Bullpen options dictated by situation
Relievers expected to get big outs no matter the inning
CLEVELAND -- Scott Linebrink worked as part of one of baseball's best bullpens in San Diego over the past six years, a relief crew in which he almost always had a defined role by specific inning pitched.
If Linebrink enters the game at some point in Thursday's series finale against Cleveland, though, he could be pitching anywhere from the sixth through the eighth. Manager Ozzie Guillen made clear on Wednesday how the starting rotation and closer Bobby Jenks will be the only pitchers who have set responsibilities from day to day -- at least during this early stage of the season.
"Listen, I hate when a manager protects himself," said Guillen, going off on a short diatribe concerning bullpen work. "They say, 'This is going to be my seventh, my eighth, my closer.'
"You come in the sixth, you're the closer in the sixth. You come in the seventh, you're the closer of the seventh. You come in the ninth, you're the closer in the ninth. The game is not going to dictate you. [Just] because you're not going to pitch in the sixth, you're going to fail?
"That's an excuse to tell the pitchers, 'What's my role going to be?" Guillen added. "That's the most ignorant, stupid thing I ever hear from the pitchers. The only guys who have roles in baseball are the starting guys and the closer. Your role is when you're on the mound, get whoever you're facing, get them out. That's the biggest excuse, and managers are scared to say that."
Guillen's speech followed a reporter's question concerning his worries about Octavio Dotel, after the hard-throwing veteran struggled during Spring Training and yielded Casey Blake's three-run, game-winning double in the eighth inning of Monday's setback to the Indians. Guillen pointedly said that if any pitcher, not just Dotel, is doing his job, he'll be sent out to the mound to work. Otherwise, another more in-tune reliever or player will get the call.
Coming on the heels of Mark Buehrle's 1 2/3-inning stint on Monday and Javier Vazquez lasting five innings on Wednesday, Guillen hopes to have minimal bullpen usage Thursday at Progressive Field. The White Sox manager will be relying on John Danks, with the southpaw beginning his second year in the White Sox rotation.
But even if Danks is able to work deep into the game, there's no guarantee whether it will be Dotel, Linebrink or even Boone Logan to get the ball to Jenks. Linebrink admitted the best bullpens he has been part of had their assignments in set form, with his role graduating from middle relief to prime setup man in front of closer Trevor Hoffman
His job for Thursday and beyond, though, is just to get hitters out and keep the White Sox in control.
"Usually when you go later in the game, the guys you have in the seventh, eighth and ninth, they can get any [left-handed or right-handed] hitter out," Linebrink said. "The idea really is to pitch your inning and get back in with the lead."
"Believe me, all of a sudden, if I see my starting pitcher go very well in the seventh, I'm not going to bring in the guy pitching the seventh because it's his job," Guillen added. "I'll go by my gut feeling and do what's best for the ballclub and go with the best guy."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.