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Jones prepared to assume closer's role

Jones prepared to assume closer's role

CHICAGO -- Addison Reed's trade to the D-backs in exchange for third baseman Matt Davidson on Monday brought with it a mixed reaction for White Sox reliever Nate Jones.

Reed's somewhat unexpected departure means an opening for the South Siders at closer, with the 40-save right-hander now practicing his craft in the National League. The soon-to-be 28-year-old Jones, armed with a fastball that can touch 100 mph, seems to be the clubhouse favorite to assume that role.

But with Reed following left-handed starter Hector Santiago out of town, Jones has lost two of his close friends who came through the system together and eventually reached the Majors.

"We hung out quite a bit, especially when all three of us were in the bullpen," Jones told MLB.com. "We always had each other's back and helped each other anyway we could. It is kind of disappointing, but it's part of the game.

"You have to look at it that we are getting younger, more athletic, adding some energy and excitement. It adds excitement to our whole team, and I can't wait to get out and see what we can do."

Jones had a breakout performance during his 2012 rookie campaign by posting a 2.39 ERA and an 8-0 record over 65 games. He struck out 89 over 78 innings last season, and while his ERA jumped to 4.15, it was April, May and a rough September finish that cost the right-hander. His ERA was 0.59 in June and 2.76 in August, with Jones focusing on attacking opposing hitters and an emphasis on strike one, while also quickly learning to put the previous day's results behind him.

It's the sort of short memory that became Reed's greatest trait as the White Sox last line of pitching, and one Jones will need if he takes over the ninth. He laughed, though, when asked about being able to handle increased scrutiny and media attention in the closer's role.

"We'll see if I get it first," said Jones. "Pitching the sixth, seventh, eighth or ninth, I've always felt you have to close out your inning. It's a little bit different animal the last three outs, but you have to attack it the same way."

Sergio Santos held the full-time closer's role prior to Reed, and he was traded to the Blue Jays for Minor League reliever Nestor Molina. Santiago actually started the 2012 campaign in the closer's role, before Reed took over.

General manager Rick Hahn disputed the notion that the White Sox don't value the closer's spot. He simply pointed out that the team feels comfortable in the organization's ability to develop a replacement.

"Closing is an important role and not an easy job," Hahn said. "It's also one where have a pretty decent track record in finding the right guy when the need arises. We had to take the opportunity to get another potential long-term core position player piece."

Veteran Matt Lindstrom, who has 45 saves, Jones and rookie Daniel Webb were mentioned by Hahn and pitching coach Don Cooper as possible replacements. Cooper talked about the team not really announcing Santiago until his first save opportunity in Texas, and Hahn discussed the fluidity of the role during the '05 World Series title run with Shingo Takatsu, Dustin Hermanson and Bobby Jenks all closing.

While Jones stands as the odds-on favorite, it's too early for the White Sox to pick a winner.

"I don't feel the urgency to anoint anyone closer," Hahn said.

"Listen, I'm not going to sit here and name the closer on Dec. 16," Cooper said. "We have guys who are capable of doing it. The bullpen usually figures itself out. They will show you in terms of who needs to pitch in this inning or that inning. I'm not concerned about it."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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