The White Sox disabled list runs deep – starters Carlos Rodon and James Shields and relievers Nate Jones, Jake Petricka and Zach Putnam are all on it – but somehow manager Rick Rentera’s team has managed to play at or near a .500 clip into the first two weeks of May.
“A testament to those guys out there,’’ Renteria said before the Sox fell to the Twins 7-6 Thursday night at Guaranteed Rate Field, their fifth consecutive defeat. “The coaching staff does a great job with them, but you’ve got to give those guys credit because they’re the ones that go out on the hill and are in the fire and doing what they do.’’
Because healthy starters like Derek Holland (3-3, 2.43 ERA), who gave up seven runs Thursday — but only three earned because of an error on a routine play for first baseman Jose Abreu — and Miguel Gonzalez (3-2, 3.18 ERA) who faces the Padres in the first game of a weekend series Friday, the Sox rotation has treaded water disaster despite Jose Quintana (2-5, 4.46) laboring through a murky start and Rule 5 Draft pick Dylan Covey (0-3, 8.28) and Tigers discard Mike Pelfrey (0-3, 5.21) patching up the fourth and fifth spots with far too many four-plus and five-inning starts.
But thanks in large part to spring training invitee Anthony Swarzak, (0.00 ERA) who recorded another pair of scoreless innings Thursday and has retired 38 of last 40 batters retired, and Tommy Kahnle, who struck out two more in his 10th straight scoreless outing, the bullpen has anchored the staff despite losing key pieces Petricka, Jones and Putnam to injuries. Kahnle opened the season at AAA Charlotte.
“We’re all pulling for each other and that’s the biggest thing,’’ Swarzak said. “Guys are paying attention to the games, watching pitch for pitch. Everybody is trying to be the best they can be every time out. That’s really what it takes.’’
The Sox (15-17) ranked third in baseball with a 3.47 ERA while holding opponents to four runs or less 20 times this season going into the game. With runners in scoring position, opponents were batting .232, the seventh best mark in the AL.
The bullpen’s 2.39 ERA ranked second in baseball while averaging 9.64 strikeouts per nine innings, and it added four more scoreless innings Thursday.
Holland should have been out of the Twins’ four-run first with no damage because Abreu dropped a routine belt-high return throw from second baseman Tyler Saladino on what should have been an inning-ending double play. Given new life, the Twins pounced with a Joe Mauer RBI single and Eduardo Escobar three-run homer to make it 4-0.
Holland gave up two more homers in the second, to Brian Dozier and Miguel Sano, as the Twins built a 6-0 lead.
The Sox nicked Phil Hughes for two runs in the fourth and got a three-run homer from Melky Cabrera in the fifth to make it a game, then closed to within 7-6 in the sixth when third baseman Matt Davidson hit his sixth homer against Tyler Duffey.
Davidson, who entered the game in a 2-for-27 rut, collected his first RBI of the night on a sharply hit fielder’s choice but killed the Sox’ two-run rally in the fourth when he was thrown out easily at third by left fielder Eddie Rosario to end the inning. Davidson, with the play in front of him, was trying to get there from first on Tim Anderson’s single.
Walks to Davidson and Anderson by Matt Belisle and then a wild pitch in the eighth put the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position, but Brandon Kintzler struck out Omar Narvaez and Leury Garcia to protect the Twins lead.
Abreu (0-for-5, two strikeouts) had one last chance to make amends for the error in the first, faced Kintzler with two outs and the bases empty in the ninth but lined out to right end the game. Abreu was batting .400 in his previous 14 games.