No clear leader in battle for No. 5 job

Fifth starter's spot still wide open

TUCSON, Ariz. -- The race to capture the fifth starter's spot in the White Sox rotation has turned into a long-and-winding marathon instead of a lightning-fast sprint where Spring Training is concerned.

But manager Ozzie Guillen has been careful to let all parties in contention clearly cross the finish line before declaring a winner.

"I like to make the decision quick, but I don't want to make the decision too quick where we might change our mind later on," said Guillen of the battle to fill out the White Sox solid starting five, behind Jose Contreras, Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland and Javier Vazquez.

"If those guys keep throwing like that and keep competing for that job, it wouldn't be fair for any of the kids," Guillen added. "I want them to keep fighting for that spot."

Guillen has been consistent in his comments all spring and careful not to rule out any candidates during the first 10 Cactus League games. Lance Broadway, the team's top pick from the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, gets the start Saturday in split-squad action at home against Oakland.

Gio Gonzalez, who was reacquired from Philadelphia this past offseason in the Freddy Garcia trade, has thrown two scoreless innings. The lefty will be stretched out in "B" games soon so Guillen can get an idea as to how he approaches a starting job.

At 23 and 21, respectively, Broadway and Gonzalez are long shots out of Spring Training and not quite big-league ready. Nick Masset, once talked about as a fifth starter possibility because of his electric stuff, seems more likely to earn a long-relief position.

With those candidates temporarily moved aside, along with other impressive prospects such as Heath Phillips and Adam Russell, the top three choices remain Charlie Haeger, Gavin Floyd and left-hander John Danks. Both Haeger and Floyd took part in the live portion of this particular on-field competition Thursday, with less than stellar results.

Haeger and his knuckleball were knocked around during a morning "B" game against the Rockies to the tune of two earned runs allowed on eight hits over 3 1/3 innings. A somewhat perturbed Haeger pointed to the three walks issued as his own biggest problem with the effort.

Spring Training
News and features:
• Guillen on deciding pitching staff:  350K
• Sox coach Cooper on staff:  350K
• Nick Masset on making White Sox:  350K
• White Sox trainer explains a torn labrum:  350K
• Guillen on Hall injury:  350K
• Erstad on facing Angels:  350K
Spring Training info: coverage  |  Schedule  |  Ballpark  |  Tickets

"Just keep the walks down," Haeger said. "If I can keep it to one walk every four innings, that's pretty much as high as I want to let it get.

"This was one of those days where [the baseball] was coming out of the hand wrong. I would throw a good one and then two bad ones and then a good one. I was just not comfortable. It was just one of those days where you get on the mound and you don't have you're 'A' stuff."

Two of Haeger's runs were unearned when second baseman Alex Cintron dropped a throw on a rundown play in a stolen-base situation, allowing the first inning to continue. Cintron told the media assembled around Haeger how the two-run first was his fault, and Haeger smiled and patted the infielder on the back.

Haeger pitched for the third time this spring, making his first start, while Floyd had start No. 2 Thursday afternoon against the Rockies at Hi Corbett Field. The right-hander, considered the clubhouse leader to emerge as the fifth starter, yielded six runs on five hits while working three innings for a second straight start.

Five of those runs came in the third, when the frame was extended with two outs by third baseman Joe Crede's rare fielding error on Matt Holliday's grounder. Jeff Baker followed with a three-run home run.

Regardless of the numbers, both Floyd and Guillen felt Thursday's effort was another step toward the ultimate mound goal.

"Crede misplayed one ball over there and it cost him two runs with the home run," said Guillen, who thought Floyd got underneath some of his pitches late. "Besides that, he threw the ball pretty good."

"You can't really worry about anything else," added Floyd of the roster battle. "I just go out there and pitch. I don't see anything but the mitt. That's the only thing I think about."

In an ideal world, Guillen would like to name his fifth starter by March 16 -- the day after the White Sox lone break in the schedule. That target would give the winner ample time to get himself completely ready for the trials and tribulations of the 2007 regular season.

Danks, who has pitched two games in relief, will get a chance to start, according to Guillen's comments on Thursday, possibly in an upcoming "B" game. It could be the chance the 21-year-old needs to assert himself with greatness, where everyone else has been pretty good up to date.

Every leg of the journey brings another challenge, with all of these talented young hurlers keeping their eye on the prize.

"Well, that's the only thing I'm worried about really is winning a job," said Haeger, who also could make the team as a reliever. "Every inning and every pitch is a big one for me this spring."

"That's what Spring Training is all about," added Guillen of earning a Major League job during. "People make their mind up before Spring Training, then we just get in shape and go out and get ready to play. That's the point of our Spring Training, people fighting for position and the job. Right now, it's a good fight."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.