Don Cooper preaches patience with young White Sox pitchers
08/22/2014 4:00 AM
09/05/2014 4:21 AM
Don Cooper imagines that if he had experienced a season earlier in his career like 2014 - with the pitching staff riding peaks and valleys and a bout with vertigo to boot - he would be "going crazy."
More than 12 years into his tenure as White Sox pitching coach, Cooper says he is trying to keep perspective on how the challenges of this season relate to the club's stated vision of sustained success over the years to come.
"People can't forget - and I certainly don't want to forget, either, but sometimes you do - this is a transition year for us," Cooper said. "We're trying to sort things out, get new players in and figure out what else we may need to go forward in the future.
"Our future right now is better than it was last year, much better. We're much more competitive. Yeah, the bullpen has been getting its knocks, but we've asked guys to do things they've never done before."
The bullpen has been the biggest sore spot for Sox fans. Entering Thursday, the group ranked second to last in the American League with a 4.48 ERA and first with 187 walks.
General manager Rick Hahn wasn't ready to critique individual performances, but he didn't shy from the fact that shoring up the group will be an offseason priority.
"We've made no secret that the bullpen performance has not been satisfactory," Hahn said, "and it's been an area of need, an area of improvement, whether it comes from internal options or outside."
Cooper, who prefers to address the pitchers on an individual basis rather than as a whole, said the current pitching situation takes some patience - and some understanding of how and why the Sox arrived there.
The Sox traded several pitchers over the last year to build up their offensive talent. Dealing starters Hector Santiago and Jake Peavy and closer Addison Reed brought back center fielder Adam Eaton, right fielder Avisail Garcia and third-base prospect Matt Davidson.
Injuries to closer candidate Nate Jones and season-opening closer Matt Lindstrom forced other relievers into roles they weren't accustomed to, with mixed results. Ronald Belisario failed as a closer, but Jake Petricka and Zach Putnam often have performed well in tight spots.
Cooper frequently returned his discussion to the continued development of rookies Petricka, Putnam and Daniel Webb - though he said Webb needs to cut down on walks - as a source of pride.
"Patience has to come into this," Cooper said. "I don't have patience for a lot of things in my life, like my little thing with vertigo. I had like five days, I wasn't making progress, and I had no patience. 'Get me better now.'
"But I've got patience with young pitchers. You have to. You can't immediately make negative conclusions."
Cooper said an inner-ear infection caused the vertigo, which forced him to miss two road trips over the last month. He would talk with bullpen coach Bobby Thigpen on the phone and text encouragement to the pitchers.
He said he is able to travel again, but he tries to take it easier at home games, arriving at the park a little later to reduce the 12-hour days.
"When you sit at home watching the games on TV, your mind starts making you feel guilty that you're not there because this is your job," Cooper said. "You need to be there. You like to think as a coach that you can make difference, but I was in no condition to make any difference during the first part of it."
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