Health of Colon, Contreras shapes staff
Richard, Marquez could make Sox rotation if neither is ready
PHOENIX -- Let's play a game of "Know Your 2009 White Sox pitching staff," the contest sweeping through Chicago and all other parts of the nation where fans of the organization reside.
This game actually features two distinct ways of finding the correct answers, which translates into filling in names for the 12 pitching openings. The first option will be dubbed "Best-Case Scenario," meaning Jose Contreras and Bartolo Colon are ready to begin the regular season as fourth and fifth starters.
Now, let's take Colon and/or Contreras out of regular-season readiness, and how do those moves leave the White Sox pitching?
"If one of them is down, we have Marquez or Richard starting," White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper said. "If they are both down, then both of those guys start, and the other three bullpen spots are wide open."
With so much hinging on Contreras' and Colon's development, Cooper made an important point Sunday concerning their push toward pitching at U.S. Cellular Field during the second weekend of April. Contreras is well past any worries regarding his ruptured left Achilles' tendon, suffered last August, and Colon is getting close to that stage with the bone chips removed from his right elbow in October.
The alleviation of those worries leaves the veterans focused on elevating pitch counts and innings and building arm strength.
"For Contreras, it's still about building up his arm and working on more command," Cooper said. "It's about getting prepared. Mental stuff, like focusing, committing and making more pitches. We are getting close to that spot with Colon."
Colon has three starts remaining, a point the burly hurler reminded his bosses of during a Sunday morning conversation. General manager Ken Williams spoke of the talk, which also involved White Sox athletic trainer Herm Schneider and Cooper, to make sure everyone was on the same page.
There's a great deal of trust existing between Colon and the White Sox from their past healthy experience in 2003. So, they understand Colon might be ready to turn his velocity up a notch when he gets closer to the regular season, giving him a chance to come back at his own pace.
"We don't have to see as much, maybe, as another club would have to see at this stage of the game," Williams said. "That's not to say we don't think he can go out and compete right now. He just needs to build up a little bit more arm strength.
"Again, we're not trying to build Bartolo up to what used to be nine innings of work. We're trying to build him up for six innings of strong, solid work. We think we'll get there. If we don't get there, then we're very, very comfortable with Clayton Richard or Jeff Marquez."
So, the "Know Your White Sox Pitching" game continues until probably the final days of Spring Training. In Cooper's mind, whatever answer comes about is the right one.
"I'm anxious to get to work with the 12 guys we are taking with us and do battle to see if we can win the American League Central again," Cooper said.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.