GLENDALE, Ariz. — The White Sox are happy with where Erik Johnson is as he heads over to minor league camp.
But Monday morning’s move — optioning Johnson to Triple-A Charlotte — is more about preparation for him and Mat Latos than anything else.
Latos, who makes his first Cactus League start on Tuesday, has been the favorite to win the fourth spot in the rotation since he signed a one-year deal with the White Sox last month. While the rotation isn’t yet finalized — Jacob Turner could get one more start — it’s nearly set.
“Right now, Latos is the guy we are looking to,” pitching coach Don Cooper said.
Johnson isn’t far behind, as long as he regains his fastball command.
The right-hander has re-emerged from the point of no return. He’s in a spot the White Sox didn’t think he’d ever rediscover after a disastrous 2014 season.
Johnson was named the 2015 International League pitcher of the year and backed it up with a solid September in the majors.
“He dug himself a hole, and he climbed out of it,” Cooper said.
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Cooper said he likes how Johnson has commanded his secondary pitches this spring. The way Johnson has recovered gives the club confidence it can count on him if needed.
But he still needs some work on the fastball.
“That could have been better,” Cooper said. “That probably, getting behind in some counts, that’s not what we would prescribe for anybody. I’m pretty picky on fastball command, and I always want it to be better. It’s always the biggest thing you are working on with each individual guy. It could have been better.”
The White Sox starting depth could be pretty good with Johnson and Carson Fulmer, who has quickly developed this spring, Cooper said.
Fulmer has found comfort on the mound, and he has worked to improve his repertoire, adding a split changeup and a cut-fastball. He also has had good fastball command and is ahead of where Carlos Rodon was at this point last spring, Cooper said.
The White Sox would love to have depth in case the back end of their rotation doesn’t come through. A great pitcher from 2010 to 2013, Latos has had two injury-filled seasons and needs to answer questions. John Danks also needs to improve on a 2015 season in which he went 7-15 with a 4.71 ERA.
But if not, Cooper likes what he has in reserve.
“Latos is now going to be given the real opportunity to see if he can take it and grab it and run with it,” Cooper said. “If he does, fantastic. If he doesn’t, we’ve got some depth. We’ve got a guy we’ve seen him and what he’s done. We have more depth now.”
The White Sox have 40 players left in big league camp after Monday’s moves. The team also reassigned right-hander Tyler Danish, who has impressed Cooper as well, and infielder Steve Lombardozzi to minor-league camp.