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Jones steaming toward back-end bullpen role

Renteria set to name White Sox Opening Day starter
MLB.com @castrovince

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- White Sox manager Rick Renteria has been reluctant to commit to specific roles on his pitching staff (even the Opening Day starter announcement is one he said he's saving for Saturday), but one thing that's become evident in this spring camp is that Nate Jones is pitching himself into an important one in the bullpen.

Maybe Jones will be the closer. Maybe he'll be the co-closer with Joakim Soria (though Soria has allowed four runs in three innings this spring). Or maybe he'll be used in setup situations.

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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- White Sox manager Rick Renteria has been reluctant to commit to specific roles on his pitching staff (even the Opening Day starter announcement is one he said he's saving for Saturday), but one thing that's become evident in this spring camp is that Nate Jones is pitching himself into an important one in the bullpen.

Maybe Jones will be the closer. Maybe he'll be the co-closer with Joakim Soria (though Soria has allowed four runs in three innings this spring). Or maybe he'll be used in setup situations.

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Whatever the specifics, the fact that Jones figures prominently in the 'pen is a credit to how far he's come from last summer's nerve repositioning surgery on his right elbow. For a past Tommy John recipient like Jones, that procedure was a little, well, unnerving.

"You always in the back of your head think, 'Is it going to come back?'" Jones said.

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"It" appears to have come back.

Jones has only made a handful of appearances in the Cactus League -- four, to be exact -- but the results (opponents are 2-for-14 with five strikeouts, and zero runs have been scored off Jones across four innings) speak to the movement and increasing confidence.

"I'm just thankful that I've had some guys swinging late on pitches," Jones said. "That gives you an idea that you still have life on the ball. That gives you confidence to throw your slider for strikes and work on your changeup. Once you see the reaction of the hitter, that's the icing on the cake."

In 2014, Jones was the frontrunner for the White Sox closing job, until the injury bug began to bite in Spring Training, leading to the Tommy John procedure that July. Jones might be having the kind of camp that earns him the job he seemed destined for four years ago, but, again, Renteria is non-committal for now.

"We're fortunate," Renteria said. "We've got Joakim, who has experience throwing in the back end of the bullpen. We're confident Jones could do it. … I believe we have some flexibility with how we maneuver guys in the back end of the bullpen. We've got some tough decisions to make in terms of how we'll end up constructing the bullpen, but it's a good problem for us to have."

White Sox trim roster

The Sox made seven roster cuts in the wake of Friday's 6-3 loss to the Cubs.

Infielder Casey Gillaspie was the only member of the 40-man roster affected. He was optioned to Triple-A Charlotte. Right-handers Chris Beck, Dane Dunning and Connor Walsh, infielders Jake Elmore and Patrick Leonard and catcher Seby Zavala were reassigned to Minor League camp.

That leaves 38 players in big league camp, including 21 pitches, three catchers, seven infielders and seven outfielders.

Video: CHC@CWS: Santiago whiffs four over three innings

Camp battle

Renteria appears to be leaning toward a 13-member pitching staff because the versatility provided by Leury Garcia and Tyler Saladino could allow him to go with a shorter bench.

The Sox biggest question might be whether Carson Fulmer is on that staff. He's allowed seven homers, 18 hits and 14 earned runs in just 6 2/3 innings of Cactus play, so his chances of sticking as the fifth starter or a long reliever aren't looking especially strong. Non-roster invitee Hector Santiago (0.90 ERA in 10 innings) has simply outpitched him.

"We're looking at the same things everyone's looking at," Renteria said. "We want this young man [Fulmer] to get his confidence. A pretty good outing lifts you up and puts you on the right track."

Fulmer is scheduled to get his next start Monday against the D-backs in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Opening Day decision?

Regarding the Opening Day assignment -- March 29 in Kansas City -- Renteria wanted one more day before making his pick public.

"On the front end [of the rotation], you know you have James Shields, Lucas Giolito and Miguel Gonzalez," Renteria said. "With the way schedules are setting up, you can probably deduce which one is going to be the guy."

The safest bet remains Shields, who makes his next start Sunday against the A's in Mesa, Ariz., essentially aligning his rest schedule with the season-opening start.

Up next

The Sox will spend St. Patrick's Day facing their Camelback Ranch neighbors, the Dodgers, at 3:05 p.m. CT on MLB.TV. Gonzalez gets the start opposite left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu. 

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcasts and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.

Chicago White Sox, Nate Jones