Williams offering tough love to Jenks
GM suggests closer should work harder on conditioning
CHICAGO -- For the second time during this offseason's first six weeks, Bobby Jenks has spoken to the media concerning the White Sox discussing his conditioning as a major reason for his closing downturn in 2009.
Jenks originally aired his grievances to MLB.com in early October, suggesting he did everything possible to be in his best physical condition last year, even dropping 15 pounds in-season. That response served as a return volley to manager Ozzie Guillen's season-ending call for Jenks and his teammates to show up in optimum physical condition for Spring Training '10.
That perception of conditioning being used by the Sox to explain his 2009 difficulties was mentioned again by Jenks to the Sun-Times over this past weekend. But if the 28-year-old White Sox closer was looking for a diplomatic response from general manager Ken Williams, he didn't get one.
"If he's upset that it's continuously brought up, then he should work on it and get it to where it's not an issue," said Williams, speaking about Jenks' conditioning prior to the hurler's last round of comments but following the closer's October remarks.
"It is an issue. I've told him this directly to his face," said Williams, without hesitation. "If he's going to have an extended career of effectiveness at a high level, like he certainly is capable of doing, then he has to take better care of himself."
Despite posting 140 saves in his four full seasons as closer, Jenks seems to be a lightning rod for critique. Questions originally focused on his velocity dropping from the upper 90s to the mid 90s, although Jenks' ERA improved from 4.00 in 2006 to 2.77 in '07 and 2.63 in '08 in the process. This past season, he finished at 3.71. And the powerful 6-foot-4, 285-pound right-hander will likely always have conditioning come up as an focal point when he struggles.
In 2009, Jenks' six blown saves matched his previous high-water mark of '06 when he finished 40-for-46. He also battled through various maladies in '09, such as kidney stones, a sore back and a pulled right calf muscle that prematurely ended his season.
When asked if this conditioning question could have played a role in Jenks' slight struggles, Williams once again held little back.
"Well, I don't know," Williams said. "It comes into question when you are not in the best shape you can be in, now doesn't it?" If [Jenks] doesn't like that, I don't really care if he doesn't like that. It's the truth.
"I've seen it time and time again. We would not be in his corner and we would not be real friends, real people of support, if we didn't give him the information."
With Jenks set to get a bump from the $5.6 million he earned in '09 as an arbitration eligible player, Hot Stove talk centering on a possible trade of the closer has picked up for a second consecutive offseason. The White Sox also understand Jenks remains one of the steadier closers in the game -- he collected 29 saves in '09 -- and his departure would weaken the bullpen.
"We would love to have Bobby back," said White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski. "The thing was he got hurt a little bit last year, kind of freak things, things he couldn't really control. But we obviously want him back.
"He's one of the best closers around, and he's done it for years and years. He saved the World Series for us. He's done a million things for us to help us win. He's a guy that teams are going to say, 'If the ball gets to Jenks, then the game is over.' So, if you lose him, you lose that and everyone else has to pick up a bigger role. We need him healthy, and if he's back, it would be great for us."
As for Jenks' performance slipping with a change in his physical stature, Pierzynski simply believes in a singular focus on results.
"I don't even pay attention," Pierzynski said. "As long as he gets guys out, I don't care if he weighs 500 or 100. I could care less what you look like or feel like or whatever, as long as you get guys out."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.