By Sean McAdam
Art Kusnyer was with Bobby Jenks when the newest member of the Red Sox bullpen was at his best. And, he believes, Jenks can be that good again.
Jenks slipped in 2010, compiling a career-worst 4.44 ERA and registered just 27 saves. But Kusnyer, who was the Chicago White Sox' bullpen coach for Jenks' first three seasons in the big leagues, thinks a turnaround and return to form are possible.
"What happened last season, I don't know," said Kusnyer from his home in Florida. "The only thing I can tell you is wish I had been there. The guy still has great stuff. He can get it done. I know he's got big-time guts.
"I know in the past, he was a guy you could really count on. I think he needs a change of scenery. I think going to a team like Boston could be just the thing he needs."
Kusnyer recalls Jenks' 2005 season, when the rookie reliever took on the closer's role for the White Sox and helped them to their first World Series title since 1917.
"Right from the beginning, there was no fear there,'' recalled Kusnyer, who still works as a consultant for the White Sox. "He came straight from Double-A and the bullpen phone would ring. He'd throw one pitch and say, 'Tell them I'm ready.' He was all business out there.
"That's the type of mentality you want. I always said that it takes a certain mentality out there. And Bobby has it."
After parts of six seasons with the White Sox, Jenks will be starting over -- changing cities and changing roles.
"There's a comfort factor that comes from being with the same team for a number of years," said Kusnyer "You've got it made, people know what you can do. But when you someplace else, someplace new, there's a little bit of that, 'You've gotta put up or shut up.' "
And the fact that the White Sox elected to non-tender Jenks earlier this month, making him a free agent, may serve as extra motivation for the veteran reliever.
"Knowing him," said Kusnyer, "he'll say, 'OK, if they don't want me, I'll just go somewhere else.' "
The White Sox non-tendered him so they wouldn't be in danger of having him go to salary arbitration after a 7.5 million salary in 2010. But they remained interested enough in Jenks to offer him a two-year deal.
By then, however, Jenks had made a decision to move on.
With the Red Sox, Jenks will go from closing -- he amassed 173 saves with the White Sox -- to helping Daniel Bard set up for Jontahan Papelbon.
"I don't think the new role will be a problem,'' sad Kusnyer. "He'll settle in. That seventh and eighth inning can be just as important as the ninth. If you don't have the right guy to get you to your closer, you're not going anywhere as a team.
"Bobby will accept that role. He'll kind of be their closer within a closer.''
As the bullpen coach for the White Sox for two different stints and time spent in Oakland filling the same role, Kusnyer has experience working with elite closers. He worked with Bobby Thigpen when Thigpen set a major-league mark for most saves in a season (57) and also worked with Hall of Famers Dennis Eckersley and Goose Gossage.
All of them, Kusnyer said, shared a similar competitive streak and intense makeup.
Jenks has a reputation for being something of a free spirit -- but only to a point.
"He would do his share of goofing around," said Kusnyer, "but when the bell rang, he'd be ready. I used to have to get on his ass a little bit. He got into a comfort stage and needed more direction. When that happens, you need to talk to him one-on-one. You can't be controntational with him. These guys have their pride and they don't like to be embarrassed.
"If there's a problem, you take him off to the side and deal with it. But I don't think there's going to be many problems. I think Bobby will take this opportunity and be as good in the seventh and eighth as he was closing.''