Cooper has his bullpen's back

Cooper has his bullpen's back

ST. PETERSBURG -- Don Cooper wants to dispute the recent concept that there's no relief when it comes to his White Sox pitching staff.

Sure, Cooper's bullpen posted a 6.01 ERA over the final 36 appearances of the 2008 regular season, along with allowing a .298 average against. The relief crew became an easy target when the White Sox stronghold on the American League Central slowly began to erode.

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But prior to the White Sox first game against Tampa Bay in the AL Division Series on Thursday afternoon at Tropicana Field, the White Sox pitching coach made it clear that he thought the negativity is unwarranted.

"Without a doubt," said Cooper in definitive tones, when asked about the criticism heaped upon his relievers. "Any time my guys are maligned unfairly, it really bothers me. If it's fairly done, it bothers me, too. I can stay [stuff] about that, but I don't want anybody else to say it.

Cooper explained how the bullpen was thrown into disarray by injuries to Scott Linebrink and Bobby Jenks, which in his mind was the equivalent of losing a No. 3 or 4 hitter in the lineup. Jenks did not close from June 20-July 29 due to pain under his left scapula, while Linebrink, the team's All-Star-caliber setup man during the season's first half, basically was lost for two months with right shoulder soreness.

Somehow the White Sox survived, with relievers such as Octavio Dotel, D.J. Carrasco and Matt Thornton picking up the slack despite some bumps in the road.

"We did a solid job of holding it together," Cooper said. "Actually, we've done a great job, because we won the division title.

"I would love to go back to the way it was, with Dotel, Linebrink and then Bobby for the ninth. But we couldn't do that for a while because of the injuries we incurred. Because of that, I thought we were unfairly maligned."

The strong support shown for his relievers, a group that finished fourth in the AL in strikeouts and eighth with a 4.00 ERA overall, would not push Cooper to compare this group to the '05 staff. The White Sox won their first World Series title in almost nine decades behind solid pitching from start to finish and just enough clutch hitting.

In order to be included in such rarified air, the 2008 staff has to carve out its own niche over the next few weeks.

"After the playoffs and hopefully the Word Series are over, then we will compare," Cooper said. "Until they achieve something like the staff did, there shouldn't be comparisons.

"This is not the same team or the same staff from '05. The next two weeks will give us a better chance to compare more fairly."

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