CHICAGO -- From the beginning of Spring Training, White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper stressed one word where his bullpen was concerned: flexibility.
Matt Thornton was anointed as closer at the start of the 2011 campaign. But with Chris Sale, Sergio Santos and Jesse Crain also able to effectively pitch the ninth, even before Thornton's two blown saves, the hard-throwing left-hander wasn't considered an automatic ninth-inning option like New York's Mariano Rivera or Kansas City's Joakim Soria, as examples.
"We didn't have the quote, unquote closer name," said Cooper of his bullpen. "We have more than a few guys who can handle the last three outs.
"I'm also a believer in the bullpen sorts itself out in time. They will be showing us who needs to be pitching as you go."
Cooper always has been fiercely protective of his pitching staff, so his defensive reaction to criticism of the early bullpen flaws was expected. Cooper also was right on the money.
Two games stand as a virtually impossible control group to base a season for a reliever set to make 70-75 appearances. Cooper acknowledged that Will Ohman had a rough finish to Spring Training, so the boos heaped upon him after a pair of bad outings in Cleveland were understandable.
But Ohman has made three straight solid appearances since. Thornton needs to locate his fastball a little better and mix in a few more breaking balls, according to Cooper, but Thornton still is throwing the ball well.
"Right now, if you look at Matt Thornton, are you down on him? I'm not," Cooper said. "Are you down on Sergio Santos? No. Are you down on Chris Sale? No. Are you down on Jesse Crain? No.
"Will Ohman has had two good outings in a row. People can't be judgmental too early. If you had two bad days at work in the real world, should you be fired?"