Notes: Russell may enter No. 5 race
Righty considered for rotation; Haeger unlikely to earn spot
PHOENIX -- The wheel of fifth starter possibilities stopped on Charlie Haeger on Tuesday afternoon, as the knuckleballer faced the A's at Phoenix Municipal Stadium with seemingly every pitch having a bearing on his immediate Major League future.
But pending the outcome of Wednesday morning's organizational meeting, Haeger's name might be replaced by hard-throwing right-hander Adam Russell when the wheel lands on his final starting turn on Sunday afternoon against Texas. White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen made this general statement after Haeger allowed four runs on five hits over 3 1/3 innings in his first official Cactus League start, including Lou Merloni's three-run home run in the second.
Guillen's comments seemed more about the untapped possibilities offered by Russell, though, than any statement being made against Haeger's abilities.
"I don't know who the last shot is going to be, but right now, we know Charlie can start -- we know that," said Guillen of the competitively muddled fifth starter battle. "He can start in the big leagues.
"We're going to talk tomorrow about who's going to start. Are we going to give another shot to Russell?"
Prior to Tuesday's appearance, pitching coach Don Cooper mentioned that Haeger was not only being given a fair shake in the competition primarily being waged between John Danks and Gavin Floyd, he was also able to show off his versatility as a starter and a reliever. Haeger's next appearance might be out of the bullpen, but it certainly does not preclude the right-hander from having a chance to make the team.
With roster cuts expected on Wednesday morning, the bullpen figures to shape up with Bobby Jenks, Mike MacDougal, Nick Masset and Matt Thornton as locks, and Haeger standing as one of five or six candidates for the final two relief slots. Even the pitcher who falls short between Floyd and Danks, who will both pitch again on Friday at Hi Corbett against Colorado, could end up in the bullpen mix.
Guillen's goal is to simply have the final decisions in place before the team leaves for Birmingham on March 29.
"Hopefully, we go to Atlanta with the 25 guys who represent the White Sox," Guillen said. "That's what we're shooting for. Maybe that will happen, I don't know if that will happen."
"I couldn't even tell you," added Haeger of where he sees his fit on the team. "I guess we'll all find out in a couple days. We'll find out whether it's the bullpen, rotation or [Triple-A] Charlotte."
Self-analysis: Although both Cooper and Guillen have been pleased with the way Haeger has thrown the ball this spring, Haeger was not as generous in handing out his own grade.
"I'd give this spring a C-plus for me," said Haeger, whose ERA jumped to 7.36 after Tuesday's start. "I haven't been really happy with the way I've been throwing the ball, but it is what it is.
"Nothing I can do about it now. I hope to have a couple outings before they make a decision."
Big flies, big numbers: Even before Jim Thome's six at-bats during Tuesday's intrasquad Minor League game in Tucson, the White Sox designated hitter felt that his swing was ready for the start of the 2007 regular season. As that preparation continues, Thome can also start thinking a little bit more about the goal of reaching 500 career home runs, sitting just 28 long balls away.
In fact, Thome's offseason preparation and the way he feels at the plate have allowed the 16-year veteran to entertain thoughts of 600 career home runs. But there's no individual accomplishment on Thome's docket that would compare to winning a World Series title with the White Sox.
"For me, now that my door's closing, I'd like to win a championship. That's No. 1," Thome said. "Individual things, and I've always said this, if you put your team first and do the things that help the club, all the individual milestones and all the individual things fall into place.
"That's a bonus. I certainly would not want to go my whole career and not ever get back and win one. Going there and being close, you definitely appreciate how important it is to even go, let alone win it. These guys have experienced it."
Thome played in the World Series in 1995 and 1997 as part of the Indians, losing a heartbreaking seven-game set to Florida in the latter. Of course, winning a title and hitting 600 home runs would be the perfect combination for success.
"You know what, I try to dream a little bit," Thome said. "You never know, but I try not to look too far ahead."
A fun test of wills: All six of Thome's at-bats on Tuesday came against Mark Buehrle, who allowed one run on five hits over six innings, striking out four and throwing 85 pitches. Buehrle walked Thome once but handled him the other four at-bats, including a strikeout in the fifth trip to the plate in which he playfully taunted his friend and teammate.
In the sixth head-to-head matchup, Buehrle reportedly started the at-bat by trying to throw the ball by Thome with as much velocity as he could. Buehrle finally tried to use a changeup to ace Thome, who launched a mammoth blast for a home run.
Thome watched the ball carry out and then flipped his bat, returning the ribbing handed out by the left-hander.
"The first three [pitches], I was just throwing them as hard as I could and see where they went," Buehrle said. "That was supposed to be a good changeup. That's how good of a hitter he is."
"Yeah, that was just fun," Thome added. "I would say that I've never posed like that before. Good thing it was an intrasquad."
Around the horn: After knocking out two hits in Tuesday's game back in Tucson, Scott Podsednik echoed Guillen's comments that he should be ready for Opening Day. "From the way I'm feeling, the way I'm running out there, I don't see any reason why I wouldn't be comfortable taking the field on Opening Day," Podsednik said. ... Buehrle worked the same amount of pitches as his Minor League start last Thursday but said he felt less tired on Tuesday. ... Boone Logan has worked nine scoreless innings in seven Cactus League games, allowing four hits and striking out seven. ... Center fielder Luis Terrero lost his glove during a leaping attempt to bring back Merloni's second-inning blast. Terrero had to go over the fence to retrieve the misplaced merchandise.
Up next: Javier Vazquez will make his fourth start of the spring, trying to improve on a 0-2 record and 10.80 ERA against San Francisco at 3:05 p.m. CT on Wednesday at Tucson Electric Park.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.