Daniel Webb went into spring training having a good shot at making the Opening Day roster. The White Sox liked what they saw of him while he was rising quickly from Class A to AAA in just one season last year, and when he made nine appearances after his September call-up, he made a good showing (3.18 ERA).
When pitching coach Don Cooper threw Webb’s name out there this winter as a potential candidate to replace Addison Reed as the closer, Webb had to know he was positioned for at least a spot in the bullpen.
On Feb. 27, Webb’s mother died unexpectedly at her home in Kentucky, and Webb’s status on the Sox suddenly became an afterthought. Manager Robin Ventura told him to take as much time as he needed, and he left the team for a week. Sandra Webb, a registered nurse, was 54.
“It’s tough,’’ Ventura said “You’re dealing in real life. We’re involved in a business that takes focus, and it’s not always as easy as people think, that you just put it out of your mind and go out and play. For some, baseball is their sanctuary to get away from the pain. Some people can’t get away from it as much. Every case is different.’’
Webb, 24, said baseball was his sanctuary, and after he got through that difficult week, he returned and pitched well, appearing in seven Cactus League games, giving up two runs without issuing a walk and striking out six over seven innings. Ventura and Cooper said they had seen enough in September to know what they had in Webb, and those outings did nothing to change their minds.
Who will be anointed the closer remains something of a mystery, a flashback to two years ago when rookie Hector Santiago emerged as the surprise ninth-inning man. Ventura, Cooper and general manager Rick Hahn have been tight-lipped about how they’re leaning, and it’s possible Ventura will mix and match in the ninth inning for a short while before one emerges. Nate Jones and Webb have closed in the minors, and Matt Lindstrom and Ronald Belisario have closed in the majors. Maikel Cleto (1.69 ERA, one save this spring) is a wild card.
“I tend not to get too hung up on roles or who’s the closer,’’ said Hahn, adding that there doesn’t need to be “white smoke coming out of Robin’s office, a formal ceremony anointing someone as closer. I don’t view it that way. I think we have numerous late-inning options who when the right situation arises and the phone rings, they’ll come in and get the three outs based on how Robin and Coop want to play it. If that evolves into a situation where one guy is usually the guy with the lead in the ninth, great.’’
The Sox’ Cactus League leaders: strikeouts, Felipe Paulino (21); starter ERA, John Danks (2.96); reliever ERA, Cleto (1.69); average, Alejandro De Aza (.383); hits, Adam Eaton (21); home runs, Jordan Danks (five); RBI, Jose Abreu (12); doubles, Marcus Semien, Dayan Viciedo, Conor Gillaspie (five); walks, Semien (nine).