Notes: Back end of 'pen offers options
Guillen confident Jenks, MacDougal, Thornton can all close
ATLANTA -- While White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen continues to weigh his options about which players will start come Opening Day, his decision as to who will finish has suddenly also become a little more interesting.
But that situation is a lot more pleasant to contemplate as closer Bobby Jenks and key setup men Mike MacDougal and lefty Matt Thornton have begun to find their expected form.
Jenks, who has converted 88.7 percent of his saves (47 of 53) in two seasons in Chicago, and last year recorded only the third 40-save season in franchise history, will be the closer. He finished the spring strong, throwing shutout ball in his final three appearances, covering 3 1/3 innings, including a scoreless frame Friday night against the Braves.
"It felt good," said Jenks, who has found his control and increased his velocity over his last three outings (four strikeouts, three hits, one walk). "I'm getting my confidence back and building up arm strength. That's the thing right now. It's time to go to Chicago. Let's get this thing going."
MacDougal, a first-round pick in the 1999 First-Year Player Draft by Kansas City (25th overall) also finished on a high note, completing a scoreless eighth inning Saturday against Atlanta, including stranding a runner at third. Prior to that appearance, he'd struggled, allowing seven runs and 10 hits in his last four times out (covering three innings), and had seen his spring ERA balloon from 2.35 to 10.29.
MacDougal, too, has closed successfully in the past for the Royals, recording 27 saves in 2003 and 21 in 2005, and he was a dependable setup man last season (11 holds and a 1.80 ERA) in 25 games after being acquired on July 24.
"MacDougal threw the ball a lot better than he did in Spring Training," Guillen said of the righty's Saturday appearance. "The velocity was up. He was throwing strikes."
Thornton, meanwhile, also appears ready to build on last season, when he appeared in 63 games, (eighth most in the American League) and compiled a 5-3 record with a 3.33 ERA. In 10 spring appearances, including the ninth inning Friday night, the 6-foot-6, 230-pounder allowed one run and six hits, while striking out 11 and walking one. He struck out the side Friday night and allowed only two hits in six innings since getting married on March 14.
The former first-round pick of Seattle in the 1998 First-Year Player Draft (22nd overall) has earned a spot in his manager's heart and has his confidence.
"If the situation comes where [Travis] Hafner, [Victor] Martinez and Trot Nixon come up, don't be surprised if I start the inning with Thornton," said Guillen. "I have enough confidence in Thornton right now to start that inning. I know Bobby is the closer. He can face righties. But right now, the way Thornton is throwing the ball, I don't mind putting him in there."
The potential three-headed monster has Guillen understandably excited.
"The people we have in the bullpen, the last three guys all have closer's stuff," Guillen said. "I feel comfortable with the bullpen this year and I think everybody has good stuff out of the bullpen."
Come Monday, it'll be all right: Guillen remained undecided about the starting left fielder/leadoff hitter for Monday, preferring to wait at least another day.
"We're going to figure out what we're going to do," said Guillen prior to Saturday's game with Atlanta. "I'll have a meeting with the coaches later on today, then tomorrow after practice, that's when we'll decide. I know it's Opening Day. I know it's a big day for a lot of people. As a manager, I have to put the best lineup out there."
Saturday may not have helped Scott Podsednik, who went 0-for-4 in the leadoff spot and saw his average fall to .211 this spring. Pablo Ozuna, who batted second, was 1-for-3 with a walk and a run scored. He finished the spring hitting .368.
Dye's kind of town: Jermaine Dye never played at Turner Field as an Atlanta Brave, but by the look of things, he certainly likes it.
Dye, who hit .281 with 12 homers and 37 RBIs in 98 games as a rookie with Atlanta in 1996 -- the year before Turner Field opened -- was a perfect 4-for-4 with a double and three RBIs in the recently completed two-game set with the Braves.
The Sox right fielder finished the spring hitting .361, with three homers and 14 RBIs, one homer behind team leaders Paul Konerko and Jim Thome and an RBI behind Konerko.
The Wisdom of Oz: On Saturday's starter Javier Vazquez, Guillen noted: "He only threw one bad pitch, the [fourth-inning home run to left fielder Ryan Langerhans]. Overall, he threw the ball better. He got in trouble early in the game -- he had 50 pitches in two innings -- I was kind of worried and concerned about that. But all of a sudden, he turned it around and pitched a [heck] of a ballgame."
On deck: The White Sox will work out Sunday at U.S. Cellular Field, making final preparations for Opening Day on Monday. Jose Contreras gets the ball for Chicago, while Cleveland counters with its ace, C.C. Sabathia. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. CT.
Jon Cooper is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.