White Sox bullpen still rounding into shape

White Sox bullpen still rounding into shape

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The White Sox will be in Charlotte facing their Triple-A affiliate three weeks from today. At that point, they should have their seven or eight-man bullpen in place.

But these next 21 days or so should help shape the decisions on a number of interesting choices to fill the final couple of relief slots.

Closer David Robertson, Zach Duke, Jake Petricka and Javy Guerra figure to be all but locks, while Zach Putnam and Dan Jennings are close behind in near certainties. Putnam, the team's most consistent reliever in 2014, has allowed five runs over 1 2/3 innings during Cactus League action. He has options left, but White Sox manager Robin Ventura doesn't seem worried about the early struggles.

"Just watching him and seeing how it's coming out, he looks fine," said Ventura of Putnam.

Matt Albers, a non-roster invitee, has looked good over his three outings and stands as a solid veteran presence when healthy. Jesse Crain, a fellow veteran hurler and non-roster invitee with whom the White Sox have great familiarity, has made progress through side sessions and live batting practice on the back fields at Camelback Ranch. One more live BP could lead to a game appearance for Crain by the end of next week, so he's definitely getting close.

"He looked good the other day. That's as close as (Jesse) has looked to his former self, throwing the ball, locating," Ventura said. "He had a nice offspeed pitch. I don't know how close he's going to be toward the end, but this is definitely a big step in that direction."

With Chris Sale out for the start of the season, but a fifth starter only needed on April 12 and 21 if the ace is still not available, the White Sox could opt for a long reliever/spot starter such as Brad Penny, Scott Carroll or Erik Johnson. Young pitchers such as Daniel Webb and Maikel Cleto remain in the mix, and a decision needs to be made on Carlos Rodon.

Is the No. 3 pick overall in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft going to break camp as part of the White Sox rotation, as part of their bullpen or start at Charlotte as a starter? Plenty of time exists to make those final calls, with plenty of time for a surprise or two to emerge.

"There's some spots to be had in the bullpen and we are still going to let everybody duel it out until the end," Ventura said. "It's still a little early for that."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.