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Is this rebuilding? White Sox have nine rookies, but they're winning

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider

NEW YORK -- Two straight nights this weekend at Yankee Stadium the White Sox used a rookie starting pitcher.

Friday, they began the game with a bullpen consisting of Matt Thornton and five rookies.

If you didn't know better, you'd say this team was rebuilding, just as general manager Ken Williams threatened for the first half of last winter.

If you didn't know better, and if you didn't look at the American League Central standings, you'd say that.

The White Sox are relying on kids, partly by choice and partly because of need. But the White Sox, with nine rookies on their 25-man active roster, are in first place.

They beat the Yankees Thursday behind rookie Dylan Axelrod and two rookie relievers. They won again Friday behind rookie Jose Quintana and two more kids.

It's not exactly rebuilding.

"It's awesome," rookie closer Addison Reed said Friday. "We're a young team, and we're doing well."

In a division left wide open by the Tigers' unexpected struggles, the White Sox have put themselves in position to be buyers rather than sellers this summer. Williams already added Kevin Youkilis, in a low-risk move that has paid off so far. (Youkilis went 5 for 16 in his first four games after switching Sox).

Some in the organization believe that the next move will be for a starting pitcher, or for some bullpen help, or perhaps both.

But pitching coach Don Cooper said Friday, "I'm not thinking or asking, 'Get us this or get us that.'"

Cooper and first-year manager Robin Ventura have nursed along their young staff, which got younger with starters John Danks and Philip Humber on the disabled list, and with setup man Jesse Crain a candidate to join them there.

Danks, the opening day starter, won't be back until late July, at the earliest.

In Danks' absence, the White Sox rotation has been led by Jake Peavy and Chris Sale (who is just 23, but does not qualify as one of the seven rookie pitchers). But the Sox have also won five games started by Quintana and two started by Axelrod.

And in a year where some potential contenders have fallen because they've had to rely on too many kids in the bullpen (yes, Phillies, that would be you), the White Sox have leaned heavily on Reed and Hector Santiago and Nate Jones, all rookies, at the back end of their pen.

"[Thursday night], we used three rookies [at Yankee Stadium] and we won," Cooper said. "That bodes well for us now, and in the future. You know, veterans can trip and fall, too."

Santiago began the year as the closer. Reed took over in early May, and has held the job since.

"He's not afraid, and he's got good stuff," Cooper said. "Bottom line, we're not afraid."

Reed is interesting because he says he has never wanted to be a starter. He grew up in Southern California as an Angels fan, and grew up wanting to be the next Troy Percival.

"I just remember him coming in from the bullpen, with everybody on their feet," Reed said. "The first time I saw him run out there for the ninth inning, that's all I wanted to do."

Eighteen games into his big-league career, that's what he was doing.

The White Sox, who had their second rookie closer of the year, didn't need to be reminded that they won the 2005 World Series with Bobby Jenks as a rookie closer (and as their third closer of the year).

"People make a lot of us having rookies," Ventura said. "It's what we have."

The pitchers and Cooper give Ventura credit for how he has handled the young staff, something that isn't always easy for a first-year manager.

Or for a veteran manager. Just this week, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was talking about how hard it can be to try to win and develop young pitchers at the same time.

"I don't look at it as difficult," Cooper said. "Me and my bullpen coach, we welcome the challenge. We want [the pitchers] to welcome the challenge.

"It's fun. It's fun when they help us succeed."

So far, they have. So far, if this is rebuilding, it's been relatively painless.

"I don't think you can call it rebuilding," Cooper said. "I think it's transition."

So far, it's successful.

 
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