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Columnist
There won't be much wiggle room for Jenks
By Barry Rozner | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 3/19/2010 12:00 AM

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Kenny Williams never said it.

In fact, the White Sox GM says he never even thought it.

But someone with the White Sox was talking last fall and indicating that Bobby Jenks was on his way out, and it was a common media theme by the end of the season.

Perhaps it was nothing more than a motivational ploy, an attempt by the Sox to get Jenks in better shape, but that's not the way it sounded.

It sure seemed like Jenks' time was up in Chicago.

But as fall turned to winter, the Sox publicly called on Jenks to get in better shape and get back to being the dominant Jenks.

Once they announced their displeasure, you knew Jenks wasn't going anywhere.

After all, if they were intending to trade him - because of his weight, his contract status or his save percentage - they wouldn't have devalued Jenks by letting the rest of the baseball world know what they were thinking.

It was a bit surprising because Jenks is just the kind of guy Williams usually gets out front on and trades before the contract gets too heavy, or before it's obvious to everyone that the player hasn't seen the light.

Jenks is signed for this year at $7.5 million, and at the end of the season he'll be one year from free agency, which makes him a candidate for trade if things don't go well for the club.

Yet, Jenks is here now and he's the closer until further notice, though again this spring he has had physical problems, including another calf injury, and more questions about his velocity.

If he does struggle early, there will be talk about the physical nature of his problems, but some Sox folks think his problem is as much pitch selection as anything else.

Last year Jenks was reluctant to throw first-pitch fastballs, probably because of a lack of confidence in his velocity, and the American League figured out the pattern, jumping on first-pitch breaking balls.

Hitters don't want to fall behind in the count and face those nasty two-strike curves, and Jenks was using a curveball early in the count that was getting battered.

When a closer who can throw hard is starting hitters with a breaking ball, it's often because he has lost velocity and doesn't trust his fastball.

If he's willing to throw it right away, you'll know he's got his confidence back.

But only two weeks before the Sox leave Arizona, Jenks is now experimenting with a full windup for the first time in years as he searches for answers.

One answer he wouldn't give this week is to questions about his velocity, though he did throw a simulated game Wednesday and is scheduled to face San Diego on Saturday.

In the meantime, the Sox might believe they can fill from within if Jenks can't get it done, knowing they have guys such as Matt Thornton and J.J. Putz in the pen.

But Thornton's never done it, and Putz has had serious health issues.

It takes a special mind-set to get those last three outs, and if Williams has to go outside the organization, to somewhere like San Diego where Heath Bell resides, maybe he will.

One certainty is that Williams will have something in mind if Jenks struggles.

As always, don't expect an abundance of patience.

brozner@dailyherald.com