Notes: Jenks one of baseball's elite
Closer's ability to learn how to pitch has improved his game
CHICAGO -- On Thursday, Bobby Jenks officially marks the first anniversary of his Major League debut.
The burly right-hander threw one scoreless inning in that particular 2005 home contest against Tampa Bay, striking out two. Since that point, Jenks' accomplishments have ranged from topping 100 mph on the radar gun to closing out the final game of the White Sox first World Series title since 1917 in Houston late last October.
Jenks also has reached elite status among closers during the 2006 season, causing White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen to name Jenks as one of his first-half Most Valuable Player candidates on the team.
"Yeah, I can go out and give them what they want every day if the situation calls for it," said Jenks, who has a Major League-best 25 saves in 26 opportunities. "The best closers can do that. I consider myself lucky to be part of that group."
Through one year's work, Jenks numbers have been impressive, bordering on overwhelming. The 25-year-old has 35 saves in 39 chances, factoring in his four postseason saves, while allowing just 66 hits over 84 2/3 total innings. Jenks has fanned 101 during that stretch, but of greater importance to a closer, Jenks has walked 31 and yielded a mere three home runs.
But even with last-year's accomplishments on his resume, when the right-hander moved from pitching three innings in middle relief to finishing off important victories, Jenks has developed even more as a pitcher in 2006. Gone are the days of simply stepping to the mound and trying to wipe out the opposing hitters with the 100-mph fastball. He now incorporates his 87- or 88-mph offspeed offerings into game situations, as much as the heater.
"I'm really able to go out and pitch every day, instead of being that flame thrower or hard thrower or living with that rap you get for guys who throw hard," said Jenks, who saved 10 games and had a 0.60 ERA in June. "Going out there and being able to use any other pitch at any other time. ... It's what I've learned this year. I learned how to pitch, and knowing how to pitch affects the hitter and the game."
This banner season has not been without a few pitfalls for Jenks. Back in Spring Training, Guillen criticized his struggling second-year player for showing up out of shape. But Jenks quickly worked himself into better condition, and now can smile at the doubters who questioned if he could be as dominant as he was at the end of 2005.
After watching Ryan Dempster struggle once again for the Cubs on Saturday, the value of a steady closer grows even clearer -- especially for a playoff contender.
"Bobby doesn't care about anything," said Guillen with a smile, referring to Jenks' laid-back style. "As a closer, he's saved a lot of games we needed to be saved."
Show of support: While the Cubs are mired in one of their worst seasons in recent memory, suffering constant criticism in both the media and from their large fan base, members of the White Sox have come to their defense this weekend. Catcher A.J. Pierzynski pointedly disagreed when asked if the Cubs found a way to lose Saturday's game, instead talking about the North Siders' solid performance and the White Sox great resiliency.
Guillen, meanwhile, brought his support from a more personal point of view.
"Ryan is a great friend of mine. I have Derrek Lee there and Juan Pierre and [Greg] Maddux, guys over there I really like," Guillen said. "It's bad the way they treat [Cubs manager] Dusty [Baker] here.
"He's a strong enough man to take the blame. He tries to make this team better, but when the ball doesn't bounce your way, it's hard."
After watching Dempster's postgame interview session Saturday, in which he took the blame for making a bad pitch and costing the Cubs a victory, Guillen tipped his cap to his friend on Sunday for standing up and being counted. In the same sense, Guillen won't allow himself to get too caught up in feeling sorry for his baseball comrades.
"I do feel for them," Guillen said. "But it's a funny thing about this game. You feel sorry for people and something starts to happen to you."
Third to first: Joe Crede's absence from Sunday's lineup simply was a day off, as he was replaced by Alex Cintron at third base. Guillen remains cognizant of giving Crede proper rest, in an attempt to avoid a recurrence of last year's back issues. ... Scott Podsednik's seventh-inning double Saturday was the 100th of his career. ... The White Sox four pinch-hit home runs lead the American League. ... The White Sox have led at some point in 221 of their last 260 games, dating back to 2004, including 70 of 80 in 2006.
Down on the farm: Josh Fields and Ernie Young combined for six hits and seven RBIs during Triple-A Charlotte's 10-2 victory at Richmond on Saturday. Jerry Owens added two hits and scored four runs, also raising his stolen-base total to 27. ... It was a somewhat tough night for Lance Broadway during Double-A Birmingham's 7-6 loss at Mobile. The right-hander allowed six runs on seven hits over five innings, raising his ERA to 3.15. Ricardo Nanita had three hits in the setback. ... Robert Valido had three hits and drove in two in support of Wes Whisler (8-5), as Class A Winston-Salem topped Salem, 10-3. ... Matthew Long, the White Sox second-round pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, allowed one earned run in 1 1/3 innings and slipped to 0-2 in Class A Kannapolis' 9-8 loss to Greensboro.
Up next: With the season halfway finished, Freddy Garcia (10-4, 4.65) is halfway to his 20-win campaign. The right-hander opens the four-game set against Baltimore and Erik Bedard (8-6, 4.72) Monday at 6:05 p.m. CT, carrying a 4-6 record and 4.32 ERA lifetime when facing the Orioles.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.