Matt Lindstrom is expected to test his troubled left oblique in a game situation today. If he responds well, that could be bad news for Daniel Webb.
Let's assume that Nate Jones, Ronald Belisario, Scott Downs, Donnie Veal and Mitchell Boggs are five locks to start the season with the Sox. even if some aren't inspiring much confidence right now. If Lindstrom survives his first dose of game action and successfully catches up to his teammates, that leaves one open spot.
Webb was the early favorite for that last chair, but it looks like he's lagging behind now, and through no fault of his own.
He's throwing strikes, and good ones (4 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 5 K), all while dealing with a great personal loss. If he were out of options, the Sox wouldn't hesitate to bring him along to Chicago, and everybody watching would feel pretty good about it.
Alas, he's only getting started with his options. Maikel Cleto, on the other hand, came to Chicago on a waiver claim fresh out of them. It just didn't seem like the Sox would need to worry about that part.
Cleto is only 24, he played for four different organizations before joining the Sox. He struggled with control in the minors, and he struggled in the majors even when he threw strikes.
The result: a 10.34 ERA and a 2.04 WHIP over 15 2/3 innings, plus three HBPs for good measure.
That's why the Sox were able to pluck him off waivers from Kansas City. But Cleto offered some upside for a salvage project -- not just because he has a huge arm, but because he bounced between the rotation and the bullpen over the last few seasons. Put him in the bullpen for good, let him focus on two pitches and two innings, and that might reduce the number of his problems before anybody has to touch his mechanics.
The Sox figured this would play out in Charlotte, but after six successful scoreless innings (two hits, one walk, four strikeouts), Ken Rosenthal says Cleto could force the team's hand.
Cleto, who will turn 25 on May 1, has had command issues throughout his career. But after a few sessions with pitching coach Don Cooper and new bullpen coach Bobby Thigpen, he suddenly was commanding 96- to 98-mph pitches down in the zone and mixing in a quality slider and changeup.
Originally, the Sox intended merely to take a look at Cleto, who is out of options, then perhaps slip him through waivers at the end of spring training. The team since has abandoned that plan; there is little chance Cleto would clear waivers now.
I've seen Cleto in his last two outings -- he threw two innings both times -- and he definitely didn't mess around. The thing is, none of the 14 batters he faced were starters. I'm pretty sure the pitches he made could get most major-league hitters out, but whether he could make the same pitches against MLB hitters is a different question.
Nobody has to decide now, not with 10 days and a few Cleto outings left before the Sox head north. In the meantime, the possibility of Cleto being more than an erratic reliever in Charlotte improves the bullpen outlook a little bit. The relievers involved in Plan A aren't providing a ton of thrills from the top down, but if Cleto's emergence and Lindstrom's health relegates Webb to Charlotte, that gives Rick Hahn and Robin Ventura at least one way to improve the relief corps from the bottom up if the first version of the cheap, groundballing bullpen fails to solidify.