Dennis Wierzbicki-US PRESSWIRE
Boys from the South forged relationship over multiple seasons in the minors
With the addition of Matt Lindstrom, the White Sox bullpen is largely set for Opening Day. Addison Reed will be the closer. Matt Thornton will be the primary left-handed set-up man. Jesse Crain and Lindstrom will be the primary right-handed set-up men, with Nate Jones backing those two up. Hector Santiago is likely to be in there, either as a left-handed specialist or a long reliever - and maybe both. And Donnie Veal probably earned first shot at the last spot with his performance late last season.
One can quibble with the last couple spots, and injuries would of course upset the plan, but the White Sox are setting themselves up to be very solid from 1-10 on their pitching staff and certainly have the potential to be the elite staff Rick Hahn says the White Sox need.
The linchpin of that on the reliever-side will probably be Jones. Thornton, Crain and Lindstrom are known quantities. If Reed struggles, Lindstrom can slot into the closer role with Reed moving to lower leverage. But if Jones struggles, there's a significant drop-off in at least experience, and probably quality, to Brian Omogrosso and Jhan Marinez and then on to guys like Simon Castro and Andre Rienzo.
Sure, at least one of those four probably will be a contributor in 2013. But the ideal scenario would be one of those in addition to Jones.
Thornton noted that the White Sox "rode [Jones] like a donkey" in 2012. With Jones being a naturally quiet guy, Thornton talked about how he was the one who "had to go to Coop to tell him that Nate is tired."
That's not exactly what you want to see from a player, but it's understandable for a shy rookie to be eager to please.
New bullpen coach Bobby Thigpen doesn't think there will be a repeat of that in 2013. He repeatedly touted that "half of the relievers I've already worked with." He managed both Jones and Santiago at Bristol in 2007 and was their pitching coach at Winston-Salem in 2009-2011. He also coached Reed in 2011, and just about anyone the White Sox would be likely to bring up during the season -- Rienzo, Castro, Santos Rodriguez, Dylan Axelrod and Charles Leesman, among them -- have worked with the former major league saves record-holder.
Thigpen particularly mentioned his relationship with Jones. "Nate and I get along. Both of us are from the South. [Thornton] won't have to be going to Coop or [Juan] Nieves. We'll be talking, we've got that kind of relationship"
Thigpen probably should have the closest relationship with Jones. Minor league pitching coaches tend to work more with starters than relievers, because if you're relieving in the minors, you're probably not going to make the majors. Jones spent the most time starting out of any of them.
The presence of Thigpen should be a positive. With one major-league season under their belts, guys like Jones and Reed "should be a little more at ease" in 2013, and familiarity with Thigpen will only bolster that feeling.
The 49-year-old coach sees his role as assisting relievers "mainly with the mental part of the game." Thigpen noted, "I started as a setup man and ended up as a closer so I know all the roles and every role is important now in today's game."
Interestingly, Thigpen didn't pitch much in college; instead, he was Mississippi State's starting right-fielder (on a team that included Will Clark, Rafael Palmeiro and Jeff Brantley). But the White Sox drafted him in the fourth round of the 1985 amateur draft as a pitcher and brought him along quickly. He reached the majors a little more than a year after being drafted, and stuck for good in 1987.
He observed that it "took five years for Nate and Hector to get to the majors, as some guys take longer [than others] to develop." They stand in contrast to guys like Chris Sale and Reed, who "were fast-tracked like me and did well". So he understands the experience of any young pitcher who feels like he's been thrown into the deep end. Hopefully, 2013 won't be a season in which he has to draw on that experience much.