White Sox moves in best interest of team
Club hoping MacDougal, Aardsma, Sisco bounce back soon
CHICAGO -- Kenny Williams never has been a general manager to hide from personnel decisions made during seven years on the job for the White Sox.
During a 20-minute talk with the media before Monday's series opener against the Yankees, Williams explained how there have been some good decisions during his tenure and some not-so-good decisions. And then, there are decisions where the jury still remains deadlocked.
Monday's roster moves, for example, fall into this latter particular category. Two more pieces from Williams' revamped and highly touted bullpen were sent back to Triple-A Charlotte, as Mike MacDougal and David Aardsma joined Andrew Sisco as relievers who broke with the Major League team but now are practicing their craft in the Minors.
The changes don't mean the White Sox have given up on MacDougal, originally slotted in as the team's right-handed setup man, or Aardsma, who led Major League relievers in strikeouts through April. Instead, this personnel switch, with Brett Prinz and Ryan Bukvich ascending to the White Sox, reinforce one underlying theme.
Williams wants his team to win and win now, even if it means slightly adjusting his original vision.
"We're not going to sit around here and be so stuck on what the politics of it are," Williams said. "There are no politics. We basically are trying to win and win on a daily basis, and we're going to do whatever it takes to do that.
"Right now, I'd have to say it's obvious that in this particular area, I have not made the correct decision and I've got to wear it. That's the way it is."
Closer Bobby Jenks, left-handed setup man Matt Thornton and rookie right-hander Nick Masset are the only three originals still spelling relief for the White Sox out of the six hard-throwers leaving Arizona. Left-hander Boone Logan joined the White Sox on April 17, replacing Scott Podsednik on the active roster, and giving Ozzie Guillen seven relievers at his disposal.
Dewon Day moved up from Double-A Birmingham to replace Sisco before the start of the most recent seven-game road trip, and Prinz and Bukvich got the call Sunday. The moves were not a complete surprise to the two veteran relievers with Chicago connections in their past. But having both of them move together from Indianapolis, where the Knights were playing, gave them a little pause for thought.
"They called both of us in there [Sunday] when we were in the clubhouse," said Bukvich, who was a non-roster invite to Spring Training and posted a 2.89 ERA and nine saves in 23 games for the Knights. "We were both like, 'Were they calling us in there to tell one of us he's going and the other one is not?' But it worked out well and we both came together."
"You always follow the team," added Prinz, signed as a Minor League free agent during Spring Training, and bringing a 0.56 ERA with him from Charlotte to Chicago. "Anyone who said they weren't following the Major League club would be lying. Everyone wants to get to the Majors. If someone is scuffling a little bit, there's always that window of opportunity."
Scuffling a little bit would be a little bit of an understatement in describing the recent work for MacDougal and Aardsma. MacDougal, 30, gave up 11 earned runs over 8 1/3 innings in May and June, and allowed 11 walks and 18 hits during this time frame.
Aardsma, meanwhile, started strong with a 1.72 ERA and 23 strikeouts over his 15 2/3 innings during April. But Aardsma's ERA jumped from 1.31 on May 12 to 6.18 following Toronto's shellacking at Rogers Centre on Saturday. The right-hander basically was relying on a straight fastball during his final weeks, which was not fooling the opposing hitters.
Both MacDougal and Aardsma move back to Charlotte with a purpose. The plan for MacDougal is to get him innings and get him working within the strike zone.
"They just have to go down there and get straightened out," said White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper of MacDougal and Aardsma. "I said a week ago that MacDougal was going to be all right. He just didn't quite get it straightened out, and we're not afforded the luxury of trying to get him through something right now.
"Even when he was an All-Star with Kansas City, he would get that wild hair from time to time," added Cooper of MacDougal. "It was a little bit more than wild hair."
As for Aardsma, the mental improvement could mean as much as a physical change.
"David, let's face it, in the bigger moments he has some difficulty," Cooper said. "I'm not talking out of school, because I talked to him about it. When the big moments were there, I think his head got the best of him.
"What we sent him down to work on was the fastball on both sides of the plate. He likes to throw it away a lot to righties, so we have to get him to both sides of the plate. We've got to get a breaking ball going.
"When he's out there without a breaking ball, it's 94 [mph] and straight and [on] one side of the plate," Cooper added. "That becomes a difficulty. The development of a breaking ball is the big thing for him."
The blueprint for this bullpen actually took shape two springs ago, when Thornton was acquired from Seattle and joined Jenks in the back end of the White Sox relief corps. MacDougal was picked up near last year's non-waiver trade deadline, while Aardsma, Sisco and Masset were added during this past offseason.
It was supposed to be a White Sox strong suit, after the bullpen struggled mightily during the second half of the 2006 season. Instead, Williams finds himself in Phase 2 of the relief revamping.
Ultimately, Williams envisions MacDougal, Aardsma and Sisco helping the White Sox sooner than later. The moves were made, though, in the best interest of the team.
"They are not being discarded by any sense," Williams said. "I didn't think it was fair for those other guys in the locker room, when they fight so hard to get ahead in a game and have it go by the wayside in the last inning or two.
"That's just not right. It's not who we want to be or need to be."
Prinz and Bukvich understand the sense of urgency to produce, whether it's in middle relief or the late innings. They also understand consistent performances could lead to a long-term different look for Guillen's bullpen.
"Get the job done and you stay," Cooper said. "It's as simple as that. Get the job done and you stay. You don't, and we have to do something."
"Being a bullpen guy, you expect that," Bukvich added. "If you don't come in and get guys out, you aren't doing your job anyway. I expect that. I expect to come in and get people out."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.