White Sox fifth starter field narrows

White Sox fifth starter field narrows

TUCSON, Ariz. -- After a Saturday morning meeting involving general manager Ken Williams, manager Ozzie Guillen and Guillen's coaching staff, it now appears as if Gavin Floyd or John Danks will be taking the fifth in regard to the final slot of the White Sox rotation.

Guillen made that call after watching his team beat Oakland, 10-6, at Tucson Electric Park. But even with the two frontrunners clearly emerging, Guillen still left the door open for knuckleballer Charlie Haeger.

"I don't want to say Charlie is out of the picture," Guillen said. "He has three or four more outings before we choose things over. It all depends on how he throws.

"Those are the two main guys to be there, plus Haeger," added Guillen, when asked if it was safe to narrow down the fifth starter competition to Floyd and Danks. "But the way those two guys throw now, it's going to be hard for us to make the decision."

After Danks cruised through three scoreless innings Friday against Arizona, Guillen spoke of how impressed he was with the southpaw and how Saturday morning's meeting was going to focus on where his role with the team currently stood. During Friday's postgame talk with the media, it sounded as if Guillen almost was ready to anoint Danks as the winner of this fifth starter battle.

The meeting on Saturday morning, though, led Guillen and his staff to believe it was too early to pick one pitcher over the other. Both Floyd and Danks will continue to provide their audition tapes on the field, with Floyd starting Tuesday against Texas in Surprise, Ariz., and Danks following him to the mound for three or four innings of relief.

"They will be going the same day, not by design, not to put any extra pressure on them by putting them out together," said White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper of Tuesday's pitching alignment. "That's the fifth spot, and they will split that game pretty much.

"Somebody wrote something the other day that Ozzie would like to have [the fifth starter] finalized by now. [Heck], it's [March 10th]. How can we have it finalized by now? This is going to be going on, I'm sure, for at least a couple of more weeks.

"It's John and it's Gavin," Cooper added. "They both have jumped a little bit more to the front."

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Much like Guillen's analysis, Cooper included Haeger's name in the fifth starter mix. But Cooper pointed out that Haeger also will be given a chance to show his versatility, meaning he could make this team out of the bullpen.

In fact, closer Bobby Jenks, left-handed setup man Matt Thornton and right-handed setup man Mike MacDougal were the only bullpen locks Cooper would commit to Saturday. Andrew Sisco figures to make the team as the second left-hander, and with the White Sox likely to break camp with an 11-man staff, two spots remain between David Aardsma, Nick Masset, Haeger and Boone Logan.

Logan has made five scoreless spring appearances, covering 6 1/3 innings, while the right-handed Masset was touched up for four runs on four hits over 1 1/3 innings during Saturday's split-squad loss to the Rockies. Masset suffered a bruised right shin when he was hit with a line drive by the last batter he faced but is expected to work his next scheduled game.

Once considered a possibility for the rotation, Masset solely will be looked at in relief for the rest of Cactus League action. Floyd, 24, and Danks, 21, both are products of highly publicized offseason trades, and each brings his own set of intangibles to the rotation equation.

Cooper sees both the pros and cons of breaking camp with a 21-year-old hurler such as Danks, especially having a second lefty to join Mark Buehrle. But nobody in the organization will lean toward one of these two just to make a trade look good.

"No, no, no. I will never change how I'm going to talk about someone, no matter how we got him," Cooper said. "I'm going to say what I feel, say what I see, no matter who it is, no matter how high profile or low profile a guy might be. That's just always the way I do things.

"The thing that's good about our [meeting] room, everyone knows everyone and we can all talk in a positive way. We also know what a guy needs to work on. What's going to happen here is they are going to show us what to do."

While Guillen rightfully raved about Danks on Friday, Williams explained to MLB.com how he was equally impressed with the work turned in by Floyd. As of mid-March, taking the fifth for the White Sox looks to be a win-win situation.

"[Floyd and Danks], they are just going to be special guys," Williams said.

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