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updated: 5/15/2014 9:53 PM

Putnam feeling good as key piece of White Sox' bullpen

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  • Sox reliever Zach Putnam

      Sox reliever Zach Putnam

 
 

Zach Putnam? To the rescue?

As improbable as that might sound, yes.

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"Where our bullpen was before he came up, he's kind of calmed the waters," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura.

When Putman, a 26-year-old relief pitcher, signed a free-agent contract with the Sox on Nov. 27, it barely warranted a shrug.

Last season he made 5 relief appearances with the Cubs and allowed 7 runs on 9 hits in 3⅓ innings (18.90 ERA). Putnam also logged short stints with Cleveland in 2011 and Colorado in '12, but he never performed anywhere near as well as he is with the Sox this season.

As it turns out, Putnam was never physically capable of performing well.

"I think the biggest difference is I'm healthy now," said Putnam, a Michigan product and the Big Ten's 2008 pitcher of the year. "I had surgery last August and repaired an elbow issue that I was having, and it's been nice. This is the first time in years where I've been able to throw without any kind of pain or anything.

"I think the durability factor of being able to go out and throw and, if nothing else, just being able to work on stuff every day, it's really helped. Last year I was having to kind of back off throughout the season."

Putnam was with the Cubs from May 30-June 11 before landing on the disabled list with a sore right elbow. He had arthroscopic surgery to remove a bone spur Aug. 2.

"It was something I was dealing with for a number of years," he said. "I was trying this, trying that, just trying to pitch through it and whatnot, and at times doing short DL stints. It's been nice this year being able to just feel like I have a fully functional, healthy arm. It definitely helps for what we do."

Putnam made a good impression on the Sox in spring training, posting a 2.53 ERA in 10 Cactus League appearances.

That wasn't quite good enough to earn a spot on the opening-day roster, but Putnam replaced Donnie Veal in the White Sox' bullpen April 17 and rattled off a 10⅓ consecutive scoreless innings from April 25-May 9 while retiring a team-high 15 straight hitters over one stretch.

Overall, Putnam is 1-0 with a 1.72 ERA. He has been so good that Ventura had Putnam warming up in the ninth inning at Oakland on Wednesday when closer Matt Lindstrom got into instant trouble in the ninth inning.

Putnam, Cleveland's fifth-round draft pick in 2008, always had the confidence. Now he has a healthy arm.

"Definitely, I always believed in what I could do," Putnam said. "After having a tough year statistically like I did last year, you'd like to believe that if you get healthy and get an opportunity you can run with it. So far, so good."

Putnam's best pitch is the split-finger fastball, but his grip is a bit unusual.

"It's definitely a big pitch for me," Putnam said. "I feel comfortable throwing it to right-handers and left-handers. It's something I've been throwing since my college days and I've kind of been refining it. I started my pro career as a starter and there wasn't quite as much opportunity for me to throw it because I had a bigger mix of pitches."

Putnam said the splitter never puts stress on his elbow.

"I just kind of lay my fingers on top," he said. "I don't wedge it in there. It's not a forkball, so the wear and tear on the elbow you hear a lot about is really not an issue. I could throw a splitty every pitch and I know there wouldn't be any residual effect. I throw it like a changeup, so there's no stress."

sgregor@dailyherald.com

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