Robin Ventura begins putting finish touches on White Sox roster

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Starting rotation set, but last bullpen spot and second base could be last-minute decisions

With two spring training games and one exhibition in Birmingham remaining, Robin Ventura is using the week to arrange his pitchers for Opening Day.

That starts with Chris Sale, who pitched 3⅔ unremarkable innings against Colorado on Tuesday. Unlike other big-name pitchers, he escaped spring training with his arm and face intact. Safety first!

There was no mystery about the Sox's Opening Day starter, but how the rest of the rotation lined up behind Sale remained a mild curiosity before Ventura unveiled it on Tuesday:

  1. Chris Sale
  2. Felipe Paulino
  3. Jose Quintana
  4. Erik Johnson
  5. John Danks

Paulino isn't a typical No. 2 starter, but Ventura wanted to slot him and Johnson in between the incumbents. He's not spacing out Sale, Quintana and Danks because they're lefty, but more so because they've thrown 200 innings before. Paulino and Johnson theoretically run a higher risk of shorter starts.

Most of the other roster spots are starting to reach their conclusions. Of the ones that are/were in flux:

Catcher

Thanks to Adrian Nieto's agent, Ventura had to confirm the plans to try to stash the Rule 5 pick behind Tyler Flowers for an entire season. He couldn't resist adding a qualifier for a hint of uncertainty:

"We've got a long way to go, but barring nothing strange, that would probably happen," said Ventura. "He's earned it. He's had a good spring, but we still have until Sunday, so stranger things have happened."

Everybody's doing what they can to express confidence in the experiment. Ventura said Nieto is "more advanced than I thought" when it comes to receiving and throwing, Paul Konerko said Nieto "fits right in" in game situations, and Rick Hahn reinforced the notion that pitchers like throwing to him.

Granted, the principal players in the decision must have Nieto's back, because it's completely out of his control, but there's a sharp divide between the praise for Nieto and Tyler Flowers, versus the comments about Josh Phegley and Hector Gimenez.

Second base

Gordon Beckham is healthy enough to participate in baseball activities -- batting practice, ground balls -- but he still hasn't played in game situations since March 14. Beckham, of course, wants to be ready for Opening Day, and there are two ways to read this quote:

"There are people that want me to take it easy getting back," Beckham said. "If I feel good enough to go, then we’ll go on Monday."

Marcus Semien is ready to go if Beckham isn't.

Third base

Conor Gillaspie locked up the bulk of the duties at third base when the Sox cut Matt Davidson, and he's feeling pretty good about his prospects for improvement in 2014. CSN Chicago's headline used the word "happy," which might be a first:

Gillaspie entered Thursday with eight extra-base hits in 45 at-bats and a .298/.327/.596 slash line, three home runs and five RBIs. He thinks he has improved in letting go of a bad at-bat and worrying about the next one within the context of a game. He knows a new attitude might make all the difference in how long he’s a pro baseball player.

"It just killed me last year," Gillaspie said. "It’s not the end of the world. I can still deal with that. But I’m not sure how long I could play like that."

Bullpen

The only true unknowns on the White Sox roster lie in the bullpen. For one, the Sox have one open spot after waiving Mitchell Boggs, and Zach Putnam is trying his best to beat Daniel Webb to the chair. The weird thing about this season: the last man in could theoretically be a valid option in the ninth inning.

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