Strong 'B' game gives Jenks confidence
Opposite Unit, righty allows one hit in three scoreless innings
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Bobby Jenks fully understood who was pitching for Arizona opposite the burly right-hander during Saturday morning's "B" game at Field No. 4 of the Kino Sports Complex.
But the White Sox closer didn't really care about Randy Johnson's 280 career victories, 4,544 career strikeouts or the Big Unit making his first official start since offseason back surgery. Instead, Jenks simply concentrated on correcting his own pitching mechanics.
After throwing three scoreless innings, allowing just one hit and striking out one, Jenks classified this particular extended effort as a mission accomplished.
"I was much more mechanically sound today," said Jenks, who threw 17 of his 25 pitches for strikes. "I felt effortless, which was a good thing.
"There wasn't any consistency to what I was doing out there [before]. I could be out there with one strike where I want it and then the next three all over the place. That was the rhythm I was in early on.
"Now, I feel like I'm getting a little closer, mechanically-wise, that's a good way to put it," Jenks added. "I feel I can go out there and repeat."
For the second straight spring, Jenks has drawn a little extra attention, and not necessarily of the positive variety.
In 2006, Jenks reported to camp overweight after closing out the 2005 World Series championship, and was pushed and prodded to get into better physical condition by manager Ozzie Guillen in a less-than-subtle manner. Jenks arrived in exceptional shape for the team's current stint in Tucson, after becoming the third closer in franchise history to record at least 40 saves in a single season, but a shoulder impingement during the Cactus League's opening contest set back his development.
Although his shoulder recovered quickly, Jenks has been missing the velocity on his high-octane fastball and any sort of effective location. Those issues were thought to be mechanics-related, leading to a 10.50 ERA over five Cactus League games, along with eight hits and seven walks allowed in six innings, while recording just two strikeouts.
Guillen issued a challenge to Jenks this week, wanting to see decidedly better results on the mound before the regular season began. Jenks answered the challenge on Saturday, after reassuring Guillen he would bounce back in a Thursday morning talk between the two.
"Good outing for him," said White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper of Jenks' B-game effort. "He needed that, and I think we all wanted to see something better than we saw last time. It was unacceptable, and he didn't like that and he's been working hard to make it better.
"I didn't want to give him a three-inning outing, but I remember that's something else we did last year. Pitching is a form of exercise, and I wanted to let him stay out there in hopes that he could figure a few things out on his own.
"He did that. He got results," Cooper added. "I know he feels good, and we feel better about it. But we have a whole lot more work to do."
Velocity for Jenks checked in at the 91-92 mph range and topped out at 93 on Saturday. Jenks blamed the low readings partially on working through a dead-arm period, which didn't seem to draw any sort of worry from the closer or Cooper. In fact, Jenks said it took one month last year before he was able to bring his fastball into the high 90s or 100-mph neighborhood.
Although Jenks broke off a few sharp curves, he worked primarily with the fastball and slider. Jenks quickly added that the curve is the last pitch for him to add in during the spring and stands as a pitch that he "can get in a week."
As far as the final week of Spring Training is concerned, Jenks will have two days off and then work back-to-back Cactus League games on Tuesday against the Angels and Wednesday against Arizona. Jenks also seems content to put in a little extra work off the field to make sure his mechanics were as sharp as they were working against Johnson on Saturday. That program involves balance drills done without the ball in the weight room.
"They take 10 minutes and it shows up on the field," said Jenks of the drills. "Whether I'm starting against Randy Johnson, it's not going to make a difference for me in the ninth inning. That part of it, I threw right out. I was already getting my work in to make sure everything was all right.
"After the way I felt today and with what I'm going to be doing up until Opening Day, I have confidence I'll be ready," Jenks added.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.