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Be Like Mike

In what has been billed as the beginning of spring training 2015, this month - at least from a won-loss standpoint - looks ominously familiar.

With the trades of Gordon Beckham, Alejandro De Aza and Adam Dunn, the White Sox front office cleared space so that we could get a look at the likes of Carlos Sanchez, Michael Taylor, Andy Wilkens, Chris Bassitt, and Scott Snodgress while observing the progress (or lack thereof) of Jordan Danks, Marcus Semien and Josh Phegley.

This all appears reasonable since the Sox, while interesting to watch prior to the All-Star Game, have truly never been in contention since Opening Day. No one puts much stock in a team's spring training record - the Sox were 9-14 this year - but our fellows were joined by Boston, Texas and Minnesota at the bottom of the American League last March, and all four teams reside at the bottom of their respective divisions as we painfully trek toward the end of another losing season.

Were we foolish to think that the Sox could finish at .500 or better back on August 1st when the team was 54-56? I mean, isn't 110 games enough to determine the caliber of a major-league ballclub? Apparently not.

So what's gone wrong? As the Sox have lost 23 or their last 32 games, they've scored three runs or less in 21 of those games. Only eight times have the South Siders put up as many as five or more runs during this pathetic streak. Half the time - 16 games - Sox pitching and defense have yielded at least five runs to the opposition. That's what's gone wrong!

When the pitching has been decent - like it was over the weekend in Cleveland - the bats have been silent, resulting in three losses: 2-1, 3-1 and 2-0. This is the anatomy of a bad ballclub.

So manager Robin Ventura, whose job surprisingly appears secure, can trot out the prospects and wannabes for the next three weeks, beginning tonight when Oakland visits for four games. The A's have faded mightily the past month with an 8-18 record, morphing from contenders to pretenders. Metra could drive a commuter train through The Cell this evening without threatening anyone.

Wouldn't it be lovely if Ventura could experiment not only with new, fresh faces, but also with his approach to the game? I'm thinking specifically of what Angels' manager Mike Scioscia did back on August 30th.

The Angels' once-formidable starting rotation had been compromised by season-ending injuries to Tyler Skaggs followed by ace Garrett Richards. This was even more devastating that the Sox losing Felipe Paulino (injury) and Erik Johnson (lack of ability) from their Opening Day rotation.

(Obviously I'm joking. But, looking back, depending on those two right-handers going into the season indicates just how much the Sox were grasping at straws as the season commenced.)

Scioscia's club was facing Oakland, over whom it held a three-game lead in the American League West. Needing a starting pitcher to face the A's and Jeff Samardzija, Scioscia opted to use a starter by committee, as opposed to a closer by committee, which has been tried on a number of occasions. He plucked reliever Cory Rasmus out of the bullpen to hurl the first three innings before trotting out seven other pitchers.

How'd that turn out? Samardzija pitched a complete game, but it wasn't enough as the Angel octet shut out the A's for a 2-0 victory.

Using eight pitchers for approximately an inning apiece sounds like, well, spring training. But isn't that what the Sox purportedly have entered for the last month of the season? And why not try to copy something - even for just one game - from a guy like Mike Scioscia, who's managed one team for 15 seasons, with a .548 winning percentage, going on six division titles, and a World Series winner in 2002?

Just about every other day Hawk and Stoney talk about pitching staffs heading toward a six-man rotation, which apparently will provide more rest for guys like Chris Sale and Jose Quintana. It also will mean that a team like the Sox would have to find four other starters when they've had trouble locating anyone other than Hector Noesi for most of the season.

Going back to Scioscia's idea, what if the notion of a starting pitcher becomes a part of baseball history like the spitball or having the pitcher bat in the American League? Take a guy like Sale who, barring injury, is capable of pitching 200 innings a season. What if he became not a six- or seven-inning pitcher, but, say, a four-inning pitcher? He could appear in 50 games a season instead of 30 or 32. Same with Quintana.

And the four innings could come at any time during the game - beginning, middle or end. The assumption with closers is that the most important outs occur in the ninth inning, but most games are decided in innings other than the last one. So a manager could spot his best pitchers at the most crucial times, provided that he is smart and perceptive.

Of course, we're dealing with humans here and not chess pieces. How would someone like Sale adapt to a situation when he's not sure at what point in a game he would be used? What would his routine be like if he pitched every third game? Would the Sox be more successful with their best pitchers participating 50 games a season for shorter stints rather than 30 games for six or seven innings?

Other than Scioscia's successful move more than a month ago, this approach has never been tried outside of spring training. You can't really count the no-hitter turned in by the Phillies a week ago when manager Ryne Sandberg used four pitchers with starter Cole Hamels going the first six innings before three relievers pitched an inning apiece. However, Sandberg just may be leaning in Scioscia's direction.

In addition, we all know that spring training doesn't mean anything - although, as mentioned, record-wise 2014 was a portend of things to come - and Sale and Quintana had a combined ERA of more than nine last spring. However, each knew the games meant nothing.

The A's have announced their starters - Sonny Gray, Samardzija, Jon Lester and Scott Kazmir - for this week's series at The Cell. The Sox will go with Noesi tonight, John Danks tomorrow, and Sale on Thursday. Ventura hasn't named a starter for Wednesday. Wouldn't this be a perfect time to experiment with a starter by committee? At least we'd have something to talk about other than Jay Cutler's snippiness and Derrick Rose's knees.


Roger Wallenstein is our man on the Sox. He welcomes your comments.

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