we just have to keep doing it."
Through 56 games in 2007, the White Sox bullpen owned a 5.93 ERA. Prior to game No. 56 on Sunday against the Rays, the revamped unit led the AL with 8.87 strikeouts per nine innings and ranked second with a collective 2.83 ERA. White Sox relievers held a 5-1 record and a 1.30 ERA over their past 16 games and had a miniscule 0.31 ERA in their past 11.
Both Linebrink and Guillen added interesting notes as to why the bullpen has been successful. Linebrink pointed to only one roster change made among the relievers, with Ehren Wasserman taking Mike MacDougal's spot on April 27, meaning a relatively healthy group has been going to work each day.
Guillen, in turn, gave special credit to Wasserman and Nick Masset, middle men who have eaten important innings, which helps keep the other relievers rested and ready.
As for Linebrink, the man tied for the AL lead with 13 holds has completely lived up to his advanced billing. Linebrink has a 1.50 ERA overall, which dropped in May, when he pitched 13 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings before Floyd's long ball Friday.
Getting regular work has helped Linebrink stay sharp, as have minor tweaks to his mechanics. Basically, Linebrink is pitching in a good rhythm, and the same can be said for the entire White Sox bullpen.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.