Linebrink takes step forward in return
After being out with sore back, righty throws scoreless frame
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Ozzie Guillen has followed a rule during his managerial tenure where if a player gets sidelined by injury, he sits an extra day after being ready to return for health certainty.
That rule was adjusted slightly on Friday against the Giants, as Scott Linebrink tested the sore back that has kept him off the field since Saturday. Linebrink threw one scoreless inning of relief, striking out one and pronounced himself none the worse for wear after the outing.
"My worry is not how he feels today, but how he feels after he pitches the next day," said Guillen with a smile. "You go from a bad back and then all of a sudden, you want to go out there and perform. Then, that's good news."
"Today, I noticed a big improvement," Linebrink added. "We aren't going to take a step backwards by doing anything out there."
Linebrink visited a chiropractor over the past couple of days and figured out the problem was coming from a small muscle between his ribs and back. He said back issues have hit him sporadically in the past, but it's something he tries to stay proactive with by doing back exercises and keeping it strong and loose. He also tries to avoid doing anything that will irritate it.
This particular back pain, though, is different than what the reliever has experienced in the past.
"It was kind of in a weird spot," Linebrink said. "This is one of those things that takes a little time, but hopefully we are on the right track."
An original plan for Linebrink was to have him throw back-to-back days during this three-game trip to the Phoenix area, but as general manager Ken Williams joked before the game, the pitching grid has changed so much this past week that he now gets hourly updates. Linebrink added that the back problem didn't come at a bad time, with another Spring Training week left to get those back-to-back outings.
The bullpen was a true Achilles' heel for the White Sox last season, a point made abundantly clear throughout the second half of 2007. Linebrink and Octavio Dotel stood out as two key offseason pickups made by Williams, but through migraine problems and the back pain for Linebrink, and a week-long bout with the flu for Dotel, the White Sox haven't been able to develop a true flow for the back end of the relief crew in front of closer Bobby Jenks.
Dotel was tagged for five runs on four hits in one-third of an inning against the Dodgers on Thursday, but Guillen said it was more a problem of location than stuff for the hard-throwing right-hander. Linebrink added that Dotel also could be working through spring doldrums.
"I was with Dotel in camp with Houston, and he always talked about how his fastball wasn't there in Spring Training," Linebrink said. "It was like, 'Hey, when is it going to get here?'
"You have to realize, too, you are pitching as many games as he has and you are out here in this Spring Training atmosphere and it's definitely not the same intensity. When the bell rings Opening Day, he's going to be there, and that little added intensity probably will give him that extra life on his fastball, too."
Pitching coach Don Cooper now is trying to use the White Sox relievers in the spots where he envisions them for the season, with Jenks pitching the final inning Thursday despite the Dodgers' lead. As the relievers get healthy, the roles get more clearly defined.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.