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White Sox no closer to picking a closer

Smart money says Matt Thornt(right) could get first shot close agathis year. Jesse Cra(above) could challenge. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Smart money says Matt Thornton (right) could get the first shot to close again this year. Jesse Crain (above) could challenge. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: April 24, 2012 8:22AM

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Addison Reed swears on his Kannapolis Intimidators fitted cap that he has no preference about being a set-up man or a closer. He just wants to pitch.

Granted, that’s what every rookie with 7 „ innings of major-league experience should say. Ask him in a year what he wants, and Reed possibly will have earned the right to be more selective about his role.

“Honestly, whatever they decide to do I’ll be 100 percent happy with it,’’ Reed said Thursday. “As long as I’m throwing I’ll be happy. Seventh, eighth, or ninth inning is fine with me. Whatever is best.’’

The Sox need to look no further than last season when Matt Thornton blew four in four early chances to be reminded that nothing punches the gut harder than blown late leads. It’s a crucial decision, and it might not be made until after the Sox leave Arizona for Houston for their last two exhibition games, manager Robin Ventura said Thursday.

Thornton is back in the mix, and smart money is being wagered on the veteran left-hander and former All-Star setup man to get the first shot to close again in 2012.

“I feel like I can do it, no doubt about it,’’ said Thornton, who has not been scored on in four spring outings. He pitched 1„ against the Royals.

Thornton’s skeptics say his secondary pitches aren’t good enough to close, but he’s had good results with a new cutter and points to Billy Wagner as a left-handed closer who thrived with a well-located fastball and flat slider.

Thornton’s backers say bad defense contributed to his 2011 downfall. They also point to his getting back on track and knowing better what he’ll be getting into in the ninth this time around.

Jesse Crain wants a shot at the job and was being considered, only to have a slight right oblique strain set him back. He is throwing a bullpen session Friday that should chart a course for the rest of his spring.

It says here the bullpen sets up best if Reed, whose lively fastball and slider (rated as the best in the organization by Baseball America) took him through Kannapolis and other stops in the Sox farm system at turbo-jet speed, mans the closer role with Thornton and Crain setting up.

But no one knows how Reed will react when he blows a save. Getting back on the horse and forgetting the previous day’s fall is key to closing and Reed — his poised demeanor notwithstanding — is untested. Judging by how the Sox groomed Sergio Santos for the job last season, they figure to bring Reed along gradually. Santos did not allow a run during spring training and still started the season as a setup man.

However manager Robin Ventura assigns the roles, “I am absolutely comfortable with where the bullpen is,’’ general manager Ken Williams said. “We’re pretty happy with that.’’

Reed, who gave up a two-run single in the seventh after a pitching a scoreless sixth (with two strikeouts) on Thursday, said the season could open today and all would be well.

“I’m ready,’’ he said. “Early on in the spring I was just trying to get a feel for the pitches, trying to locate.

“Early on I was kind of shaky on the changeup, and the slider wasn’t really breaking as well. Now I feel confident I can throw all three pitches for strikes whenever.’’

Thornton, 35, hasn’t seen a lot of Reed, 23, but enough to say he has the demeanor to handle closing. He hasn’t heard enough to know who will.

“As far as I know, it’s still open,’’ Thornton said. “I’m not worried about it. Just going out there doing the best I can and wherever they want to put me is good. It’s one of those things where they establish the roles and we go.’’

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