Friday, February 18, 2011
Updated: February 19, 10:56 PM ET
Ozzie likes Matt Thornton as closer
By Doug Padilla
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Once thought to be headed toward Opening Day with lingering questions, members of the Chicago White Sox bullpen seem pleased to be getting some direction so early in the spring.
Not only was it announced a day earlier that Chris Sale would find a permanent home in the bullpen this season, but manager Ozzie Guillen said that if Matt Thornton is the closer that it would be "a great scenario."
"Are you sure you understood him? Are you sure you got it clear?" Thornton joked Friday morning. "It is what it is right now. We are preparing for the season and we can distinguish roles as we go along. Health plays a part into it. Guys might go down during spring. Hopefully nobody does and we have a very healthy team breaking camp.
"I'm ready to go. If he wants me to close, I'm going to close."
Sale could eventually end up with the game-ending role if he outshines all the other relievers up for the job. But for now the club seems content in keeping modest expectations on the young left-hander. It also gave Sale a sense of comfort to be closing in on a definite role instead of pondering what it could be all spring.
"Yeah, I mean I guess I've narrowed it down to not starting a game now," Sale said. "I'll be in somewhere from the middle to the end of the game. It is nice to know now. It's a relief to know what exact specific role I'm pursuing this year. Now, it's just preparing and getting ready."
Also in the mix for the closer role are right-handers Sergio Santos and Jesse Crain. Whether Sale becomes the start of the late-inning bullpen group remains to be seen, but his 1.93 ERA and four saves over 23 ½ innings (21 games) last year showed he has the ability to dominate.
"I've done it before, so I feel I should be able to do it again," Sale said. "It's a matter of getting prepared enough to do that, getting the mindset of being a closer, if that's the job that they offer me. But just trying to get in shape and get my arm ready for the season."
Thornton might have seven seasons of big league experience, the past five with the White Sox, but he knows he can't just coast this spring.
"I don't think I have to prove myself, I've done it for numerous years in a row," Thornton said. "At the same time, I can't go out during spring training and give up a five spot every time I'm on the mound. It's disrespectful to the rest of the team if I'm not prepared and ready to go and I can't get the job done here. I'm not saying if I give up a run I lose my job or I'm throwing long relief. I just want to show I'm prepared and ready to go and I'm healthy."
Doug Padilla covers the White Sox for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.