The Chicago White Sox haven't announced who their closer will be going into the 2012 season. However, it appears that a familiar name is going to be getting the ball in the ninth inning.
After a bumpy ride for Matt Thornton a year ago, Robin Ventura may be leaning toward the big lefty to hold down the back end of the bullpen this season. This may bring up a lot of the same questions that were asked of the veteran reliever entering play in 2011.
Thornton has earned another crack as Chicago's ninth-inning man. If the closer position was a three-horse race going into spring training, Thornton has outdistanced his competition.
In seven appearances this spring, Thornton has a 1.35 ERA. He has struck out seven batters in 6.2 innings while walking just one batter. He has given up a single earned run and converted his only save opportunity.
Sure, that's a small sample size, but the other two candidates haven't fared quite as well as Thornton. Jesse Crain missed a chunk of camp with an injury. Addison Reed, though he hasn't pitched badly, hasn't been in control of his pitches like Thornton has this spring.
If a player like Hector Santiago can earn a spot in the bullpen, he could be another left-handed option for Ventura to use in setup situations. Reed and Crain can pitch the seventh and eighth innings if Thornton is indeed the man used for the last three outs.
The big concern with Thornton is that he is better suited to a setup role. There is little proof that Thornton can handle the pressure he'll face as closer. You can point to his first month a year ago that saw him blow four saves in his first four save opportunities as proof.
By using Thornton in the ninth, Ventura is hoping the White Sox will get the pitcher that posted a 2.45 ERA from May on last year. Of course, Thornton was 0-2 with an 8.64 ERA in April.
The outfield defense cost Thornton early in 2011. Some better glove work out there to start the 2012 campaign would help get him off to a better start. Converting a save in Texas in the first series of the season wouldn't hurt, either.
Nothing is written in stone. Ventura could still go with Reed and use Crain and Thornton in familiar roles. He could employ a closer by committee until a dependable arm presents itself. This is one of Ventura's first big decisions as manager and it will be watched with interest.
Right now, it looks like Thornton will start another baseball season as the White Sox closer. Let's hope the ride is smoother than it was 12 months ago.