The latest chapter of the White Sox's saga of "As the Bullpen Squirms" could conclude with another demotion by the time they return from a miserable trip Sunday night.
The latest victim could be Mike MacDougal, whose control problems continued Saturday in the midst of a collective meltdown in a 9-3 loss to the Blue Jays.
"Well, I think the bullpen is lucky we're in Toronto," manager Ozzie Guillen said after MacDougal walked Frank Thomas with two outs in the seventh inning and David Aardsma gave up five runs in the eighth. "If we were in Chicago, people would be [sent] out."
Guillen planned to talk about roster moves with general manager Ken Williams and assistant GM Rick Hahn. MacDougal has issued 17 walks in 17 2/3 innings. His walk to Thomas preceded pinch-hitter Vernon Wells' broken-bat, two-run single and Aaron Hill's RBI double, both off Matt Thornton, that gave the Jays a 4-3 lead.
"We can't continue to struggle and be nice with people, and all of a sudden we fail," Guillen said of a bullpen that has a 9.41 ERA in its last 21 games. "It's not easy when you make moves, and day in and day out you make the wrong one. It's up to us what we're going to do when we get to Chicago, but don't be surprised if someone isn't there.
"We don't have the luxury to lose games like that. The way we've been playing, we can't give away games like this."
The Sox (25-26) were exploring all possibilities, including optioning MacDougal to Triple-A Charlotte.
Aardsma, whose ERA was 1.72 in April but now stands at 6.18, also has one minor-league option.
MacDougal, 30, the only member of a retooled bullpen with more than three years of major-league experience, hasn't displayed dependability as a setup reliever. He carries a 7.13 ERA.
His struggles have been puzzling because he had a 1.80 ERA in 25 games for the Sox after arriving from the Royals in a July 24 trade and being rewarded in the off-season with a three-year, $6.45 million contract.
"He made me make a move that I didn't want to (using Thornton)," Guillen said. "Wells was going to pinch-hit [for Matt Stairs]. I know that, and everyone in the ballpark knew that.
"In the meanwhile, I don't trust him to throw the ball in the middle of the plate. He wasn't even close to guys making contact."
MacDougal was unconcerned about roster moves, saying he felt healthy and confident.
"I don't worry about that," MacDougal said. "That's their decision. Next time I'll try to get the job done and work hard. It's up to them."
Guillen ruled out using Nick Masset in a setup role because of his inexperience.
"It's not easy for any manager when you don't have confidence with people out of the bullpen," Guillen said. "No matter how hard you throw, your manager has no confidence to bring you in. That's a big problem."
The bullpen was viewed as the team's savior after posting a 3.29 ERA in its first 27 games. But it has quickly eroded, and left-hander Andrew Sisco was optioned to Charlotte last Sunday.
The next move should happen soon. Bret Prinz, who has a 0.56 ERA in 15 appearances with Charlotte and was a setup man for most of 2001 with the Diamondbacks, could be called up by Monday.
The bullpen wasn't the only guilty party. Shortstop Juan Uribe committed an error that led to a run in the second. The offense didn't produce a hit after the third inning, and the final 13 batters were retired in order.
The Sox are now hitless in their last 47 at-bats against opposing relievers.
"Every day it seems like the same soap opera," Guillen said. "We start real good, we had a chance to score runs, we didn't and then we get flat. We're facing a pretty good pitching team right now, but in the meanwhile, we're not helping each other."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun