CHICAGO -- Sergio Santos has become the popular choice to become the White Sox closer, pitching scoreless baseball since the start of Spring Training. Even with his 96 mph fastball, slider and changeup developing quickly, that job never would have been a thought in 2010 when Santos was making the big league transformation from infielder to pitcher.
Last-season restrictions such as keeping Santos to one inning per outing, which happened every appearance but two through June, and restricting his back-to-back work have been removed. The White Sox view him as a prime reliever, not a talented project.
"Just be prepared for anything, that was the message they got to us," Santos said. "[Matt] Thornton was our closer, but be prepared for the seventh or eighth, back-to-back, two innings.
"[White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper] let me know that leash of you becoming a pitcher is right out the window. That's no longer a discussion."
So, could Santos handle the ninth-inning work? He expressed that desire from the start of Spring Training but that chance has become a bit more viable following Thornton's last-inning struggles.
"The only difference is the pressure people put on you as far as it's the ninth inning," said Santos, who has fanned 11 and not given up an earned run over 8 2/3 innings this season. "I've always gone with the belief how pressure is fear of failure. If you are afraid to fail, you feel the pressure. If you are not, then you don't."
Ozzie: Too early to worry about bullpen
CHICAGO -- One off-day in Miami, taking in the sun and the baseball game of his son, Ozney, didn't help White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen come upon a set closer.
But if fans are looking to make the team's ninth-inning struggles into some sort of soap opera, Guillen cut down that possibility before it started to grow.
"Don't ask me about the bullpen," said Guillen, snapping off the answer just seconds after the latest closer question was posed pregame on Friday. "Whoever is in the bullpen, in the last inning, will be the closer. Period.
"You see [Mark] Buehrle in the ninth, that's our closer. I don't have any more answer on the bullpen. If the fans want to know, I don't know. If the media want to know, I don't know. The pitchers over there want to know, I don't know. Then whoever is there in the ninth is the one I decided to be the guy to close the ninth. Next question."
Guillen actually went on to answer this same question for four minutes. His bullpen ranks 13th in the American League with a 6.14 ERA and sits last with a .310 opponents average against. The relief crew has just one save in seven opportunities, with designated closer Matt Thornton going 0-for-4 and Chris Sale and Tony Pena each blowing one.
These struggles have not shaken the faith held in the bullpen by Guillen, who stacks up his group against any in all of Major League Baseball. Guillen takes umbrage to those fans or media members who are panicked after 12 games.
"Everyone. Unbelievable. This is unbelievable how people panic in 12 games," Guillen said. "That's a joke. We have 150 left and we panic. Not the players, not the pitching staff.
"I'm happy where we are right now. I'm not happy [Wednesday] because I think we just give games away. In the meanwhile, I think we can compete against anybody out of the bullpen, any team in baseball. That's how much confidence I have in the bullpen."
White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf is not one of those panicking after the bullpen blew two ninth-inning leads of three runs on this present 10-game homestand. Reinsdorf admitted when Guillen gets worried, then he'll get worried. During a Friday afternoon Jackie Robinson Day Luncheon & Forum, Reinsdorf still couldn't help but take a little jab at his team when asked if baseball had any social barriers still to conquer.
"We seem to have a barrier with respect to relief pitching," said a smiling Reinsdorf.
Thornton hasn't changed his approach
CHICAGO -- Compare Matt Thornton's first-week statistics to anything the left-hander produced over the past three seasons, and the difference becomes startling.
Thornton held opponents to a .191 average during his All-Star campaign of 2010. Through just five games this season, those American League hitters have a .407 average. In 60 2/3 innings last year, Thornton gave up 41 hits and walked 15 unintentionally. Through 12 games played in '11, Thornton has allowed 11 hits and walked four over 4 2/3 innings.
"I haven't looked at them, but I have an idea how bad they are right now," Thornton said. "It's one of those things where for me to get them to a respectable point, it's about me getting back to my old self and throwing the ball like I always have.
"Continue to attack hitters and make them put the ball in play. It doesn't matter what role they throw me out there in. Be ready to go."
Wednesday's struggles in the 10th inning, where Thornton walked two and gave up three runs to the A's, were an offshoot of his blown save on Cliff Pennington's two-out, two-run bloop single in the ninth. Thornton's frustration level was so high that he tried to make the pitches too perfect early in the count.
"Frustration for me is at an extremely high level at this point," Thornton said. "But I have to believe in my preparation and what I do in the offseason and during Spring Training and what I do on the mound now. Don't think about anything going on out there except attacking and making pitches."
Third to first
The White Sox have led in all 13 games this season but have committed 14 errors in 13 games, factoring in Brent Morel's throwing miscue during a four-run fourth in the Angels' 4-3 victory Friday. ... Five hits on Friday marked a season-low for the White Sox. ... Carlos Quentin is 4-for-28 (.143) on this homestand. ... Starters are 3-1 with a 2.01 ERA on this homestand.