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Jenks delivers what hitters can't hit

Jenks delivers what hitters can't hit

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CHICAGO -- He arrived to the Major Leagues as a burly 24-year-old who often made fans gasp with the triple-digit radar gun readings of his fastball.

Now, Bobby Jenks stands as an established veteran pitcher, not nearly as reliant on firing pitches past opposing hitters. The right-hander also has emerged as one of Major League Baseball's most consistent closers.

Jenks is completing his third full season as the White Sox closer, and with one more save recorded, he will have put up at least 30 in each of those seasons (41 in 2006, 40 in 2007). Jenks' overall performance in 2008, anchoring a revamped bullpen for the American League Central leaders with just three blown saves and a stretch of 15 straight converted, has earned him a nomination for the DHL Delivery Man of the Year.

Nine other candidates join Jenks in search of this prestigious honor. That list includes the Angels' Francisco Rodriguez, who shattered Bobby Thigpen's single-season save record this season, and Philadelphia's Brad Lidge, who has not blown a save opportunity all season. Minnesota's Joe Nathan, Boston's Jonathan Papelbon, Toronto's B.J. Ryan, Colorado's Brian Fuentes, Kansas City's Joakim Soria and the legendary Yankees closer Mariano Rivera also are nominated.

Oakland's Brad Ziegler completes the 10. He traveled the great distance from being a one-time pitcher for the Schaumburg Flyers, an unaffiliated team located about an hour away from U.S. Cellular Field, to becoming Oakland's unflappable closer.

To create the ballot, the editorial staff at MLB.com compiled a list of 15 relievers who have had outstanding regular seasons. The 10 finalists then were chosen from the list by a special Major League Baseball yellow-ribbon panel.

Everyone who votes will be entered into a sweepstakes for the chance to win a two-day, one-night trip for two to Game 4 of this year's World Series. The prize will include roundtrip airfare, if needed, to the National League city of the Fall Classic, as well as accommodations and two tickets to the game.

The ultimate prize for Jenks is to help push the White Sox to another World Series title. In 2005, following an early July callup, Jenks became the first rookie in Major League history to earn a save in the clinching game of the World Series. Jenks is doing everything in his power to return the White Sox to such hallowed baseball ground.

Entering the final week of the regular season, Jenks had a 2.51 ERA overall, which had been slightly skewed by back-to-back rough September outings against Toronto and Detroit in non-save situations. He also has pitched more than one inning on five occasions this season, with two of those efforts resulting in saves and one resulting in a victory, in an era where closers rarely work more the one inning. Jenks also has given up just three home runs all year.

From June 30 to July 18, Jenks had an unwanted break when he was placed on the disabled list with left scapula bursitis. The good news in regard to the injury was that it didn't have anything to do with his pitching arm, but a side benefit was a much fresher Jenks down the stretch.

"Having that DL time refreshed my throwing arm, which is kind of nice after having the problem," Jenks said. "But down the stretch, I just have to keep getting my innings and stay right where I am, and I'll be fine."

His career in the Minors began as a starting pitcher in the Angels' system, but Jenks readily admits that he was born to be the White Sox closer. With the team on the verge of its second playoff berth in four years, the White Sox would have trouble reaching such heights without him.

"Bobby has been through the wars and knows how long the season is," said White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper of Jenks, whose greater commitment to conditioning over the past couple of years also has paid dividends. "That's experience. He has matured more and is always ready for us."

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

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