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Pitching a fit

CHICAGO – In the annals of Ozzie Guillen blow-ups, this was "The Little Mermaid."

No cursing. No racial epithets. No slurs toward gays.

And, despite its G-rating, colorful as ever.

"I might get an ulcer before the All-Star break," lamented Guillen following his Chicago White Sox's second consecutive loss to start the season, this one an 8-7 letdown to the Cleveland Indians following a 12-5 thrashing on opening day.

At this pace, the ulcer might come before the end of the week.

The White Sox's pitching staff that fired four consecutive complete games to lock up the American League Championship Series in 2005 before bullying the Houston Astros in a four-game World Series sweep is no longer. And in the American League Central, baseball's best division, inconsistent pitching acquaints teams with fourth place.

Look at the Indians, who last season landed in fourth despite scoring close to 100 more runs than their opponents. Their starters followed good outings with bad, their bullpen blew up more often than Old Faithful and the numbers of 2005 – tied with the White Sox for the AL earned-run average title at 3.61 and atop the league in nearly every other category – swelled and dragged them toward the bottom.

However ludicrous it seems to mention this after two games, it isn't. Pitching, more than anything, will define the White Sox this season, because pitching is what has eroded under general manager Kenny Williams' stewardship.

This offseason, he traded Freddy Garcia, the White Sox's true workhorse, and Brandon McCarthy, its steed-in-waiting, for young arms John Danks, Gavin Floyd, Nick Masset and Gio Gonzalez. Danks is in the rotation, Masset in the bullpen. Floyd bombed in spring training and is at Triple-A, Gonzalez ticketed for Double-A. Williams sacrificed the present, and perhaps his foresight will dividends.

For now, it's got his manager on the edge of a conniption.

"They'd better start putting stuff together," Guillen said. "It's not panicking. Concern? Yes. We've got to get better. It's only two games. But that's enough to see a poor pitching staff. We have (too) good a pitching staff to be doing that."

Used to, at least.

Two years ago, the White Sox intimidated. Jose Contreras, who couldn't muster an out in the second inning before Guillen yanked him on Monday, threw an unhittable array of sliders and splitters. Mark Buehrle, who went from All-Star to also-ran last season, kept hitters guessing with an assortment of junk, the garbage man's dream. Jon Garland, who was tagged for four runs in the second inning Wednesday, finally looked more pitcher than prospect. With Garcia and Orlando Hernandez filling out the rotation, relievers Cliff Politte, Dustin Hermanson and Neal Cotts posting career years and a new phenom, Bobby Jenks, lighting up radar guns, the White Sox pitched around no one.

"In '05, their starting rotation and bullpen were probably the best in the league," said Travis Hafner, the Indians slugger who walked four times Wednesday, two intentional. "Good rotation, power arms in the bullpen, really good lineup."

Now the rotation is iffy. The bullpen arms are still powerful, yes, but their effectiveness is questionable. Left-hander Andrew Sisco, enigmatic while with the Kansas City Royals, couldn't find the plate Wednesday. Lefty Matt Thornton, a pleasant surprise from last season, surrendered the game-winning home run to Grady Sizemore.

"We've given up how many runs in two games?" catcher A.J. Pierzynski asked.

That would be 20.

"It's ugly," Garland said. "It's terrible."

And it may not get any better.

Despite owner Jerry Reinsdorf's recent attempts at spinning the Garcia and McCarthy deals – he told a local radio station his club is better than the 2005 team, using the bullpen as his baseline – the White Sox have the look of a team ready to crumble. Guillen, as even he would admit, is about as stable as plutonium. With player turnover comes a change in clubhouse dynamic, something to which the Red Sox can attest. Guillen has been critical of the pitching staff since the start of spring training, warning that its lackadaisical ways must end.

"I've been saying this since the first game in spring training," Guillen said. "You get to the point where you don't want to doubt your pitching staff, but it's my job to doubt people."

That was enough. Guillen didn't want a full-on blow-up, so he retreated to the warmth of his office. It had snowed lightly all afternoon, appropriate for the snow job Reinsdorf is trying to pull on his fan base. Guillen lit a few sticks of incense and let the smell wash over him.

He needed it. The stench of the day was too much to take.