White Sox season preview: Relief pitchers

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White Sox season preview: Relief pitchers

Every day this week leading up to Friday's Opening Day contest against Texas (1 p.m., Comcast SportsNet), we'll be previewing a different unit of the White Sox. Be sure to check out the looks at the White Sox infield, outfield and starting rotation if you haven't already. Today's topic: the bullpen.

It's the day before Opening Day. Do you know where your closer is?

Robin Ventura, his coaching staff and probably the team know who's going to take the ninth inning reigns. But the media, fans and Texas Rangers have no clue.

The safe bet is Matt Thornton will trot in from the bullpen to finish off the first save situation of the year for the White Sox. While his foray into closing didn't go so well last year thanks to a combination of suspect command and horrific defense from Juan Pierre, he's the safest pick Ventura could choose.

Reports of Thornton's demise last year were largely exaggerated, as from mid-May through the end of the season he was his usual dominant self: 2.40 ERA, 49 strikeouts, 15 walks, .563 opponent OPS. While Thornton is 35, he doesn't have a ton of innings on his arm and as long as his fastball velocity doesn't decline (it hasn't yet), he'll be fine.

If it's not Thornton, Hector Santiago seems to be the trendy pick thanks to an outstanding spring. The lone screwballer left in the majors, Santiago struck out 13 in 11 preseason innings -- but he also walked six, which could get him into trouble in high-leverage spots. Of course, he'll face plenty of those in a setup role, some of which will be more important than save situations.

But the emergence of Santiago this spring should work in Thornton's favor -- Will Ohman is better served as a lefty specialist, which would mean the Sox would have trouble getting through setup situations that feature a righty sandwiched by two lefties.

That's where Santiago comes in. If Thornton is the closer, Santiago would slide into the primary lefty setup role, leaving Ohman to be utilized mainly against lefties -- against whom he's pretty good.

Regardless of who begins the season as the closer, though, it's likely we'll see Addison Reed in the ninth inning at some point in 2012. While Reed's thrown all of 7 13 innings at the major-league level, he's posted gaudy strikeout rates everywhere from San Diego State to Chicago. He has the profile of a closer, and it's a matter of when, not if, he'll be finishing off games for the Sox.

Jesse Crain could get an opportunity to close later in the season, although he's more likely to stay in the setup role he's held his entire career. Crain has undergone a pretty interesting transformation in the last few years, going from a fastball-slider-curveball pitcher to ditching the curveball and throwing more sliders than fastballs.

That combination has worked out nicely, as two of Crain's three best seasons ERA-wise have come in the last two years. Opponents swung and missed at 13.2 percent of Crain's pitches -- easily a personal best -- and as a result, Crain posted the highest strikeout rate of his career in 2011.

Nate Jones earned a spot in the White Sox bullpen thanks to his upside, although the 26-year-old hasn't thrown a pitch above the Double-A level. He's a big strikeout guy, but he's also a big walk guy -- if Jones can harness his control, he could be an effective middle relief option, but for now, he'll likely be used primarily in low-leverage spots to ease him into big league competition.

Rounding out the bullpen is long reliever Zach Stewart who, outside of one magical start against the Twins, was pretty hittable last year with the White Sox. But he has decent stuff, and perhaps a move to the bullpen will lead him to throw harder and have more success. That's a minor thing to follow, but it could determine Stewart's future with the White Sox.

All in all, the Sox bullpen doesn't appear to be a weakness heading into 2012. The combination of Thornton, Santiago, Crain, Reed and Ohman should work to hold plenty of leads -- no matter who's closing.

Preview: Carlos Rodon makes season debut as White Sox face Yankees on CSN

Preview: Carlos Rodon makes season debut as White Sox face Yankees on CSN

Carlos Rodon makes his season debut as the White Sox take on the New York Yankees tonight, and you can catch all the action on CSN Plus and live streaming on CSNChicago.com and the NBC Sports App.

Coverage begins with White Sox Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Tonight’s starting pitching matchup: Carlos Rodon (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Masahiro Tanaka (5-7, 5.74 ERA)

Click here for more stats to make sure you’re ready for the action.

— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch

— Latest on the White Sox: All of the most recent news and notes.

Confident Jose Quintana gets 'back to who he's always been'

Confident Jose Quintana gets 'back to who he's always been'

The White Sox said all along they were confident Jose Quintana would rebound and now that he has no seems the least bit surprised.

Quintana provided yet another round of proof that he’s far removed from those May woes when he silenced the New York Yankees on Tuesday night. While the left-hander earned a no decision, he was rewarded when the White Sox rallied for a 4-3 victory over the Yankees at Guaranteed Rate Field. Quintana finished June with a 1.78 ERA.

“We have a very good relationship, very good communication,” teammate Jose Abreu said through an interpreter. “When (Quintana) was passing through that, the first two months, I let him know, just keep your confidence, don’t hesitate, do your job, keep working hard because we have confidence in you. Now he’s just showing us what he’s capable of doing and doing what he’s been doing his whole career. We’re glad he’s the same Jose Quintana he’s been the last couple of years.”

Quintana has gone from a period where many of his mistakes got hit to a spot where he’s been borderline untouchable. He limited the second-best offense in the American League to two hits and four walks in 6 1/3 scoreless innings on Tuesday. With good fastball command and a sharp curve, Quintana had New York hitters out of whack.

This is a much different pitcher than the one who was tagged by the Boston Red Sox on May 30, an outing after which he said he was embarrassed. Since losing to Boston, Quintana has lowered his ERA from 5.30 to 4.37. In that span, Quintana has allowed 21 hits and six earned runs with 12 walks and 30 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings.

“Sometime bad games are going to happen,” Quintana said. “But when it happens, I go check the video to see if I’m doing something wrong and try to make adjustments. But I feel pretty good and I have my confidence high and for me I turn the page and focus on the next one.”

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The 2016 All-Star thrived in the few instances when he got into trouble on Tuesday.

He struck out Tyler Austin with two men in scoring position to end the fourth inning and erased a leadoff walk in the fifth with an Austin Romine double play. After Quintana surrendered a two-out double to Judge in the sixth inning, he got Sanchez to pop out to strand the tying run.

Quintana only threw strikes on 55 of 101 pitches on Tuesday. But, of those 55, 10 were swings and misses.

“It's just been him commanding the zone, attacking,” manager Rick Renteria said. “A lot more strikes. He still had some at-bats today where he got to 3-2, but then he'd execute, he'd finish and make a pitch that induced a very weak fly ball or groundballs. That's who he is, I mean you all have seen him like this before. For us it's just seeing him get back to who he's always been.”