Sox bullpen blows it again.
Don Cooper needs no more prompting than the word “bullpen” to get going. The White Sox pitching coach has heard all the things that have been said and read many of the things that have been written about a relief corps that has struggled mightily for the past 40 or so games. Thus he knows the questions even before they come. “It usually does straighten itself out, but it’s taking a lot longer to straighten itself out,” Cooper said of his bullpen. It certainly didn’t straighten things out Tuesday. Though they had to work overtime because starter John Danks lasted just four-plus innings, Sox relievers struggled again against the Florida Marlins. Ryan Bukvich gave up a game-tying homer to Josh Willingham in the seventh inning, and Matt Thornton gave up a go-ahead homer to Dan Uggla in the ninth as the Marlins knocked off the Sox 7-5 in front of a sellout crowd of 35,327 at U.S. Cellular Field. The Sox bullpen now has a 2-10 record and 8.14 ERA over its last 37 games. “This is a joke. Believe me,” Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. Perhaps the most surprising struggler has been Thornton, who worked a perfect eighth before allowing Uggla’s homer. He then gave up back-to-back singles to Hanley Ramirez and Miguel Cabrera before being pulled with no outs in the ninth. “Thornton has been fair. He’s had good moments. He’s had bad moments,” Cooper said of the left-hander reliever, who is 2-3 with a 6.53 ERA one year after going 5-3 with a 3.33 ERA. “So I’d give him a fair grade because he’s undertaking a new, bigger, more higher responsibility role in the late innings. He hasn’t figured it out yet, but we’re still fighting for that.” Of course, things might have played out differently had Danks lasted more than four innings. The Marlins put Danks and the Sox in an early hole when Florida’s first three batters all produced extra-base hits — including a two-run homer by Ramirez — and scored. Danks gave up another run in the fourth and lasted just 89 pitches. He has failed to pitch more than 5 2/3 innings in any of his past five starts. “With the pitch count I have, I should be able to easily go seven innings — I don’t know about seven innings — but it is enough to go possible seven or more innings,” Danks said. “I think (Mark) Buehrle and (Jon) Garland and guys have proven that. I just want to mimic what they’re doing and get going.” The Sox don’t want to pull the rookie fifth starter so quickly, but it really can’t be avoided when he nears the 100-pitch count so early in the game. “The only limits are the one he puts out there for us,” Cooper said. “The limits are if he runs up a high pitch count short in the game. We’re looking for 100 pitches, somewhere in about seven innings. Not in the fifth. So efficiency becomes important.” Because Danks was pulled after allowing Ramirez’s leadoff double in the fifth, the Sox bullpen had to take over early. Florida could have made the same excuse since its starter, Dontrelle Willis, left after just one inning because of soreness in his left forearm. While Willis was in the game, the Sox got to him on Jermaine Dye’s RBI single and Josh Fields’ three-run homer in the first. The South Siders increased their lead to 5-3 with an unearned run in the second, but that’s all the scoring they managed as Florida handed them their 18th loss in their past 23 games. “If they think they’re going to win like that, good luck,” Guillen said of a Sox offense that had just three hits after the first inning. “It’s a joke. “The talent is there, believe me. We’re wasting our talent. I’m tired of being positive.” More White Sox coverage can be found online at www.dailysouthtown.com/sports.