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While Ricky Renteria's outfit and Sox fans shivered through snowflakes and 30-degree temperatures last week, consider all the thousands of Chicago kids who play baseball and softball on school teams in March and April. You think the Abreus and Moncadas of the world have it tough? None of the local youngsters have the luxury of at least playing away games in Florida, California, Texas, or in heated domed stadiums.
Guys who played baseball in Chicago in the early spring have painful memories of episodes like hitting a fastball off the handle of the bat without the benefit of batting gloves as the wind whistled in their faces while an occasional snow flurry drifted by.
So there's not much sympathy in this corner of the conditions the Sox opened their home season in last Thursday on the South Side. Even though a rather robust snow shower dominated the middle innings, the Sox persevered to build a 7-3 lead after seven innings against a mediocre Detroit Tiger contingent. Yolmer Sanchez's two triples, accounting for three RBI, led the assault, giving James Shields a great chance to win his second straight decision.
Then the bullpen happened. We've known for some time that the team's bullpen would have much to say about the Sox fortunes this season, and we got a big dose of that on Thursday. Nate Jones gave up a single tally in the eighth before purported closer Joakim Soria allowed three runs after two outs in the ninth to knot the game at 7.
Of course, by this juncture, only a handful of Sox faithful remained from the announced Opening Day crowd of 33,318. This saved thousands of fans from witnessing what happened next: a couple of hits, a walk, an overturned call against the Sox, and a runner going from second to third on a flyball in the 10th inning as the Tigers scored twice against Gregory Infante and Aaron Bummer, to complete the 9-7 comeback.
Let's hope that was a temporary migraine rather than a preview of what's to come. However, the headache was pounding away again on Saturday.
In a lackluster performance on many levels, the Sox were beaten 6-1. Starting pitcher Lucas Giolito had little success locating his pitches, although he lasted until two outs in the sixth inning, departing with a 5-0 deficit. Giolito walked three batters and hit as many. Four of those free passes came around to score. End of story.
Well, not quite. Renteria summoned Juan Minaya, who finished last season as the team's closer, to pitch the top of the ninth. Poor Juan threw 23 pitches, of which only seven were strikes. Walking four straight hitters was enough to get a one-way ticket to Charlotte at the end of the day.
Interestingly, Infante followed Minaya with the bases loaded and no outs. Inexplicably he retired the Tigers on a pop-up and two strikeouts. It all required just eight pitches.
The two teams mustered only five hits between them on Sunday as the Tigers swept the Sox 1-0 in front of approximately 35,000 empty seats.
In the team's four losses prior to Sunday, the bullpen had allowed 18 earned runs in 13.3 innings for an appalling 12.15 ERA.
Anyone with the least bit of interest in this edition of the South Siders knows that the team has a stable of young prospects. However, that does not hold true as far as relief pitchers are concerned. Before the departure of Minaya, the average age of the eight members of the relief corps was a few ticks short of 30. Only Bummer at 24 could be considered a prospect.
Furthermore, the crew at Triple-A Charlotte is primarily veterans. Bruce Rondon, 27, arrived Sunday to replace Minaya. No doubt the fellow was confused upon arrival since Rondon pitched for the Tigers the past three seasons. He entered the visitors' clubhouse only to be told that, no, he actually now was a member of the Chicago White Sox.
Apparently the rather large right-hander - he's 6-foot-3, 275 pounds - regained his senses by the ninth inning, striking out three of his former teammates in order.
Forgive us if we feel insulted having our team lose three straight in the home opening series to a team like Detroit, a bunch that appears to be heading nowhere this season with aging stars like Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez and a dearth of prospects at the big-league level.
The bright spot, however, came Sunday when Reynaldo Lopez pitched seven innings of two-hit baseball, his second strong outing in as many opportunities. This kid throws hard, has plenty of mound presence, and at age 24 will only get better.
Chances are some of the Sox pitching prospects on the farm will be steered toward relief roles because that's where the organization is weak. Meanwhile, we have glimpsed the truth about a rebuild that we hoped would not be: it's still in progress.
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