The battle for the back end of the White Sox starting rotation played out in real time Saturday at Camelback Ranch.
Right-hander Carson Fulmer, the favorite for the final slot, faced Rangers minor-leaguers on the back fields in what should be his final audition before opening day. Left-hander Hector Santiago, a non-roster invitee back for a second go-around with the Sox, started against the Dodgers.
It appears the battle has, at least temporarily, been decided. Fulmer is expected to begin the season as the No. 5 starter, with Santiago taking a swingman role.
"I'd be lying if I said I didn't have any pressures (this spring)," Fulmer said. "I wanted to take full advantage of the opportunity, and I tried to do too much. It got me into trouble. Once I got over that, I calmed down and pitched the way I usually pitch."
Said Santiago: "I threw the ball well but never got stretched out. I think that's a part of their plan. They have a bunch of prospects, are in the rebuilding process and giving them a shot. (Fulmer's) going to be a starter in their future, so give him a shot. I'll go to the pen and have no problem with that. I've always been open to whatever."
With fellow young hurlers Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez watching, Fulmer pitched 5 1/3 innings, allowing an earned run with seven strikeouts and, perhaps most importantly for him, only two walks.
"Whenever you can find momentum and build off of it, it's very important," Fulmer said. "Getting the (starter) news a couple days ago, I was able to settle down and pitch the way I've always pitched."
Santiago battled early trouble, allowing three of the first four Dodgers to reach, culminating with a three-run homer on a breaking ball to Austin Barnes.
Santiago did not allow another run, and after ditching his long sleeves before the third inning he faced the minimum six batters to complete his four innings in an eventual 7-3 win.
"I hate the fact that it took an inning to get going," said Santiago, who had two starts and four relief appearances this springd this spring. "It was also weird for me because my last four or five outings have been out of the pen. It's a different routine … but I like the way I finished."
Fulmer has been plagued with command issues throughout the spring, allowing more than a walk and a run per inning through five starts. He struggled to a 5.79 ERA in 25 outings with Triple-A Charlotte last season but excelled in September with the Sox, posting a 1.64 ERA in 22 innings.
Fulmer is slated to make a minor-league start in Arizona on Thursday while the club is in Kansas City, which would keep him on the schedule of throwing every five days to start the season. Santiago also will hang back to throw in a minor-league game before joining the club.
Miguel Gonzalez, the club's fourth starter, will throw in a minor-league game Tuesday.
Santiago saw injuries sap his velocity with the Twins last season. It bounced back this spring, and he has all but solidified a role with the big-league club.
Bullpen battles: Right-handers Bruce Rondon and Jeanmar Gomez, two of five relievers battling for the final three spots in the Sox bullpen, were reassigned to minor-league camp.
The non-roster invitees were competing with returning relievers Juan Minaya, Gregory Infante and Aaron Bummer. With the bullpen situation figured out, the roster stands at 27. Injured left-handed pitcher Carlos Rodon holds one of the roster spots, making backup catcher — Omar Narvaez or Kevan Smith — the lone decision left to be made.
Rondon and Gomez were effective, with Rondon allowing one run in five appearances and Gomez allowing his first run of the spring Friday in his sixth outing. While Minaya, Infante and Bummer all have minor-league options, Rondon and Gomez could have been the odd men out since they're already on minor-league deals.
"We have some men who showed up to big league camp, showed very well," Sox manager Rick Renteria said. "We're very happy with the way they performed. None of us are leery about, at any given time or moment, going down and having these young men join us in our journey."
Fabian Ardaya is a freelance reporter for the Chicago Tribune.