This new extended timeline for offseason deals sure makes for an awkward Spring Training. Beyond competing for playing time, this weekend’s trade chatter could keep Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro De Aza stealing glances at one another to see if the other starts packing his duffel bag.
On the flip side, despite his old school reputation, Terry Ryan–the architect of the dominant Twins’ run of the 2000′s–is not exactly the ideal sucker. But talk of the Twins eying Alejandro De Aza is exciting simply because the strength of the Twins organization this point is heavy in hitting prospects, and beyond the untouchable Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, they’re decently close to the majors.
It’s not Spring Training yet if it hasn’t started to feel like a gauntlet that teams are just trying to get through with as few damaging injuries as possible, or with everyone’s work visa status intact. Just this weekend saw Jose Quintana take a liner off the shin (day-to-day with a contusion), Jeff Keppinger trudge on with continued shoulder weakness (he’s not been very good at his original job description of third base space-filler), and then the whole star-crossed closer situation.
So far, the closer race has been marked by inaction. Despite how minor Nate Jones gluteal (butt) strain wound up being, Saturday marked his first game action of the Spring. Matt Lindstrom, meanwhile, is off until next week before he even throws again, as he remains stuck in that familiar cycle of aggravating and re-aggravating his oblique strain that was so popular among over-30 hitters in the 2012 lineup. It might be time to note that last year was the first time Lindstrom topped 60 innings or 70 appearances in a season since 2007.
Daniel Webb, the presumptive darkhorse closer candidate, only made his first appearance in a recorded Spring game on Sunday (a scoreless frame with a strikeout and two hits) due to a death in the family earlier. Both Webb and Jones are going to have a big leg up on proving themselves to be operating at full capacity. Other than that, it’s not clear on what level this competition really exists. The season brings no real hard deadlines on reliever usage. Robin Ventura wait to figure out who he likes best of the threesome in June if he prefers.
Speaking of June, Ronald Belisario arrived in the country freed from visa issues earlier than feared. He was throwing bullpens by Saturday and I don’t know…
— Daryl Van Schouwen (@CST_soxvan) March 8, 2014
…he could be in a bit better shape than last year already.
I jokingly mentioned that the White Sox should make sure that Andre Rienzo is surprised by all of his pitching appearances in 2014 after he stepped into Saturday’s game in the immediate wake of Jose Quintana’s shinburger. He struck out five batters in three innings while flashing a much tighter version of his familiar curveball (that or the video on the stream was really stretched out wide).
Apparently this wasn’t a joking matter, since the appearance put him in the lead for a long reliever competition that Ventura conceived of on the spot.
It’s certainly not the worst idea. Rienzo has the stuff to roll through multiple innings but the erratic command to make it preferable to have someone else warming by the time he delivers his first pitch of the night. This role blends the two sensibilities, gives Rienzo a major league paycheck, and provides some support to a starting rotation unit that might need a few months to work out the kinks. Everyone could be happy.
But Rienzo also doubles as the White Sox best spare starter. If he’s in a relief role, the key will be keeping him stretched out enough to aid in times of injury. Otherwise, the likelihood of a Dylan Axelrod appearance this season increases dramatically. Axelrod would be happy, others might not be.
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