Short leash will rein in poor performers

Short leash will rein in poor performances

CHICAGO -- Relievers Andrew Sisco and David Aardsma picked up Jose Contreras on Monday afternoon at U.S. Cellular Field during one of the worst starts in the right-hander's highly successful five-year Major League career.

Sisco threw two perfect innings against the Indians, striking out two, while Aardsma allowed one run over two innings, expressing disappointment over the two walks he allowed. But what if both Sisco and Aardsma would have taken the mound on Opening Day and flat-out struggled? Would they have immediately been sent back down to Triple-A Charlotte?

After all, both general manager Ken Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen made it clear when the final roster cuts were announced last week that the leash would be much shorter than the one used in 2006. Subpar performances simply would not be tolerated.

But prior to Monday's 12-5 loss to Cleveland, Guillen and Williams crystallized the difference in their mind between the current campaign and the approach they took in 2006.

Last year had a prevailing theme of being true to the veterans, trying to nurse a few stalwart hurlers from 2005's championship effort through a series of rough performances in 2006. In 2007, the watchword would be choices.

"The thing is about the short leash, last year, [Cliff] Politte was struggling and Neal [Cotts] was struggling and we didn't have anyone better down there," Guillen explained. "We were thinking, 'Let's give this kid a chance or a break to re-do himself and come back and play better.' This year, we have the people."

"We had to deal with loyalty issues because we had some guys we won a championship with and wanted to give them each and every opportunity to pitch and play themselves off the club," Williams added. "Now, there is a certain sense of urgency, where we can't withstand any prolonged ineffectiveness."

Williams pointed out that the short-leash theory doesn't simply apply to relievers, with Boone Logan and Ryan Bukvich waiting at Triple-A Charlotte and Adam Russell holding tight with Double-A Birmingham. The same holds true for position players, such as Brian Anderson, who doubled in a pinch-hit role Monday, and even a bright young talent such as John Danks.

Danks, 21, arrived in Chicago early Monday morning and took in all of the pomp and circumstance of his first Major League Opening Day. He believes the five days and four games prior to his debut Saturday truly will help him prepare for his first start against the Twins.

It was a simulated game Sunday in Tucson, though, which started the restoration of Danks' confidence. After beating out Gavin Floyd for the fifth starter's spot, Danks walked six batters in 4 2/3 innings in his ensuing Cactus League start three days later.

Being aggressive within the strike zone and showing fearlessness on the mound earned Danks the big-league promotion and, by his own admission, many more wild starts would cause his own leash to be pulled back to Charlotte. On Sunday, Danks was able to command all of his pitches.

opening day 2007

"That was a lot better than my last start, but it couldn't exactly have been worse," said Danks with a smile. "I was able to go out there and prove to myself I can throw strikes.

"I've never felt like that before in my life," added Danks of his last Cactus League appearance. "It was Spring Training and those games don't count. It's time to come out here and do it when it counts."

Guillen's edict, a sort of 'Scared Straight to throw strikes,' left a lasting impression on Sisco and Aardsma, as well. They understand there's room for error, but they also realize making the 25-man roster is just a start and not the high point derived from a spring's worth of hard work.

"You know you have to do your job, especially with a manager who pretty much points his finger at the bullpen and says, 'This is where you guys have to do it because we have people in the Minors,'" Aardsma said. "Just push yourself and your teammates and get better for it."

"When you have a bad outing, you have to keep that positive attitude because it becomes an issue when you string two or three bad ones together," Sisco added. "Nobody says, 'Hey, I want to have a bad year.' But it's more important this year to have the best effort possible because there are five or six guys [in the Minors] trying to pitch well to get here and help the team."

How quickly could those reinforcements be called upon? Williams said Sunday that he ideally would like to go the entire season with the same 25-man roster. Williams possesses enough baseball acumen to realize that sort of plan rarely comes to fruition.

Aside from injury-based callups, what sort of struggles would cause the White Sox to make a change? Well, the 2007 leash remains short but not to the point of ridiculous expectations.

"One bad outing and you're gone? No, it's not that way," Guillen said. "But I don't want anyone to feel too comfortable here. If you don't play the way you are supposed to perform, we will be ready to go downstairs."

"People are going to get opportunities," Williams added. "It's not going to be pulling the plug if they have one, two, three or four bad outings. But after a while, we have to be shown and you have to take a look. Unlike last year, we have options in the Minors and plenty of them."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.