Notes: Jenks' path familiar to Buehrle
Road from Minors to playoffs highlights pitchers' similarities
CHICAGO -- When Mark Buehrle was a rookie pitcher in 2000, he was called up from Double-A Birmingham to pitch 28 games for the eventual American League Central champions.
Buehrle also pitched one-third of an inning during Game 2 of the American League Division Series, a three-game set swept by the Seattle Mariners. It sounds like a tale very similar to that of Bobby Jenks on the current White Sox pitching staff, a unit standing as this team's strong suit as the American League Championship Series opens on Tuesday night at U.S. Cellular Field.
Similar, though, only in their jump from the Southern League to the Majors to the playoffs in the same season. Buehrle came up as a reliever, but quickly became one of the most stable starting pitchers in all of the American League. Jenks was a starter for his entire Minor League career, until being converted into a closer during the 2005 season.
And then there's the slight difference in their pitching styles. Buehrle is all about location and movement, topping out at 91 or 92 mph. The burly Jenks idles at 97 mph and has been known to reach the rarified air of 102 mph with his fastball.
Whereas Buehrle came quietly into the White Sox fold, with probably only his immediate family chanting his name when he took the mound, Jenks has become a folk hero on the South Side of Chicago over 32 regular-season relief appearances and two spectacular playoff showings against Boston.
"When you come in and get the job done and light up the radar gun like he does, fans love to see that," said Buehrle of Jenks. "Without him in the second half of this season, I don't know if we would be here today.
"I did it in 2000," added Buehrle of jumping from Double-A to the playoffs. "But I did it in mop-up time, not with Manny [Ramirez] leading off the inning and protecting a one-run lead."
During the past two off-days, Jenks has been quizzed by the media as to a preference for an opponent in the upcoming ALCS. The juicy answer would be the Angels, since it was the team from Anaheim that gave up on Jenks during the past offseason. But Jenks won't budge from his either/or answer, unlike opposing hitters facing his big-bending curve.
The 24-year-old still holds a high opinion of quite a few people on the Angels' roster, including manager Mike Scioscia, who sought out Jenks during a September series in Chicago to congratulate him on his success. Jenks also learned a great deal from former Angels closer Troy Percival, who also expressed his best wishes to Jenks when the White Sox were in Detroit.
If the Yankees win on Monday night in Anaheim, it will be Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer in postseason history, facing off against his young counterpart who is gradually making a name for himself. If it's the Angels, then Francisco Rodriguez and Jenks, who were teammates at Double-A Arkansas in 2002, will be trying to close out a World Series berth for their respective teams.
And the fans will be hanging on Jenks' every pitch.
"It makes me feel like I have a really good home here," Jenks said. "It makes me feel like I want to stick around this city for a very long time."
Play ball -- finally: Talk of the ALCS starting on Wednesday, instead of Tuesday, in order to accommodate the team traveling back two time zones from Anaheim late Monday was not greeted with a warm reception on Monday in the White Sox clubhouse. When the players were notified the series will begin as planned on Tuesday, thoughts quickly shifted to how a fifth game and the long journey to Chicago will affect their prospective opponent.
Most of the White Sox weren't exactly charitable in regard to their thoughts for how Monday night would play out.
"I hope whoever wins does a little bit of celebrating on the plane ride back and then gets in as late as they possibly can," said Buehrle with a smile.
"We would like to see them beat the heck out of each other and have their pitching staffs get [worn] down," pitching coach Don Cooper added. "I guess I would be hoping for an 11-10 game, but I don't care who wins."
Players such as catcher A.J. Pierzynski and third baseman Joe Crede echoed their thoughts from Sunday, in that the travel shouldn't be a big issue for either the Yankees or Angels. Not with teams traveling all year. Not with the adrenaline pumping during the postseason.
As for handling the White Sox longest layoff since the All-Star break, Pierzynski believes the team has put in the necessary work to stay prepared during this three-day respite. He also pointed out a fact to remember about the White Sox play after the Midsummer Classic.
"The last time I checked, we came out after the break and played pretty well," said Pierzynski of his team's five-game winning streak to start the second half. "It's always nice when you win and win early and set everything up."
Don't give up: Damaso Marte's simulated game, thrown on Sunday, was called "a positive day" by Cooper. The White Sox are working on Marte to trust the catcher and be confident with all of his pitches.
But more specifically, they want Marte to throw the slider with the same conviction as his fastball.
"I don't know of anyone who can go out with all fastballs," said Cooper of Marte. "We made headway yesterday. Damaso still is a big part of this. We need everyone in this room."
Marte pointed out that it was his fastball that brought him to prominence in 2002. Working his pitches a little more inside, though, will help him reduce a .267 average posted by left-handed hitters. Marte also disputed a question in regard to an inflated walk total for 2005, and the raw numbers are approximately the same.
The left-hander walked 34 in 2003 and 2004 and 33 in 2005. But he pitched 79 2/3 innings and 73 2/3 innings in each of those first two years, respectively, while throwing only 45 1/3 innings this season.
Even with these issues at hand, Marte's confidence remains intact.
"I feel fine because they still believe in me," Marte said. "They have confidence in me. When you are a player and a pro, you have to be mentally strong. If you aren't mentally strong, you are gone."
Perfect perspective: A number of differences have been documented between the 2000 and 2005 White Sox playoff teams. But Cooper put his own spin Monday on the greatest improvement over the five years.
"With the playoffs a couple of years ago, we crawled or fell across the finish line," Cooper said. "Here, we ran across it. We are much stronger and ready to go as long as we need to go."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.