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Hector Santiago, Will Ohman join closer derby for White Sox

Chicago White Sox left handed pitcher Hector Santiago works out during spring training sessiWednesday February 29 2012 Glendale Arizona. |

Chicago White Sox left handed pitcher Hector Santiago works out during a spring training session Wednesday February 29, 2012 in Glendale, Arizona. | TOM CRUZE~Sun-Times photo

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Updated: April 27, 2012 8:13AM

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The White Sox’ closer derby is gaining entrants by the day.

Hector Santiago, come on down.

With Opening Day in Texas 11 days away, pitching coach Don Cooper went so far as to say that veteran left-hander Will Ohman is in the mix, too. The more realistic lefty candidate is Santiago, who followed Addison Reed and Matt Thornton with a scoreless ninth for his first save in a 5-2 victory Sunday against the Giants.

“He’s a possibility like all the others because he throws strikes and has all the stuff you like,’’ manager Robin Ventura said after the game. “Matt, Jesse and Addison have the same thing. And Will.’’

Santiago, 24, has a mid-90s fastball, and his screwball — described as “baffling” around the Sox’ clubhouse — makes him tough on right-handed hitters as well as lefties. He attacks hitters and, like Reed, seems to have a closer-type makeup despite his inexperience.

In 51/3 innings with the Sox last season, Santiago didn’t allow a run. He has four saves in the minor leagues.

“It was exciting to go out there and get a save opportunity,’’ said Santiago, a New Jersey native who grew up cheering for the Mets and lefty closer John Franco. “That would be nice if they’re actually considering me, being a first-year guy. Having a chance to do that would be awesome.’’

Santiago is aware of the situation but said he treated his outing as he would pitching the sixth, seventh or eighth inning.

“We’re looking at everybody,’’ Cooper said. “But nothing has been discussed about the finality of it all. Heck, I don’t know what we’re going to do. We haven’t spoken about it. Everybody is gathering information, watching games, watching guys pitch.’’

After watching Crain pitch a bullpen session Sunday morning, Cooper said the right-hander looked fit enough to pitch in a game on Tuesday.

Cooper said Crain threw “free and easy, and there was no pain.’’

“I thought he threw all his pitches well. ... Everything is pointed in a good direction.’’

Tuesday’s outing will be the first game action for Crain since March 12 because of a strained right oblique muscle. The injury hasn’t helped Crain’s chances of landing the closer job he covets. A career setup man, Crain put his closing aspirations on the back burner behind getting healthy.

Crain, 8-3 with a 2.62 ERA in his first season with the Sox in 2011, has four career saves. Before joining the Sox, he pitched for the Twins with All-Star closer Joe Nathan.

“I’ve said it all along, as a setup guy, you come into a tougher situation or at least as tough as a closer,’’ Crain said. “How many times in my career, Thornton’s career or Ohman’s career have we come in with the bases loaded, two guys on, one out, sixth or seventh inning — that’s where the games are won or lost a lot, too.’’

True, but as the Sox found out in April last season, losing games in the ninth is toughest on a team’s psyche.

“Being in that last inning, you know you’re the final straw, so if you do lose, it’s all on you,’’ Crain said.

A decision on which guy it’s going to be all on might not be made until the team goes to Houston for two exhibition games April 3 and 4. Ventura, who said he doesn’t want a closer-by-committee, will continue to evaluate with Cooper.

“Addison, Santiago, Thornton, Crain, those are the guys we’re talking about, right?’’ Cooper said. “And, hey, you know what? Will Ohman got a [two-inning] save [Saturday], so don’t be surprised. Right now, they’re all still going. Ohman just made it a five-horse race.’’

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