Could Jenks already be back?

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When I wrote a week ago that the White Sox couldn't afford to keep Bobby Jenks in the closer role while he went through the process of rediscovering his stuff (I'm not linking back to that thing, it makes me look like a moron now), I made the assumption that it would actually be a process.  Some sort of period of labor and development, not the mere flick of a switch where somehow after a week of absence, Jenks got to shoot to three years in the past; back when he didn't just have plus breaking stuff but a fastball that makes Sergio Santos look like Jamie Moyer.....Jamie Moyer if he were a hobo.

Of course Bobby Jenks completely vindicated himself with a picture-perfect one-run save featuring three strikeouts, only 13 pitches (10 strikes), and rrrriiiddiicccuuullllooouuusssss stuff; but hell if I'm going to take back any critical things I wrote, because no rational person would have expected this.  This was absurd.

Before I completely lose perspective (that will come just a little bit later), Jenks did blow through three members of a Seattle squad that is possibly one of the worst-hitting major league teams put together in the last ten years, was possibly demoralized by blowing a 4-run lead despite having one of their best two starters on the mound, and had three hitters at the plate who will all strikeout well over 100 times this season.  My word, who even knows how many times Russell Branyan could have struckout this year if he hadn't gotten hurt.

But what's most important is of course how Jenks looked, and he looked extremely good.  Pitching-wise that is...the chin beard...I donno...I guess it's intimidating.  A week after having breaking stuff so flat that he was relying almost solely on a fastball that clocked in at around 94-95 (good, but not great.  Like it, don't love it), Jenks featured multiple wipeout breaking balls, and even more alarmingly, threw a fastball that was clocked at 99mph.

Fix the radar gun.

Even with all the mechanical tweaking from Don Cooper and nonsense about over-rotating that's been chucked about, I haven't witnessed Jenks hit anything beyond 97 with regularity for at least the past two seasons.  It's so out of nowhere that it has to be seen as a blip until it's duplicated.....a lot.  At the very least, it shows that Bobby can return to his regular speed of the past few years, which is certainly good enough when his breaking pitches are working like they were Wednesday night.

I'm struck by this clip.  First of all, it shows how vicious Jenks can be when he's actually working ahead in the count.  Smoak is way out ahead on the changeup because he's protecting for the overpowering fastball, and I'm only guessing that it's a changeup based on the velocity being at 87; it might be a 12-6 curveball with that kind of motion.  Second, notice how Jenks reacts.  He's certainly been known to provide a celebratory fist-pump after a game-ending strikeout, but this seemed less demonstrative and more personal, as if he were as exhilarated by his own personal return to form as he was for the electrifying victory.  Guh...did I just spend time trying to analyze the body language of someone as aloof as Bobby Jenks?

As much as this was only one outing, it was about as much as a pitcher can show you in one outing.  Closers can fluke themselves through an inning (Jenks has done it several times this season), but striking out the side is harder to fake...even against Seattle.  Of course, any Sox fan right now is suffering from affirmation bias (thank you, Introduction to Social Psychology class in college), because this is the result we want to see.  Even if Putz or Thornton could be better closers, Jenks in the 9th gives the White Sox bullpen its most flexibility and strength at a time where they'd be hard-pressed to replace any of their set-up men.  Think of this way: Jenks was so good, that a game that saw the White Sox surrender 5 runs to a terrible offensive team and a home run to Chone Figgins, might have still been the most positive result of the week.

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Filed under: Bullpen, Columns

Tags: baseball, Bobby Jenks, White Sox

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