03/04/12 5:30 PM ET
Battle for spots in White Sox 'pen set to begin
Chicago set to begin Cactus League action against Dodgers
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
Three new coaches.
And one-time White Sox staples such as Mark Buehrle, Carlos Quentin and Sergio Santos playing for new teams.
Yet, when the first pitch is thrown by Philip Humber around 2:05 p.m. CT during Monday's Cactus League opener against the Dodgers at Camelback Ranch, the Spring Training scenario remains virtually the same for pitching coach Don Cooper with regard to the preparation of his charges.
"For guys we know are going to be on the team -- and we know nine of them -- it's about getting them ready," said Cooper, speaking before Sunday's White Sox workout. "For some, it started [on Saturday in the Intrasquad game]. For everybody else, the next few days.
"Then, for the others, it's an audition for the openings we have. Nobody is ahead of anybody, nobody is behind anybody else. The evaluation now is going to start. We're not evaluating them during batting practice or sidelines. But now that the [games start], certainly everybody is going to be watching, and we're looking to evaluate to put them on the team."
Although Cooper has wavered between eight or nine locks on the pitching staff over the past 10 days since camp began, he clearly mentioned nine on Sunday. That number means Addison Reed will join Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain and Will Ohman as relievers who break camp with the club.
So, three stands as the magic number to complete the bullpen and the pitching staff, when factoring in starting pitchers John Danks, Jake Peavy, Gavin Floyd, Chris Sale and Humber. At least two of those remaining spots will be of the long-relief variety, based on Cooper's criteria.
"We kind of need two -- or possibly even three -- of those to be guys that can give us some innings," Cooper said. "The other guys -- Reed, Crain, Ohman, Thornton -- those are the guys, in a perfect world, to keep to an inning.
"But I'll stretch it to two. Know those guys will be getting two-inning outings down the line, so those other guys have to give us some innings. But we're going to be taking guys who can give us innings and get the job done."
Reed pitches Monday after Humber at Camelback Ranch, in a game that marks the first of 12 to be carried in their entirety on whitesox.com as a special Spring Training webcast. Left-handers Hector Santiago, Pedro Hernandez and Charlie Leesman are also scheduled for an inning, as is right-hander Nestor Molina, who has a remote shot to figure into the long-relief mix but more than likely will begin the 2012 season as part of the Double-A Birmingham starting rotation.
Through a brief Major League callup last season, the White Sox already have working knowledge of Santiago and his screwball out-pitch. They also know what Zach Stewart and Dylan Axelrod can provide in long relief, as well as in a spot start. That past knowledge is preferred in picking pitchers, as opposed to basing selection on the hitter-friendly environs of Arizona.
"Sometimes, we have some guys who don't have past records, so we'll have to make decisions," Cooper said. "We've seen Stewart, Axelrod, Santiago in Chicago. We haven't seen [Leyson] Septimo and [Jose] Quintana and Donnie Veal and others. They'll show us what we need to be thinking about."
A decision could be made to stretch out Santiago, Stewart or Axelrod as a starter in the Minors, sort of as a safety net. But as Cooper made clear on two occasions during his Sunday morning interview, the pitchers who give the White Sox the best chance to win will go to Texas with the team.
"My expectation is the same. We're trying to win games," Cooper said. "I happen to think we're going to be able to figure it out and piece it together, and that the pitching is going to give us a chance to do that. I believe that.
"Peavy, he's in a different spot than Danks. Everybody has stuff to achieve. Everybody is in a different spot. The rookies, they're going to be out to prove [something]. Our goal is to get them over the hump and be Major League guys."
While a third left-hander is expected to be part of the White Sox bullpen, Cooper called it "a reach" for a fourth left-hander to break camp. That reach comes even with left-handed-hitting power such as Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer featured throughout the American League Central.
Monday's Cactus League-opening lineup for the White Sox looks just like the lineup that Ventura figures to present on Opening Day in Arlington, with catcher A.J. Pierzynski hitting second, right fielder Alex Rios third and Adam Dunn, Alexei Ramirez and Dayan Viciedo situated in run-producing spots behind Paul Konerko. The biggest step taken for the players is simply getting into game action, with Ventura seemingly equally as excited as his players.
As Cooper mentioned, then the evaluation process truly can kick into high gear.
"They're getting a little tired of it, and we even started late," said Ventura of the workouts. "I can't imagine what other teams [are feeling]. ... Just remember how long it took to get to the games before."
"You like to get the soreness out in the bullpens and live BPs and get started," Thornton said. "Games are always more fun. It's the routine of the day, you have something to look forward to at the end of the day -- competition and hitters."