A scenario: bases loaded, two out, Sox up one in the seventh with Prince Fielder coming to the plate. If Matt Thorton was handed the closer role out of spring training, he probably couldn't be used in this spot -- even if it was the most important in the game.
And that's why Thornton, along with Jesse Crain, were never seriously entertained to take over the ninth inning in 2012.
"We were all on the same page initially with wanting Crain and Thornton to be available for the eighth inning, maybe the seventh inning sometimes because I think we all know in a game, that ninth inning doesn't necessarily mean you're going to have the toughest hitters up," Kenny Williams explained prior to Friday's home opener. "The situation to win the game might be in the seventh or the eighth. So to have those guys available and interchangeable for that -- it fit everything together."
That's smart thinking -- too many times do we see teams fail to use their best reliever in the biggest spot of a game. Thornton and Crain are both fantastic relievers, and the ability to use them for high-leverage, non-save situations should help the White Sox hold more leads as the season goes on.
It doesn't hurt that Hector Santiago has looked impressive since moving to a short relief role, either. The lefty had an impressive spring and has already saved two games, sporting a mid-90's fastball with a rare screwball and changeup combination.
"First of all, you see 95 miles per hour, aggressiveness to spot it to both sides of the plate. And then he can turn it over with a change up and the screwball you can't really practice, and if you only see it on occasion, it can really screw you up," a laudatory Williams said. "I think we were all privately thinking that, and then when we came together for a meeting and the subject was brought up, no one was caught off guard or surprised."
Well, no one with the team. Most prognosticators figured Thornton would take over the ninth inning, with Addison Reed sliding into that role at some point this season. Reed very well could end up finishing games at some point, although it appears Santiago will have to pitch himself out of that role.
When Williams dealt Sergio Santos to Toronto, he spoke of the relief depth the Sox possessed. At that time, though, the Sox probably didn't have as clear an idea as to what Santiago could offer -- in fact, there was talk about him sticking as a solid back-end starter.
But his emergence has keyed what looks to be a deep, successful White Sox bullpen for 2012.